Reminiscence of the first generation
Farmer Sandy McNeill was closer to us by dint of geographical location. He befriended some of us, inviting us into his milking shed at the rear of Helen’s Terrace. This was the first time I saw cows being milked. It was still of course done by hand into steel or aluminium pails. I had difficulty reconciling the all-pervading animal stench with food hygiene but things were less fussy in those days.
Teddy Ulett (now Security: Buttercrane) is the big lad at the back, with Paddy and Joe McGrath.
Front is Teddy’s brothers Bernard and Martin Hollywood of Orior Road. Their home was back-to-back (almost) with McGraths. My grateful thanks to our regular, Paddy for the photo!!
We could not totally leave him in peace. We had to pick our blackberries from the briars in those very hedges (the words ‘hedge’ and ‘ditch’ were inter-changeable for us, though the first grows and the other dips!). They were also the source of the forked sticks we harvested for catapults. Rubber strips were cut from old car tubes, and old shoe or boot tongues formed the bed for our sling shots. I am sorry to admit that our targets were more often small birds nesting in those self-same hedges than the vermin we claimed to control. We also stole eggs occasionally from nests in their branches, though as we passed some long-forgotten psychological age barrier – probably something like ten years old – we became much more responsible and tried to protect God’s little creatures.
Sandy’s huge sloping field running down on to Orior Road was a godsend in winter frost and especially in snow. Cardboard boxes were our sleds and the wires stretching between concrete posts just above Orior Road saved us many a fall. I have a distinct memory of struggling to climb that wall of less than six feet into Sandy’s Field so that will give an indication of our age and height at the time.
A short loanan divides Orior Road/Slieve Gullion Road in two (and likewise Iveagh Crescent and Derrybeg Drive, and the latter and Killeavey Road). We named these after adjacent residents, so the first was either Weir’s Loanan [13 Slieve Gullion Road] or Quinn’s [Orior Road] – and it was lengthy enough for our purposes then. It was a place to hide, or to ‘coourt’, or to access all those exciting back gardens. There were no cars for headlamps to pick us out and cyclists knew better than to venture there after dark. We knew who among the neighbours was likely to respond to our taunts or infringements on their property, and of course concentrated our attention upon them.
I still remember their names but cringe with continued embarrassment to recall our disagreeable antics. I’m sure we annoyed Tommy and Bridie McGrath who lived at the top of that loanan (the house with side awning shown above). I tried not to, for they were much loved and respected by everyone. My father would certainly have punished me severely if he thought I had caused distress of any kind to that working class hero.
Still, in the next house lived the Lucas’s, some of their boys being our occasional mates. Patricia used to study in an upstairs bedroom and would open a window to demand that we facilitate her studies by keeping the noise down. Nothing could be better designed to obtain the opposite result. Besides, her younger sister Geraldine was one of the classiest girls in the Meadow and our badgering might bring her on to the street. It often did, but it never enamoured us into her good books.
Their dad was an ex-serviceman and would brook no nonsense. This meant we often got the ‘chase’ we craved. We had bolt-holes everywhere and disappeared quickly down that loanan and were never caught. I could never understand why the victims of our antics could not enjoy all this as much as we did, for we meant no harm. When my father, who was also quick to intervene on the street, became the object of others’ attention, I could at last see the adults’ point of view!
Our behaviour was worst around Halloween time. The only fireworks we had, or could afford, were sparklers and bangers. Somehow it was exciting to hurl the lighted sparkler in an arc through the air. We dared each other to look away and hold a banger until it exploded. I remember doing so twice – clearly because the alternative, being deemed a ‘chicken’ – was insufferable. I will forever be grateful to the packer who limited the amount of gunpowder in those two bangers, so that they did not remove my fingers. The pain felt as if they had. I pray that children are not so foolish today.
We stole a reel of cotton from home and tied an end to the knocker of the door of our victim. We chose him carefully for he had to be the most ‘crabbed oul git’ around and sure to chase you when he realised what was happening. Having thus described our neighbours, I am not likely to more definitely identify them now! Except to say, if he had any particularly distinguishing feature, we reminded him of it or exploited it ruthlessly in our catcalls.
I am still amazed at how many, how often, and for how long they were all fooled by our simple device. The cotton reel could be up to fifty metres long so we had a good head start in any subsequent chase. It was hilarious to observe the cat-and-mouse antics of our tormented neighbour as he attempted to spring to open his front door before we could run away. When he looked out there was nobody in sight, no sound of scurrying or scuffling. In the end we usually gave ourselves away, unable to stifle our laughter as we lay full stretch in gardens behind or within hedges.
Good neighbours were not spared. Those foolish enough to harbour apple or pear trees in rear gardens were singled out for persistent and particular attention. Anthony Russell, the teacher, our friend and swimming instructor of the summer months, became the autumn victim when his apples matured. For access we used the rear garden of our mate Austin Mullan – he lived next door, still does, as far as I know – or if we chose to be devious, approached the long way from Orior Road through Johnson’s side entrance. Thrifty heads of households, attempting to supplement the family food supplies with home grown vegetables often found that someone had got there ahead of them. [Vincie, your blackcurrant bush wasn’t spared either!]
Now at last and on behalf of all my childhood mates, I beg everyone’s forgiveness. Certainly it is too late for Patricia Lucas, who, may God be kind to her soul, died very young. Fifty years later I still try to study, and that brings her often to mind.
The basic design of the Meadow houses was revolutionary for working class homes of the time but in tune with the philosophy of Atalee’s post-war Labour Government of ‘homes fit for heroes’. It became the standard not just here but all across Britain. The British Government had wisely resisted pressure to impose conscription on Northern Ireland. Many thousands of Irish enlisted anyway to oppose Hitler’s fascism. Only a few of our first tenants were ex-servicemen for then too Newry was largely a nationalist town. Only a tiny minority of Nationalists from Northern Ireland ever served with the British security forces. Perhaps ex-servicemen received preferential treatment as they did in public service jobs for many years to come. I note from old newspaper clippings that they were given three points for former service. Clearly some kind of points system was in force then too.
These first tenants received their keys in February 1948. My parents, with five children already and one ‘expected’, were among those lucky (but most deserving) few. We were a large family but there were many families of five or more children. Almost without exception people have happy memories of growing up in this, still the best estate in the town. I am not recounting a history of The Meadow, but attempting to paint a picture of its social and community life fifty years ago. I have included some other people’s reminiscences too. We hope you can agree that even when our antics were mischievous, no serious harm was ever intended or done. Read these pages and smile at a way of life long gone.