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Wednesday, May 27, 2015


A further article from the pen of Jack Kelly.
It has been months in the making, so I must put it in ahead of the 
Bluebell Festival images.

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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 Dower.

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.

Along Connolly 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. Monicky Keeffe just went into his house. Peoch Regan and Kylo 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.

The picture 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.

Later while 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.

Outsides the 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 and Popeye 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.

Mother Brown
Across the street lives Slick and Elvis. 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. Fitter and The Dog are heading towards The Banks.

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 river.

Down further, 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.

The eighteen hundred workers are going nowhere; maybe a day out in Tramore, or a picnic near Mother Brown’s statue in Clonagam awaits.

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.
Doctor (or Doc)
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 “The Bogside”.

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 on.

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.

Theresa O'Connor
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 for now.

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.
                                                                                           -  Jack 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. 

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