John McCullagh July 26, 2007
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One cannot imagine an object like a brass doorknocker to be the cause of so much trouble for a young teenage girl, but as is always the case for young people of those tender years, trouble is always lurking somewhere close to hand.

Sinclair Street:  now abandoned and closed for ‘redevelopment’

So it was with Kate eighteen years of age, young, fun loving and liking nothing better than going along with her friends to the weekend dance held in the town hall.

Even though most of the world was at that time going through the anguish and turmoil of that period in human history commonly referred to as World War Two, most young people of both the belligerent and neutral nations tried to make the most of a bad job, and keep their lives as normal as they could.

This was not always possible for those poor wretches suffering the depredations and danger of living in war torn countries or surviving with the depravity of occupation.

For the most part Newry was free from the dangers of this epic struggle and so the youth of Newry carried on with life and enjoying just been young.

Newry in those days was a crowded place with all the military personnel stationed in the town; both British and American service men were in abundance. The Saturday night dance at the Town Hall was sure to be a popular and well-attended affair.

A lot of the young ladies in Newry had a hard job trying to convince protective parents or guardians that it would be a wise thing for them to attend the local dance.

Kate was no exception, she lived in Linenhall Square with her Aunt and Uncle, who were strict about when she should go out, where she was going to, and with whom she was going.

Her Aunt would say, ‘ The world is a wicked place, those old Nazis dropping bums on poor people and young girls wanting to stay out late, maybe even to ten or eleven o’clock, it’s just not decent.’ 

Aunt Sarah eventually succumbed to Kate’s persuasive pressure and relented:  the old Aunt agreed to let her young Niece attend the local dance. Provided she – that is,  Aunt Sarah – approved of what friends Kate would be going with; and she also stipulated that she was to be home by a decent hour. If Kate wasn’t back home at the prescribed time her Aunt told her that,

‘If you’re not home at a decent and respectable hour then I’ll get my flashlight and come looking for you, and you’ll be sorry,my girl!’

So that Saturday night all the young girls from the Square went to the dance.  The hall was crowded; there were young males in abundance, some in uniform, some in civvies, American GI’s, British Tommies, all enjoying themselves and having a great time. Kate and her friends didn’t have a problem finding young men to escort them home.  To use a Newry expression, ‘They clicked.’

The only problem for Kate was the fact that she had to leave somewhat early. Our intrepid Cinderella explained to her escort the reason she had to go home. She told him all about Aunt Sarah and her old Victorian attitude to life.

Kate’s young soldier friend said to her.

‘Kate! Your Aunt sounds like a fierce old lady! Maybe we could use her in the Regiment.

She could be our secret weapon and maybe shorten the war a little bit’.

So off into the Newry blackout went young Kate and her soldier escort.  When they came to the junction of Canal Street and Canal Quay, they paused; the normal route taken by courting couples would be by way of the much lonelier street, Canal Quay.

The young girl knew that if they took the Canal Quay route home there was every chance that they would meet her Aunt Sarah coming looking for her with a flashlight.

So the Canal Street way home it had to be.  Kate didn’t mind this; she had formulated in her mind a cunning plan.   Kate knew that if her soldier friend took her home to her own front door Aunt Sarah might not after all be on her way down Canal Quay looking for her, she might instead be still at home waiting patiently for her niece’s arrival.   Kate knew that if her Aunt heard even the slightest sound outside the door, out she would come to protect her young charge, out like a spider from her web, out to see off this threat imposed by Kate’s young soldier friend.

Our young lady thought that she would out-smart her Aunt; she wouldn’t, after all, allow her escort to leave her to her own front door! She would pretend to live in a house in Erskine Street! That is the Street that they would walk along before they came to her home at Linenhall Square.

This plan would also serve to impress her young escort, because Kate thought the houses in Erskine Street were much grander looking than her own little house in the Square.  Kate even knew which house she would choose for this deception.  It had to be a house that was very grand, something that would really impress her young man.

What could make a house so grand?

What more could be a symbol of wealth and opulence than to have a house with a big shinny, brass door-knocker?

Mrs. Kelly’s house in Erskine Street had the biggest, shiniest door-knocker you could ever possibly imagine so young Kate selected Mrs Kelly’s house to be the place for her deception.

‘I live here at number *’ said Kate.

Kate beamed with pride! She was happy that her deception was working so well.

‘He can’t fail to be impressed with a house like this! Just look at that door-knocker gleaming in the moonlight! Doesn’t it look gorgeous!’ she thought.

Now as it so happened, Mrs Kelly, the tenant of this much-vaunted piece of real estate, also had a teenage daughter and her daughter was also at the Saturday night dance in the Town Hall.

Mrs Kelly was waiting patiently for the safe return of her daughter.  She was listening to every sound that she heard from outside! She was peeping through her window at every shadow.

‘That little minx is late!’  Mrs Kelly was thinking.

The worried mother discerned the faint sound of hushed whispers from outside her front door.  Drawing back the curtain she peeped outside.  In the moonlight Mrs Kelly could see the shoulder-flash of a solder’s uniform.

Now our illustrious Mrs Kelly was not well disposed to men in military uniform.

So seeing what she perceived to be her daughter outside the house with a soldier was like a red rag to a bull. Moving quickly to the front hall, she quietly opened the front door and reached out her arm.  Grabbing what Mrs Kelly took to be her daughter’s hair in her bony hand, she pulled the young girl into the hallway.  The door was then slammed in the face of the astonished young soldier.

The irate mother then proceeded to scold and chastise her errant offspring.  She held young Kate by the hair of her head and shook her like a rat, all the time ranting,

‘I love every stone in Ireland and I’ll not have a daughter of mine cavorting with a soldier! 

Do you have no shame, you young hussy?’

After a time Kate managed to disengage herself from the older woman’s lethal embrace and she tried to explain who she was.

‘What! ? Does your Aunt know the disgraceful behaviour you get up to?

If she doesn’t, then she certainly will tomorrow when I tell her!’  raged the angry Mrs Kelly.

With that the enraged old lady opened the front door and propelled the rather battered Kate out into the Newry blackout.

Kate’s young soldier escort had gone.

Possibly the young man would have preferred to meet the Nazi hordes on the beaches of Normandy, than to face Mrs Kelly in full flight, so he cleared off deciding in this case that discretion was better part of valour!

Poor Kate – bruised, battered, and miserable – was left to make her own way home.

On the way down the block, Kate met her Aunt Sarah coming to look for her.  The young girl tried to explain to her Aunt what had taken place but Aunt Sarah wasn’t having any excuses from her errant niece.

‘Is it not bad enough that you are out to this unearthly hour of the night and I have to go and look for you, but now you tell me that you have gone and annoyed poor Mrs Kelly with your disgraceful behaviour?

Wait till I get you home girl! That’s the last time you’ll be going dancing!

 In all my days, I’ve never heard the like of it!
 

Just you wait till I get you home’. 

 

in the hearse …


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