To this day funerals to St Mary’s cemetery pass up Chapel Street.
We were obsessed as children with funerals. Ned Murphy’s hearse was drawn by huge black shire horses suitably plumed and adorned for the occasion. The aura of death and mourning had a peculiar effect on us as youth, so far removed, we felt ourselves, from all of it.
Mourners were dressed in their Sunday best, and in black (if indeed they possessed either one or the other). One’s wardrobe was severely restricted then!
But it was after the mourners all adjourned from the cemetery to the local bars that interested us most. The session in Paddy Rice’s pub would last till closing time, which in those days was ten o’clock in the evening. We’d be lying in wait for the previously-morbid mourners, now suitably plied with liquor, and in the best of form and feeling benevolent, to stumble out onto the street. Pennies and ha’pennies would be carelessly dispensed to all the boys who would suddenly surround them. Then off we raced to Mrs McElroy’s sweet shop.
This was located at the corner of the High Walk and, in exchange for our booty of pennies and ha’pennies, the lady dispensed dainties, sugar spitfires, black jacks and fruit salads, jubjubes, liquorice sticks and a host of other delectables.
Mrs McElroy was, to our eyes, a wizened wee creature of almost a hundred years of age. In reality she couldn’t have been more than fifty (the same thing to us!) who shuffled slowly into the shop from the back kitchen whenever she heard the bell suspended from the door ring to signal a customer’s arrival.
Too slowly, sometimes, for some of my ‘old-fashioned’ mates. Before she’d appear some would have had time to nip behind the counter and back, secreting in their ganseys or in the pockets of their corduroy shorts the sweets they had stolen.
How does one offer reparation after all these years?