Meadow Memories 5

I was six months old when we set up home here, and I lived in The Meadow till manhood. Other family members still live in The Meadow. Very few of the original inhabitants survive.

At first there were just parts of Orior Road and Slieve Gullion Road completed. The flats (Nos 9-12) of Slieve Gullion Road were completed later, as was Orior Road’s Horseshoe.

1965:  my sister Kathleen arrives home from Nursing in Belfast City Hospital : Pauline beside and Brian in front:  I am the photographer (the shadow on the low wall)

I can remember workmen building Iveagh Crescent and the streets beyond, Derrybeg Drive and Killeavey Road. Lou Morgan of Derrybeg Estate tells me he was one of them. We were a bunch of young ragamuffins who harried and pestered to ‘help’ them. It is to the workmen’s eternal credit that instead of giving us short shrift as they ought, they usually found some little task with which to amuse us. They had children too.

After number sixteen, the house numbers on Slieve Gullion Road rise in twos, indicating an original intention to build more Slieve Gullion Road houses opposite, where Iveagh Crescent now turns into Derrybeg Drive. A similar mismatch of numbers exists on Killeavey Road where the clear original intention was to build further homes where the playing fields now afford a view of Chequer Hill. The plan was open to amendment.

All the houses on Killeavey Road and half those of Derrybeg Drive have their living rooms facing to their rear gardens and their backs to the road. Most tenants who were allocated them were grateful for the extra privacy afforded. This advantage became a handicap however when something was a-buzz in the neighbourhood and one had to show one’s face to find out all the gossip!

Those lucky enough to live on Iveagh Crescent or Slieve Gullion Road had no such handicap. Given the layout of these two roads, we could observe all the goings-on from top to bottom – Warr’s to the phone box at Donaghy’s and beyond – from the safety of living rooms with half-drawn curtains. A few hardy and less-reserved individuals would have none of this. I remember one woman who regularly planked a kitchen chair outside her front door for a better view. She had a next door neighbour who in some people’s opinion had airs above her station. The rest of us counted ourselves fortunate to have some little food for the children’s table (I remember being told crossly – ‘when calling your brothers and sisters, say Your dinner is ready, even when dinner is only tea and bread!’). This woman loudly summoned her family for ‘cocktails’.

‘Yez’ll drown in cocktails’, her neighbour caustically remarked. Friday evenings saw milkmen/breadmen etc. call for payment of weekly bills. More often than not this ‘cocktails’ house would be in darkness and closed then to callers!

Hello Mrs Russell, and how is your bustle?

our woman would roar across as the schoolmaster’s wife made her way innocuously to her home up the street.

Yet for all her rawness of social skills, this lady, larger than life in every sense – recently deceased in her husband’s home country of Wales – was much loved because she had a heart of gold and was the first to offer help in times of other’s need. For years, despite her own growing family, she nursed there her doting and incontinent father. Some of her children were less tolerant. The eldest once announced loudly in the street his desire that the old man would quickly pass away. I could not believe my ears, that anyone would wish death on another, much less on one’s own grandfather.

Another neighbour, an intensely private man, nursed a dark secret from his past that slowly and painfully became manifest. As children we neither knew nor cared, but gradually became fascinated with his predicament. We were roused to excited participation when, on those rare occasions that she was released from the institution where she was confined because of her disturbed mental condition, this ghost from his past, a former lover, stomped determinedly past the football game in The Resi.

She was en route to her former lover’s home, her glazed but resolute eyes presaging the drama that was about to unfold.

From ever she was first sighted at Doyle’s Pub corner an excited knot of young people would gather round her, some offering empty milk bottles as instruments for the inevitable breaking and entering about to happen. The soon-to-be victim’s home would quickly be darkened and closed against the inevitable attack.

In retrospect, all this was highly intrusive and shameful of us. In this drama all were victims except for us guilty onlookers. Still as children we wallowed in the drama. Our parents ought to have known better and intervened to restrain us!

Inevitably the poor demented lady, having vented her spleen by smashing the front door’s window panel and hurling a half hour’s worth of invective, withdrew in tears, or was taken away – possibly back to the institution – by police. Early on the morning after each attack the householder would be out measuring the window for repair. I could never understand why he didn’t keep a record of the measurements for it was always the same window. Even the glazier in Haldane Shiels needed no reminder of its measurements!

On only one occasion the (alleged) offspring of that bygone illicit liaison, now a tall and well-built young man, accompanied her. The home must have been forewarned. A raiding party emerged from an entry (a rear-garden access between two mid-terrace houses) and spirited the strong young man away. By the time he re-emerged, the worse for wear and well chastened, he had little option but to withdraw hurriedly with his mother. We never heard from or about either of them again.

All the adults round about took a fervent interest in this story, but usually from the safety and privacy of heavily curtained living rooms (or if they were ‘swanks’ – from behind Venetian blinds).

Our earlier-mentioned friend took her kitchen chair outside for the usual grandstand view and happily offered advice and intelligence to anyone who would listen.

Gradually a few hardier souls imitated her from afar, ostensibly to criticise all participants but really they were fearful of missing any detail. This would be the stuff of many conversations over the next few weeks, across hedges or beside the greengrocer’s or bread man’s van.

 … Meadow 6? …

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