Oasis of Ballinlare Gardens

Let us start with the big fact that will stir the emotions of a few.  

Ballinlare Gardens (plus a little bit, a very tiny bit of Killeavey Road) was  ( is ) in the grand county of Armagh.

As a child of the greatest double cul-de-sacs in the world, it really mattered nothing to me about which County I was in. But then came Gaelic football County loyalty. As a person grows so they become aware of the great loyalty they owe to one’s County.

It also has to be said that there were those who lived in the cul-de-sacs who buried their loyalty and choose that of the great ‘Red and Black’. When I look back at those times, we were innocent in so many ways and yet there was that element of addiction to a certain type of violence and mayhem.

Take for the instance the battle grounds within that whole great play area of the Medda (to this day, the favoured pronounciation of residents).   Through a child’s eyes, the Medda was one great big world and the walk along the bars/railings of Clanrye Avenue was like travelling into a whole new world of traffic, shops and instant food – to be enjoyed if one was good.

Within our Medda world there was an undercurrent of violence and many crossroads of warfare.   The wall that stood at the junction of Orior Road/Killeavey Roads, where the Green Tin Church offered cover for those of us from Ballinlare Gardens, was one such.  One place of battle for us to avoid was the huge green slope above Orior Road, for the ‘gangs’ there controlled the higer ground.  Their charging down scared the bejasus out of those at the bottom.  Many a stone, or its bigger version the ‘duckie’, was hurled towards those from another street – along, of course with muck balls.   Like everywhere else in the world there were those who were really ‘ace’. Funny, one remembers the excitement of the confrontation and the chase, but never wounds inflicted or even received!

Gabriel (Gabby) Quinn was our real ‘ace’ and when he was about, the odds were stacked in our favour.  Then not to be out done for bravery and accuracy was the younger brother, Patsy

Then war would give way to that peaceful preoccupation of street football which in Ballinlare Gardens took place in the large parking area in front of the school gates.  The Burns brothers, Brendan and Seamus, were the ones you hoped to have on your side.

My memory of Eric Bittles was that he was good to have on your side as well because he had the size and that ‘streak of devilment’!  To play football on grass meant heading to the field where the Modern Meda Church now stands.  We all loved the Tin Hut Church because it did not encroach on our play fields.

Another great character to remember, from a child’s prospective, was Paddy Rafferty.

Paddy would be allowed into your house with his brown doctor’s look-alike bag. He would produce a set of keys and then the gas meter was opened and there would be a gigantic mountain of silver shillings. Paddy would be so quick at counting and bagging and then he was off and the child would see a mean man leaving who gave nothing back.  Sure when he was he loaded, could he not spare even one shilling? The adult remembers that indeed occasionally three or five WERE returned!

The next thing about Paddy was to encounter him at Newry Feis for the Irish Dancing section where he scared the life out of you because he would be laughing and cracking away while playing the piano.  Next came the embarrassment if he knew you and was off-putting even before a nervous wee person made it onto yon gigantic stage in Newry Town Hall.

In a certain way Paddy was linked to another great character of the first Cul de Sac – the great Peggy Campbell.   Peggy’s elevation to stardom in our eyes came when we discovered that she worked in the school canteen! Better still, she was the one who doled out the food! And best of all, for us few locals, was the boon it was to count her son Mickey among our mates! If you were his great mate, well, you got extra helpings and a most friendly greeting from Peggy herself.   I was already attending Irish Dancing and Peggy’s only daughter Catherine was my dancing partner! This put me at the Five-Star level with our Peggy!  She was proud of her two and anyone who had the privilege to dance with Catherine was her friend too. For me there was always extra-extras.  I have to say though, that Mickey was one of the lucky lads in that he was never sent to Irish Dancing classes.

[emailed to editor: comment from the same Michael Campbell:

I lived with my mother Peggy Campbell (formerly Shiells of Connolly Park and my sister Kate at number 27 next to Eddie Ruddy. My mother was a dinner lady in St Patrick’s Primary School.  The headmaster at that time was Vincent Cranny now deceased.)

Back to football and those you wanted to be on your side.  The Mullans, Tommy or Kieran, the Grahams, David, Mark or Damian, the Cunninghams, John or Louis or any of the other Quinns, Noel or Maurice!

What about the men in uniform? If my memory serves me right, did not Mr Hillen work for the Ulster transport Authority as a driver or conductor?  Eric Bittles’s dad worked in Edward Street Station but I never knew precisely what role he had there.

Back to few more memories.  Hardy’s (Newry Coal firm based where the Sean Hollywood centre is now) coal was delivered by horse and cart.  It was delivered to the Quinn’s row.  The horse was so docile but there was always that idea of someday doing a ‘Lone Ranger ‘ with the poor work horse.

Tommy McFadden with the electric bread van was our bread man.  He had a hell of time when he began departing from Ballinlare Gardens because the local boys would try to hand onto the back of his van for as long as possible.  Only a few ever achieved the ultimate of hanging on until Tommy’s next stop.  Getting to the junction of Killeavey Road showed a certain level of skill.  The thing was not to get caught by any adult and many a false start Tommy had as the horde sprung from the Gardens to get that grip.

Going back to the age of innocence in the mind’s eye.  We did have Television. Two Channels and all in glorious black and white.  Good old ‘Watch with Mother’ and the ‘Test Card’. Not much action or plot to that last one!

The games we used to play, there were other ball games that allowed for the inclusion of girls like, Attracta Cunningham, Monica and Deirde Burns, Breige Fitzpatrick in the parking space in front of the school gates.  There was England Ireland Scotland and Wales, Queenio, etc. Girls never played football or the boys’ summer game of cricket. There was – One two-three Red Light and Tig games.  There was the skipping season and that included boys and girls and no shame in common participation. 

Who laid claim during marble season as the one to avoid,?  I know Mark Graham was very good – as was Patsy Quinn but Gabrial Quinn was one also to avoid if you wanted to keep a hold of your marbles. There were two types of marble games.  First, the one that used the paving stones –  tarmac killed this. Then there was ‘ringzes’,  where as many could play as possible.   

The low garden walls next to the footpath allowed for the rapid escape and good hiding area when door rapping was the game of the hour.

I do remember one severe winter where the snow really did lie for a long time and electricity went out.  No T.V but candle light and God bless the gas cooker.

If I get back to the Irish Dancing theme, the three Teggart girls attended but I only can remember Geraldine’s name and she was the younger of the three.

What about Eamon Rafferty?  My memory of him was he was a character.   He had that wild streak of attempting anything if he thought it was fun.

One very great character was the Quinn’s Aunt who lived with them.  She was the first person I came across who used signed language! Secondly she introduced me to that awe-inspiring delight, the loaf bread, thickly cut, with loads of butter, then strawberry jam and then sprinkled with so much sugar!   I forget her name but I think it was Sarah.

I have some questions for all you out there!  Who was the first lad to pass through the gates of St Patrick’s on its opening day? What was the last train to leave Newry?  Was it steam or diesel? Did the Quinns have any sisters?  How many Hand sisters were there and did they have a brother? How many sisters had Sean Kenny? Name all of Sean Murtagh’s family? At what age did the McCracken’s get into running. How many of those that started living in Ballinlare Gardens when the Meda was built still live there?  I do know that Micheal, Lucy and Eamon Cunningham still live in the same house.  The Burns of Brendan and Sheila stayed for so long and the Fitzpatricks, Paddy, Kay, Gerard, Brian and Briege, who left  left in 1964/65.

That was a decision that haunted my family for so long:  Ballinlare Gardens, it was so unique, it was on the very edge of town, we had the luxury of wide open spaces to indulge in so many games and craic.

 We had the church and school right on top of us.  Pity the shop was away in Clanrye Avenue – a considerable walk.   When I look now at the expansion of buildings and roads, I have regrets about that lost innocence.   Bessbrook was so far away.   A foreign place.

For many the grounds of St Patrick’s offered so much when the school was over for the day.

Am I right, did Lukey Quinn ,the father of the Quinns drive a grey mini van for Newells of Newry? I know he was Bank Porter later on and I remember some spins in the van.

So others arrived into the Culs de sacs and became a part of this great community like the Ruddys, Peggy and Eddie.  If Peggy found out a lad was interested in a girl then Peggy became a sort of match maker – but only for those at Irish dancing.

Paddy Fitzpatrick and the cattle wagon, did he not have the same problems as Tommy McFadden with the hangers-on and who got to get away for great spins in the lorry? Who was the Barney Hughes bread man, McCann’s bread man, for Tommy drove for Inglis?  Who were the local milkmen?

What ever happened to John Hollywood who lived in the bungalow beside the Cunninghams beside the school? I do know that Coke was not the in thing but the local delivery lorry with Clanrye Minerals.  My favourite was not red lemonade but the awesome bright green flavoured stuff.  Hard to believe there was a time before computers, internet, stereos, colour t.v. 7up, Coke and Pepsi.  It was the era of Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger and Crackerjack.  What was the thing about cabbages?

While the Fitzpatrick’s were number 14, can anyone give some other relevant numbers to those already mentioned?

Before the growth of ownership of cars, the Meda roads were ace to cycle on.  There was the natural circuit of Killeavey Road and Orior Road.  A person could add in Derrybeg Drive and Slieve Gullion Road.  The Meda had style but Ballinlare Gardens had that uniqueness of those cul-de-sacs.  Traffic was not such a problem here.

As one gets older the memory lapses and characters are forgotten! If I have left your name out, it was never intentional.

I do treasure the time being in the Oasis of Ballinlare Gardens and the bigger world of the Meda.  I do believe I was very lucky to meet great characters and playmates.

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