John McCullagh July 31, 2006
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A photo worthy of the lovely Janine Masters herself though this one was supplied instead by Gerry Monaghan, brother of our recently-deceased dear friend Donal.

The location is George’s Lane, off Lower Mill Street.


Just discernable in the far background are the transept windows of St Mary’s Parish Church. The children have chosen a quiet place away from the traffic for their games. Horse-drawn traffic, that is! For this is back in the days of gas-fired street lamps (note the one on the gable to the left) and water-pumps on the street.

A study in joyous childhood innocence! Hidden is one girl wielding the left end of the skipping rope. Her partner on the opposite kribben is demonstrating an Irish Dancer’s starting stance while also turning the rope – for the skipping ‘big girl’ with the bobbed hair style is dancing while she skips. Her head is half-turned towards the photographer and she is very pretty indeed. The other older girl on the left is about to join her under the whirling rope. There was an art to that, both on her part and on that of the rope turners.

There is a smaller girl right behind her with left hand raised and index finger out – just skip right in there, she seems to be saying! The youngest girl in the middle of the street stands enthralled. She has a lesson or two to learn. Her brother – with knee-length socks – stands beside her, also fascinated.

Further behind in a clear area amid the rubble beneath the Church wall, two young boys are playing marlies! This is the circle game (drawn with a stick in the dirt) filled with marbles to be won by the lad with stooped back. It’s his turn. If he can use his own to ricochet off another in the centre, and both leave the circle, then the second one becomes his possession. On the other hand, if his own fails to leave the circle after collision then the other lad has his turn instead.

The other variety of marbles was played from the kribben, attempting to dislodge a second from that first crack you see there where the rope-turner’s left heel is at the moment! This required more accuracy for there was only one target.  Some were expert at this. On our street Austin Mullan and Herbie McAllister excelled!

Like other boys, I had a hidden stash of marbles left over from last ‘season’. They were few indeed, for I wasn’t good – not at any sport. Then I learned that Woolworths sold new marbles. I called in to gaze in wonderment – on Saturday morning when I’d be sent there for a pennyworth of broken biscuits! I’d never seen such a collection of pristine jewels, with such colourful designs woven into the glass centre. How did they do that? I couldn’t hope to own such masterpieces – there were larger ones there that cost as much as two pence for just one marble! We occasionally bought and sold at the rate of a penny a dozen or so. Even then I was seldom flush enough to enter the buyer’s market!

If there had been a free-standing lamp-post, there’d have been a rope tied round it and a few girls swinging round on the looped end.

These children are a photographer’s dream! Every single one had adopted the perfect pose! Yet not one is posing! Do you know any single child today such a picture of innocent nonchalance? So carefree and innocent?

 Is there any child today allowed this freedom of expression? Why did we let these interesting, healthy traditional games fade away and die? 

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