Chatting about the ‘good old days’ at the start of a new year

Our man Frank on a nostalgic chat with some fellow ‘old-timers’; A close call for airline passengers; In praise of Tommy Fleming…

It’s Saturday night as I write, and a few of us older gentlemen – all bar one of us being in the pension-plus bracket – are having a quiet pint in Mikeen’s. As can often happen, talk drifts back to what we old-timers like to call the ‘good old days’.

Now I have sometimes mentioned the fact that Creggs literally had everything that anyone could want in those days of the 1950s and ‘60s, but as we talked on Saturday night I realised just how much our little village actually had.

Pat Cunningham’s shop literally was a one-stop shop! On the ground floor, there was a hardware, a grocery and a pub, while upstairs was Creggs’ answer to Brown Thomas, with a very exclusive ladieswear department, where only the very best of up to date fashion was available. Out the back you could buy all kinds of farm feed, briquettes and bags of coal, and if you were heading off to the great world up in the sky you could even get fitted for your coffin.

There used to be a saying one time that you could get everything from a needle to an anchor in old hardware shops and there is no doubt that in Cunningham’s shop you pretty nearly could.

And the funny thing is that they weren’t alone – Chrissie Kilby, John Featherstone , Hansberry’s and Mick Roarke all had shops that sold much more than groceries alone, while Lizzie Connaughton’s shop was more a sweet and ice cream one, and Maureen Pigott’s and Mrs Tommies were more or less out and out public houses.

For a young child of that era, I have three outstanding memories. The first was the six-penny ice cream that Baby Boyle would give us when she worked in Lizzie Connaughton’s! There was more than half a block of ice cream in each one. Across the road in Roarke’s, Sarah would (for some reason) take pity on me and supply me with loads of free sweets – and up in Chrissie’s there was no end to Tommy Healy’s generosity when it came to doling out the penny sweets.

And as we talked about old times and customs, we once more touched on the long forgotten art of thumbing. Every one of us had stories of adventure, drama and near-disasters to tell. I realised that I had travelled the length and breadth of the country by thumb, from Listowel, Dundalk, Westport and Galway (among other places) back home to Creggs. The truth is we wouldn’t think twice about heading off for anywhere with just a thumb to get us there. There were no mobile phones back then, but we were undeterred, and I suppose it was the accepted way to travel.

One late night in Galway I discovered that my chauffeur was otherwise occupied, and when he hadn’t turned up after two o’clock, I decided to thumb home. I walked out as far as Loughgeorge and just as I was about to head off towards Turloughmore and Abbey, the Johnny Flynn Showband van pulled up and offered me a lift to Tuam, where the band was based. They were on their way home from playing at a dance in Limerick and as there wasn’t much traffic about at that hour, I gratefully took the lift.

Sadly, that was the last lift I got, and, having gone through the soles of my shoes as I made my way down Checker Hill outside Dunmore, when finally I stumbled and limped in through the door of our house on the Sunday morning, my father was headed out to second Mass at 11.30 am. It had taken me about nine and a half hours, but despite that ordeal, it didn’t put me off.  I was to clock up many, many more miles around our country’s roads before I eventually had to ‘hang up’ my thumb.

Nowadays people are afraid to thumb at all, and even if they did, drivers would be fearful of picking anyone up, so the thrill and excitement of the journey will never be experienced by any of our modern-day youth – more’s the pity.

Airline disaster averted

For as long as I can remember, Japan has been at the cutting edge of technology. Everything to do with the modern world of computers seems to have originated in that Eastern Asia country. And so it is all the more extraordinary that in a country of such technological brilliance, the potentially disastrous air crash last week  on the runway of Haneda Airport could occur.

In case you had yourself cut off from all world news, a Japan Airlines Airbus collided with a Coast Guard aircraft as the bigger plane came in to land, and, remarkably, while five of the six people on the smaller Coast Guard plane were killed, all 379 passengers and crew of the JAL jet escaped, even though their craft was completely burnt out. It seems that the amazing discipline of the passengers (most of whom were Japanese citizens), as they obeyed the instructions given by the crew and left the plane in an orderly fashion, contributed to the unbelievable escape, but it also goes to show that no matter how perfect the systems are, human error can still cause maximum damage.

It appears that the pilot of the Coast Guard plane had been told to hold his position and not taxi for take-off, but he inadvertently ventured into the flight path of the packed airliner and could have caused a disaster of a monumental scale.

A couple of days later over in Portland, a huge part of the fuselage of an eight-week-old Boeing 737 Max blew out of the plane at a height of 16,000 feet. That incident remarkably resulted in no loss of life; it seems that the fact that the plane had a long way to go to its cruising height may have prevented another potential catastrophe.

Anyway, while I’m sure there will be umpteen investigations into the cause of the blow-out, I would suspect that human error will also come into it. I would hazard a guess that some lad forgot to tighten a few rivets and left something loose, but if ever there is a lesson in something, it is that nothing anywhere is safe from human error – fasten your seatbelts and hope all the bolts are properly tightened!

Talented and humble: in praise of Tommy

A few years ago, Carol and myself took a day trip to the beautiful Co Sligo seaside town of Enniscrone, and after walking a while on the beautiful, windy and sandy beach, we called into a supermarket at the top of the town for a little something from their lovely deli department.

We got our stuff and headed to the coffee machine where there was a little queue, and as can happen in small towns, Carol got into a chat with the fellow who was ahead of us. As it happened, the fellow in question, who was a thoroughly nice guy, was singer Tommy Fleming. Over the Christmas just gone by he was literally popping up everywhere.

I don’t know how many times he was on the telly over the last couple of weeks, but I saw at least four totally different concerts including one from the lovely Belleek Castle near Ballina.

There is no doubt that Tommy is one of the best singers we have in Ireland and it’s obvious that he is in huge demand for concerts in every conceivable type of arena. I have to say that as we talked to him that afternoon in Enniscrone, you would never have known that he was such a superstar. And that is the biggest compliment I can pay him as a person.

As a singer, he is supremely talented and has a hugely committed and enthusiastic following – and after hearing him so often recently, I am now one of them.

And finally…

Out here in Creggs we are fortunate to have a brilliant historical society – the Kilbegnet Historical Society – who are constantly bringing different events to the beautiful heritage centre in the village.

Larry Kilcommons, who has been involved in it for what seems like donkey’s years, tells me that on Friday January 19th, Mairtin O’Dufaigh (Udar) will give a talk on the life and times of the Great Emancipator Daniel O’Connell, starting at 8 pm.

One of the great figures of Irish history, O’Connell is one of the most important and interesting of all our leaders. If you have any interest in history at all, be in Creggs in the Heritage Centre, on Friday, January 19th, at 8 pm sharp!