The favourite game of all was Tig around the Block. It involved literally dozens of us, boys, and occasionally a few girls and was played not just Round the Block but as far afield as The Pighall Loanan, Derrybeg, Sandy’s Field, The Line, The Plaits, The Bricky Loanan and all areas within, especially other people’s back gardens. Played on this scale, there had to be a whole team ‘on it’. The more dedicated of us played the game with surprising intensity and military discipline.
The challenge was always to find some new hiding place that had never before been used or attempted. Long after total darkness had descended, when those ‘on it’ would finally admit defeat, the victors would slip out of their hiding places crowing their success. If they were unable to contain their pleasure at winning they would reveal boastfully where they had been secreted. This spoiled the nook as a future place of hiding, unless of course the boaster was ‘selling a dummy’.
Theo’s ma never uses the back hall and leaves the door unlocked. I hid in there and watched you searching all night!
It wasn’t true because they kennelled their fierce Alsatian dog in that hall, as the unsuspecting participant discovered when he tried the same hiding place a few nights later.
Another illicit foray was up to the Hospital to raid the back store where empty mineral bottles were stored prior to collection. These were soft-drink or mineral water bottles, many of them Lucozade, a favourite drink to take to convalescent relatives in the wards. We never tasted it because it was far too expensive to be consumed in good health! It would have been possible to access the place by the normal road route but we would have run the danger of being identified and challenged. Our route, past Helen’s Terrace, The Pighall Loanan to The Wheel, across the Camlough Road to scale the high (and tottering) old Workhouse wall, was far more challenging and exciting.
The return journey, loaded down with glass bottles, was more dangerous still. I think that wall was eight or ten feet high. We knew it was theft but there was no victim. Relatives of the ill had already paid and did not expect to recoup the shilling refund of these returnable bottles. I also confessed this sin regularly to Father Reid in the Cathedral confessional on Saturdays, but I don’t think I ever really determined to desist from this glorious windfall source of wealth. The staff at Donaghy’s gave us short shrift. I’m sure The Hut’s staff knew our source, but their supplier must have been more tolerant. They were regularly returning ten times the number of mineral bottles they sold. If the lorry driver kept his tongue, The Hut benefited enormously as we spent every penny we ‘earned’ there, on sweets or cigarettes. At one time, the Grays of Killeavey Road had The Hut. The Corrs were the owners prior to that.
Brian Donaghy, the school teacher who lived facing the public telephone and postbox, leased the Clanrye Avenue shop, as long as I can remember. This made him a kind of squire twice over in our eyes. The only other school teacher in the Meadow then, to our recollection, was Anthony Russell who taught in The Tech. In the long vacation, he would help us dam the Derrybeg River in McClelland’s field below the Camlough Road, and teach us to swim in the deep pool that formed. There was a young teenage girl used to swim in this pool, using only her knickers as swimming costume. I remember her name too, and the fact that she was a Protestant. We thought ‘they’ were more brazen in this regard. At this young age her ‘extra bits’ of special interest to us were barely discernable, but still made her the centre of our attention. More business for the confessional,Saturday mornings!
Maura, Brian’s wife, occasionally served in his confectionery shop but the regular assistants of that time were Nan Wasson and Patricia McShane. They became as familiar figures to us all as any of our other friends. Parents could get things ‘on tick’ there but they had to pay the bill at the end of the week. Most people lived from one Friday to the next. Next door to Donaghy’s Shop was the Housing Trust office where rent was paid.
For the first ten years or so, there were no motor vehicles in the Meadow. Today’s residents of Derrybeg Drive in particular, the only street with rows of houses closely facing each other along its length, might rue the lack of foresight that now causes them permanent road traffic congestion. I would argue to the contrary that few people in those straightened times could foresee a time when every home would have at least one car to park outside their door. Growing up in the fifties, we were able happily to throw two jumpers down on the road as goalposts and play a full game of football in the middle of a street without interruption from any passing vehicle.
Even for us as under-tens the streets were pretty narrow, but a favourite game was ‘football tig’ where all participants within a restricted space of roadway attempted to avoid being struck by the ball at the feet of the boy who was ‘on it’. He would advertise his skills by back-heeling, rolling, lifting and flipping the ball to strike us anywhere on the body. Once touched by the ball, you were ‘out’ and the numbers diminished until the last man standing was the winner. I distinctly remember the bread delivery man in his cart (as we called it) waiting for this outcome before proceeding on his daily round. Imagine that happening now!