A ‘slice’ of social history… in praise of local bakeries!

Our man Frank on fond memories of a golden era for bakeries…and harking back to when Ballintubber was ‘the Drumlish of the showband world’…

Of all the fads that flourished, particularly in the first year of lockdown, baking was probably the most popular. Everyone, from the ordinary two and sixpence like myself, to film stars, musicians, and all sorts of A-listers, were turning out cupcakes, scones, brown bread, banana bread and all other types of delicious bakery items.

  Banana bread seemed to be the ultimate product at the time. You couldn’t turn on any TV chat show without some star on Zoom telling you their own (up to then) secret recipe for producing the most wonderful banana bread.

  I will admit that I too got bitten by the bug and for a while was almost permanently to be found in the totally overcrowded kitchen with all my baking stuff. Anyway, two years in, and while I am still doing a little bit, nowadays my efforts are confined almost exclusively to the most beautiful (according to myself) choc chip buns, with an odd loaf of brown bread also finding its way out of the oven.

  As I was thinking about all of this, my mind drifted (as it often does) back to my younger days, when there was a bakery in nearly every town and village around us. Back then, Creggs had at least six bread vans delivering their products to the shops. Of course, there were six or seven shops in the village then, as opposed to the single one, O’Rourke’s, that is still standing today. Brogan’s in Glenamaddy, Broderick’s of Athlone, Rourke’s in Ballinasloe, Dyer’s in Castlerea, Molloy’s of  Roscommon (who are the only ones still going), and BBB – Beckett’s Bakery Ballygar – are among the ones that I can remember. All of their delivery vans would be seen regularly in our little village.

  Times were different then. On one famous occasion as we were celebrating (or drowning our sorrows) in Seamus Keane’s after taking part in a cup final the previous day, I spotted a friend (until that day) of mine as he arrived with his load of bread and cakes. I invited him to join us for a pint, and several hours later when the porter got the better of him, we put him in the back of the van with all the untouched bakery stuff, and left him to sleep it off.

  The load was, presumably, also written off, and sad to say that was the last time I ever saw him. He lost his job and probably never forgave me, although in my defence we didn’t have to twist his arm to get him to join us.

  Anyway, how times have changed. The country shops have all nearly disappeared, and so have the small village bakeries. Molloy’s is still going strong, and – despite my diabetic diagnosis – for many a year now their cream sponge birthday cake is something to die for.

What has Ballintubber ever done for us? Read on!

It’s funny the thoughts that come into an old man’s head (that’s me). As I arrived into Creggs for the big rugby match against Westport on Sunday afternoon, for some reason I was thinking about the village of Ballintubber, and the huge impact it is having on our little rugby club.

  There are three very important members of the first-team panel – Sean Og Higgins, Aidan Leech, and Michael Holland – from the Roscommon village. As I made my way into the match, I was thinking that if we were to win the game, since Mick Holland is out injured, the two Ballintubber lads in the front row would have to be at the top of their game.

  We were well aware that Westport would be coming with a big strong powerful pack of forwards, and we would need all our strength and commitment to keep them at bay, so I was very disappointed to meet Aidan Leech on my way in and find out that he too was absent through injury. The Ballintubber three were now down to one, but the good news is that Ogie more than held his own against the visiting front row, and contributed handsomely to a very slender Creggs win.

  While I was rambling down memory lane in Ballintubber, I thought back to the days when Ballintubber was the Drumlish of the showband world. Drumlish later was famed for giving the world of country music Declan Nerney and Mick Flavin, but back in the 1960s, Ballintubber gave us two of the best bands of the era, The Premier Aces and The Rhythm Stars.

  However, much more impressive than the Drumlish two was the fact that no fewer than seven Treacy brothers, and one sister, featured on The Rhythm Stars at one time or another, while at least three of them also played with The Premier Aces. Sadly, some of the Treacy brothers have passed on, but locally a number of the brothers were still playing their music, at least until the pandemic put a stop to it all.

  From time to time I meet Lynn, still looking as fresh as when he and all the rest graced the stages of the many marquees that we all loved back in the 1960s. Sixty-two years on from the foundation of The Rhythm Stars, it’s nice to recall the impact they and The Premier Aces had on the national music scene.

  Both of them were regular performers at Creggs Carnival back in the day. My dad Bill was the secretary and I always remember him saying that as long as either of them were playing, there was a big crowd guaranteed!

  I keep saying to Lynn that, like Westlife and Boyzone, who have both made comebacks after retirement, that even for one night only it would be great to get the remaining band members back together again and recreate the magic that they produced all those years ago. If it ever happens, I will be there!

And finally…

Finally for this week, I have to reflect on what a strange world we live in.

  On the 15th of January this year, down in the Mayo town of Castlebar, a family’s world would change forever when they won this country’s biggest ever Lotto jackpot – more than €19 million. I cannot even begin to comprehend what such an amazing amount of money will mean to that family, and we wish them well. But contrast that with what befell another western family three nights later.

  Three/four masked thugs broke into 73-year-old Tom Niland’s house in Skreen in the neighbouring county of Sligo, and for the sake of a small amount of money, viciously assaulted the pensioner, leaving him, weeks after the assault, still on a life support machine.

  Now I am not going to go over old ground again, but all I hope is that the Gardai leave no stone unturned in their efforts to catch these unspeakable scumbags, and make sure they pay for their terrible deeds.

  I know that human rights activists will disagree, but secretly (until now) I wish old-style punishments, like hard labour, physical punishment, or worse, were waiting for these thugs when the law finally catches up with them.

  In the meantime, we will remember Tom Niland and his family in our prayers, and wish him a full and speedy recovery.