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In Dreams - A Tapestry of Life in Portlaw
Portlaw is a
village with a rich history. It has had its highs and lows; at one time during
the golden era of the cotton mill, it was known as “Little London”. At other
times, following the demise of the Malcomson times, it was known as the “Lost
City”. Again, with the rise in fortunes and full employment in the Tannery,
happiness reigned. Then when short time struck in the leather industry, our
little village became known as the “Bread and Jam” town. Through good and bad
times the will of the people was not broken in our model village.
As a result of
insomnia and broken dreams, I have examined the tapestry of our village during
my lifetime. These visions cover a trip down memory lane. You will meet
characters in my dreams; some you will find are living; many have passed on,
but all are fondly remembered.
I start my trip
at Kelly’s Corner, at the top of Brown Street. It’s Sunday morning; the sun is
shining. Gully Dower is kicking his
heels against the wall, chatting to his pals. He talks about his time with the
British army during the war. As nobody is ‘flashing the ash’, Gully takes out a
Woodbine and throws the empty packet on the ground. “Sorry”, he says “the last
one” – of course he had a full packet in the other pocket – not for public
consumption. His saying is still remembered, “correct is right” says Gully
On the other
corner with his back to the Protestant school stands Sacky Sexton watching all the people coming from Mass. Sacky’s
saying is still there, when describing a greyhound or a smart young girl in
school uniform, he uses the phrase “well proportioned”. I see the nuns’ coach coming up Queen St. with
Jack the Chisler on top. Three nuns
are inside, with a curtain hiding them from view.
Now my picture
is fixed on Connolly Road.
I see a gentle
giant, Girders, at his gate. I
remember Michael walking up Curraghmore in his bare feet for a gallon of milk
in all kinds of weather. He used to stop at our little cottage near the farm
yard for a cup of tea before setting out for home.
Road lives Jack Nasty, a die-hard
Kilkenny supporter. The highlight of his week was watching Kilkenny play,
together with his pal, Johnny Brophy. I see Chuckle, Na and baby Stock playing on the green. The Wizard is looking on. Further along
the road lives Greengage, a brother
of the Duke, both Cork supporters.
Around the corner I see Fatso and Tommy Tit working in the garden.
Now I’m on
Carrick Road, passing by Magoo’s house.
Johnny is there with a mouth organ in
his top pocket. I see Gag Shannahan
on his bike. Now he’s chatting to Sheevragh,
who is living with the Kirwans. “The
Hen and Chicken” pub comes into view. All the pubs have their individual
names like “Home and Away”, “The Pig and Whistle,” “Loody May’s” and “Madge’s”.
Down the lane my
dream takes me.
I see Connors,
a character from a cowboy
series, talking to his brother The Goat.
just went into his
house. Peoch Regan
just want by with Dick the Linnet
. I never heard Dick sing
but a gravestone in the new graveyard bears his name.
Headstone in St. Patrick's cemetery,commemorating 'Dick the Linnet'.
Back in upper
Brown Street lives Ned Noddles, with
his son Plunger. I notice Joe Power’s pub is closed but Theresa
O’Connor’s bell still rings when the odd customer comes in.
changes, I’m back at 50 Brown
Street where Bert
and Ernie live. Over the years
Bert retains his name of long ago, but Ernie is known as Boots since his time in the Tannery; the fact that Liam takes size
11 shoes may have something to do with his change of name. Panther is another brother. As a young lad Paddy was known as Hassett after a teacher from Clonea
who died at a young age.
working in the Tannery, Hassett is called the Pink Panther for a while but this is shortened to Panther, a name that stays with him
until his untimely death.
The Maher family
lives next door to Jim Joe, and
there lives Gas, Skidden, Tiny and Mickey. Across
the road, just below Haughs’ Lane, outside Loody
May’s Pub, Hacksaw’s lorry is parked. My panoramic view moves quickly down
Brown Street past The Idles, where I see Jockey,
Bowsey and Fraunch. The Devil Man comes into view, who at one
time was called Johnny Guts. He is
wearing a red and white scarf, a symbol of his great love for Cork. Mikey
Spot is chatting to the Silver Fox.
On the other side of the street I see The
Horse and Birdy. Out of Mullins’
house, comes Gent, Karl, and Canitney. The Hammer just went by,
walking his greyhound. Next I see Johnny
the Butcher. His white coat is splattered in blood-like a vampire. Big Bill is over from Mooncoin looking
for a game of cards.
Down at the
bottom of the street lives Gee Gee,
Sweller, Scanlon the Chemist and Charlie
the Barber. Charlie is standing
at the door, waiting for his next victim. The execution chair has a plank across
its arms. Young victims sit quietly for their first tonsorial experience, and
are rewarded with a lolly. Martin Brophy
has a clothes shop, and Joe Joy has
been ever present. David Alcock owns the post office and general store. During
the cotton mill days this store was essential to the village. Leather money was
exchanged for household goods. We are told, that with no transport available, Mayfield
Stores could have made a fortune, but kept their prices down in keeping with
their Quaker principles.
shop, “Chelsea”, “City” and “Keegan” discuss football across
channel, and Match of the Day.
By now, you must
realise that the heroes in my roll of honour are known by nicknames and not
related to the names inscribed on their birth certificates. Portlaw, famous for
its cotton mill in the 19th century, and for the leather factory
more recently is also responsible for name calling and slagging which is seen
to a great extent is our village.
In days gone by,
before TV and the Internet, people had to generate their own enjoyment.
Nowadays we don’t have time to slag each other, but receive our enjoyment from
a little Black Box.
Back to my
dreams. Paddy Fatman is standing
across from Keever’s shop. He is just back form England, dressed in Teddy Boy
style – drainpipe trousers and D.A. hairstyle, with a newly acquired Cockney
accent he picked up on travels. My
vision moves down to Harney’s Betting office. Billy, who drives a horse drawn red bread van,
in the neighbourhood delivering Portlaw bread. Billy is best remembered for his
famous greyhound, Haynes’ Gate. This dog was famous in his day winning cup
races in Cork and Dublin. Billy turned down big money for his
prize possession as he was going to breed champions. Alas the dog was infertile
and spent his days running around the Square, living off scraps of leather that
fell from fresh hides coming from Clover Meats.
We move on. Sheiko
live next door. The Hayes
- Oliver, Declan and Francis, are big into soccer. Dallas
was born in the next house. He became famous, from a stable boy in Curraghmore
to a famous singer with The Cowboys, and later with Maurice Mulcahy, appearing
in the Albert Hall, and cutting several discs.
Memorial plaque to 'Little Nellie' at St. Patrick's church.
In the early 1900’s Little Nellie of Holy God
– Nelly Organ
– whose mother had Portlaw connections, lived in William Street. This little
girl died in a convent in Cork and the Bishop of Cork allowed Nellie to receive
Communion and Confirmation at an early age. Pope Leo heard of Nellie’s faith and
changed the age for children to receive Communion. She died in Cork in 1908.
street lives Slick
. The voice of Elvis singing “The
Wedding” still resonated in Brown Street on Saturday nights. Further down the
street we pass Spud’s
house and see Maudie
chatting to Skirty Lennon
and The Dog
are heading towards The
Doctor is joined by a gang below the
bridge. A circle has been formed, and a toss loses school is in operation. The Doctor shows me a two-headed halfpenny,
which ensures he never loses. This ends when the magic coin falls into the
the tide is in, and a gang of young fellows visit their Riviera; the water is
dark brown with a smell of tan; who cares, we are used to it; we all jump in, leaving
our wet towels to dry on the bank. Heaven!
Across the road
in Hickeys’ Field, Willie Fanning is building a dam. Mothers sit on the bank
with their prams, relaxing in the sun.
Willie Power - affectionately known as - 'Headache'.
My pictures now
move back up Queen St.
Squasam just went by; he must be
heading for the soccer field. I hear Lord Waterford is togging out today. He
undresses in his car, and his Butler brings him orange segments at half time.
As I lie on the
grass, with the sun making my back sizzle, my thoughts go back to another time.
In my mind’s eye, I see barges full of cotton and calico being pulled by sturdy
young ponies; one on each bank to a large sailing ship moored on the River
Suir. The ship, with its sails reaching up to the sky, setting out for
Waterford, with its cargo loaded, is bound for Lisbon, Amsterdam, New York and
maybe New Orleans.
hundred workers are going nowhere; maybe a day out in Tramore, or a picnic near
Mother Brown’s statue in Clonagam
The men relax in
the pub at weekends. The Quakers, who ran the mill, had no time for the abuse
of ale, and the leather money could not be changed in a public house. Sickness
money was paid to workers who fell ill, but this payment is denied if the
sickness was drink related.
With the second
coming of prosperity, there was no restriction with the Devil’s Brew.
At first, when
the tannery opened, men handed over their wage packet to their wives; as time
moved on, some men handed over housekeeping money, but kept the rest for drink.
Arguments arose over the wives’ handling of meagre housekeeping money. Then the
street angels and house devils lashed out at their poor down-trodden wives.
That must be my nightmare.
Now I’m standing
by Kit Hallissey’s shop, where one
can get a loose Woodbine and two matches for tuppence. As I do not smoke, I get
a Gobstopper, which will last all day.
Now I’m heading
up Queen Street. Mouler is standing by his gate,
looking good with no stockings, as usual. His brother, Mickey, is home from England. He works in a car factory in Oxford
and tells me he watched Roger Bannister break the four-minute mile barrier in
May 1954, with a handful of faithful followers.
On I go I see Jack the Man talking to Beary. Didders and Jeanie Mack are further
up the street but my dream leads me into George’s St., renamed by the locals as
First I hear the
theme song of “Match of the Day”. Tuller
is tuning up in preparation for an appearance in the Pig and Whistle later
I see Squire and Dobblety talking to Balmy.
Paddywack is pushing Yappy in a buggy. Chemist and Tony are
discussing Manchester United and Liverpool. I
see Sulphide is wearing his new shining
L.D.F. boots. Midge and Robby are leaning on the wall. Jody, Mannix and Blacken are heading towards The Square. The Stick has just arrived from the woods, with a nice branch on his
shoulder. Mickey Stud is home from
England, having been forced to emigrate when short time struck. Gratz, Judge and 24 Hours are all enjoying the sunshine.
Before I go, my
walk down memory lane includes all types, and no offence is meant to anyone.
This Roll of Honour is a mural of respect to all connected to our village.
We have Fr. All Day, Moby Dick, and Pope Murphy who works in the farmyard.
The Bishop cycles into the tannery
with Solister. We have two nuns, Twiggy and Busty. We have three Horses,
a Dog, Gee-Gee, a Devil, Fish, a Pony, Chicken, Duck, a Rat and a Fish.
These are the
characters I remember, and way back in the boy’s school there is Guffy Sullivan, named after a story in
our English book – Gruffenuff - which
Noel could not pronounce, Shirley Power named after Shirley Temple because of his blonde curly hair, Basty Breen named after a great
Waterford hurler of yesteryear – Billy
Bunter and Headache, who even a
youngster was an expert in local history, and many, many more people who have
invaded my dreams and made me smile.
As I mosey down Gorey Lane I see Gus Kelly has a small shop with sweets
and fags in the window.
Before I get to
the Tannery gate I pause at James Keane’s
House. My mother parks her bike here when she comes down from Curraghmore. Maggie is leaning over the half door
watching all the comings and goings on the Tannery Lane.
On the open fire,
a number of Billy Cans are bubbling. At one o’clock country men will come and
collect their boiling water for their lunch, and sit across the road in the
shade. Oven bread, farmers’ butter and a few scallions would keep them going
The Tannery is a
hive of activity. The gates are controlled by large wheels with an underground
mechanism. The guards on the gate are Tom
Fosken, Billy Kelly, The Gunner, Danny Cummins and Hitler. The hooter just blew or was it my alarm clock calling me
back to reality. It’s time to pull back the blinds and face a new day. You see
imagination and reality are near at hand in my Tapestry of Dreams.
Kelly, May 2015.
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Portraits of a number of the local personalities mentioned have been included within the above text.
A small few more will be included as soon as ready.
A single left-click on the portraits will show an enlarged version.
A Glossary of Names will follow later.