Meadow Memories 6

We had little call to leave the Meadow for the essential foodstuffs, having Brian Donaghy’s and Crawley’s on Clanrye Avenue and The Hut at Helen’s Terrace as local shops and a plethora of vans regularly calling to sell their wares. 

The earliest shop was a Hut located just on The Line beside what is now the lower entrance to St Bridget’s Church. They sold fantastic toffee apples when these were in season. I still hold in my memory the wonderful aroma of freshly melted real toffee.

I remember too that sense of betrayal, when first these treats were covered instead with that obscenely sweet orange-coloured sugar candy substitute still used today – not a patch on the original.

I remember foolishly (and of course unsuccessfully) trying to pass a foil-covered penny as a half-crown in that first Meadow shop, some fifty years ago now.

The service vans needed our help. The round could be done much faster using cheap local labour. Besides the man felt better guarding his commodities from the safety of his van. We were expert at flinching from unguarded service vans! The old joke – ‘my first job was riding shotgun on a mineral-water delivery van’ – had a ring of truth about it where I grew up! We also loved to hang on to the trailing rope behind cattle trucks, used to haul the rear door/ramp down when loading or unloading. Many’s the child was badly injured in this way, not just in The Meadow. Some parents resented Leo Mallon, the local cattle dealer, for example, but how was it his fault? We never perfected that vital dismounting exercise, or we often panicked when the truck accelerated. Thankfully again, I never received more that the bruises and scratches I richly deserved.

We could tell the service van owners which houses would be the best customers, having more children than the rest, or more likely to pay cash or honour their debts. We didn’t consider we were being disloyal to our neighbours. We had nothing to trade only our labour and our local knowledge. We were also in fierce competition with our pals. One or two assistants were all that were required. The trick was to ingratiate oneself into the man’s confidence and never get caught pocketing his wares or selling him short with our friends or neighbours. We did all that of course – but we were rarely caught.

I was quite envious of Martin Lucas who won the favour of the majority of tradesmen. I was convinced I was more deserving. Bad scrant to him for his honest-looking face and fresh complexion! The names and the wares changed over the years but those I remember best were the grocers Michael Fearon from Meigh and Joe Shiels, father of the Joe who continues his father’s round: the breadmen Michael Campbell and later Hugh John McConville: various laundry men including our neighbour Vincent McAllister: the fish merchants who called [‘Herring alive! Herring alive!’] on Fridays.

We were mainly Catholics and forbidden to eat meat on the day Jesus died. You could order white fish or red fish, the latter being smoked and both usually being cod, though I am sure the cheaper whiting was occasionally substituted, and choosy customers could have the lauded herring! Customers lined up with their white kitchen plates (Willow-Pattern for the swanks) outstretched. There was too the occasional egg merchant.

Of course, everyone’s favourite was Harry Galloway, the ice-cream man.  I think he had the original Timoney’s recipe.   He was an uncle of the Eyres who followed on the business, before selling out the recipe to Pat Fitzpatrick! 

He advertised his presence with a trumpet call: a cornet, actually, which seemed appropriate. He was incredibly popular as a man and not just for his delicious ice-cream. He inevitably arrived, on summer evenings, around eleven at night, but the lateness of the hour seemed only to heighten his popularity.

It also was the single event that could inevitably call to a close our marathon game of Tig Around The Block! Everyone broke cover to beg parents for the necessary few pence. It’s strange, but just recalling these memories evokes in the mind’s eye the scents and smells of the time and place; not just the ice cream, but the smoke from newly lighted fires and the descending dew of late summer evenings.

One of the first tenants was Pat (Sticks) Morgan, a man fondly remembered by the older Newry generation. Pat had originally lived in a cottage in Rooney’s Meadow, so his allocation of a house in the new estate was his natural entitlement. Pat was a great character, a soccer enthusiast who was instrumental in getting the first league started in The Resi (now Jennings Park) and a founder member of our own first juvenile football team, the Meadow Rangers. I was one of their least distinguished players. I played left half [usually left out!] – I think because it was commonly accepted that I could do least harm in mid-field, and I kicked with my left foot. My one claim to footballing fame is that I once scored the winning goal against the league champions of the time, Rockview Rangers of the High Street area. It was a high lofting pass that the wind caught and blew past their keeper. I didn’t admit to the fluke at the time, of course. Plaudits on the soccer field seldom came my way.

We changed in the ‘tunnel’ that led to the back field where McClellands had a chicken coop hemmed in with a corrugated iron fence. There was a deep-water enclosure where we would occasionally trespass to practice what certainly was my favourite sport, that of tickling trout. Immensely pleasurable as this was, it was made all the more so from the danger of getting caught. I think this enclosure formed the juncture where the Carnaget stream, swollen by winter’s waters, could partly be diverted, to save Newry’s streets from excessive flooding, into the man-made reservoir that doubled as our playing fields. McClellands must have bred the trout within their enclosure, for they were rare to non-existent elsewhere along the Derrybeg River.

The ‘tunnel’ where we changed was a low bridge under the Meadow Road, through which the winter water fed. A very low bridge! Even as children we had to crawl on our bellies to emerge in the back field. At its loftiest point, towards the playing field, it was about four feet high. We had to be careful of animal litter when we abandoned our clothes to don football kit. Then we had to avoid banging our heads on the concrete lintel as we ducked out. All through the game we kept one eye on the play and another on the thieving young kids (ourselves of a few years back) who took this opportunity to search for pennies in abandoned pockets!

They were excellent playing fields for the time, but they were only so because of the hard graft of our elders who hacked away the reeds to clear a space large enough for a football field. These were the timeless unsung local heroes who, then as now, work behind the scenes to facilitate the sport of the young.

It is invidious, I suppose, to name names for there were so many willing hands and one inevitably errs by omission. Yet prominent among the Meadow families whose fathers and sons participated were the McGiverns, Pattersons, Morgans, McCabes, Dorans, McCoys, McGuigans, McEvoys, McElroys, McAllisters, McConvilles, McCrums, Flynns, Wards and many more.

One thing that bound us together was our common relative poverty, yet money was raised by various means to ensure the team had a kit, and that it was regularly laundered. The latter required volunteer mums, but there was never any shortage of these. Passers-by would lean on the railings on the Meadow Road (Clanrye Avenue) to watch the games and it was somebody’s job to wrench offerings from them, walking along with a cloth cap outstretched. I distinctly remember men turning away in embarrassment, when they didn’t even have a few coppers to offer. It was not from meanness. They all loved and appreciated the spectacle. The younger kids playing in The Resi on Match Night enjoyed having an audience for their spirited frolics, for they had little interest in the play on field. Tig (as we called the game the English call Tag) in and out between the spectators was often a fairly dangerous sport because soccer enthusiasts had little sympathy and would deliver a hefty kick up the rear end to any kid who got too near. This just encouraged us for the victim was mocked for having got caught, and the others redoubled their efforts to annoy their elders.

Another favourite was the digging of traps on the well-walked paths, half-filling them with water and covering the lot with twigs and pulled grass. The culprits would then retire and gather quietly on the embankment, feigning acute interest in the soccer game below. The unsuspecting victim, seeing no difference in the grass before him, sank to his ankle in muddy water, ruining his trousers and footwear and often keeling over in an undignified heap. His dignity received a further blow when his predicament was loudly advertised by a scornful roar of derision from the embankment! Occasionally he’d bellow useless threats at the crowd on the bank – a move sure to bring further catcalls, challenges or returned threats. Best to accept the medicine and walk on without remark!

… Meadow 7? …

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