I enjoy an occasional trip down memory
lane these days. I’m sure it’s got something to
do with my turning fifty at the end of the month. Either that,
or my recent reunion with old class mates. We were commemorating,
if not celebrating, the fact that we had now truly reached middle
What we knew as
“the teck”, probably better known to your readers
as The Community College, was the common bond we shared. However
having delved through some old photograph albums, in search
of pictures, which might have been of interest to my fellow
two score and ten year olds, I came across some old photos of
the town. God was it really thirty three years since I left
The last time I
looked at that dirty old town, I was glad to leave it. After
all, what had it to offer? I was eighteen, had my Group Cert
and my Inter and Balbriggan was a “has been town”.
A town run by the church and schools, a hand full of town fathers.
A population who, if they did not know you, well you had to
be outsider. A cliché of the time was “Everybody
knows everybody, and everybody’s business.”
Ok, there were
still some remnants of it’s booming industrial era. An
age which saw a textile industry, feed and house the bulk of
families. Well those who weren’t into fishing. At eighteen
I had enough. The fields and yards around Hampton Mills on the
Market Green gave plenty of excitement and fun as a kid, but
it was time for greener pastures. The clanging of those infernal
weaving machines still ring in my head. I can still see the
workers covered in cotton dust, with fragments of linen and
threads dangling from their cloths. Shouting at each other as
they knocked off, half deaf from the constant droning of the
looms. Didn’t they do the same as Gallon’s Mills
on Mill Street. Christ they even named the street after the
industry, how bloody original. Still if you could afford it,
you’d never be stuck for bed linen. Then there was Stephenson’s
on the sea banks. You know I must have been fifteen before I
was told what they made over there. It was all very hush hush.
So what, if they made women’s under things. I was never
going to work in a “knickers factory”. Then of course
there was the daddy of them all Smyco’s. The largest employer
in the area, where families had worked since the nineteenth
century. Oh yes they displayed their Gold medals and awards.
Proudly engraved and etched around it massive two blocks of
hideous Victorian eyesores, bridged by an enclosed medieval
looking gantry. No family there, not a hope in hell of getting
a job there, even if I wanted to.
For years, I would
walk down the cinema lane. You know, between the cinema and
Brennan’s Drapery shop. Opposite the cattle market run
by Gavin & Lowe where a market took place every Thursday.
Jesus, Dublin Street reeked of cow shit for days. The Munster
and Lenster Bank on the Square stayed open late on Market days.
No carpets on the floor then. Understandably so I suppose.
There was a little
office on the right of the entrance of the cattle market, later
occupied by “The Dozor” For three pence that’s
3d in the old money, you’d get the neck shaved off ye
and the obligatory “Short Back and Sides” Its’
a small wonder any of us who endured his artistry had a head
left by the time he finished. Still it keep the head lice at
bay, I suppose, and was great value, until those dreaded words
from the Ma came condemning you to your quarterly scalping,
with ‘THE DOZOR’.
Crossing the canal,
swans to the left, and McKeon’s grubby farm yard down
in the hollow to the right, on my way to “The Nash”,
St., Peter and Paul’s national school to you, I’d
come onto to Clonard Street. Just there, at Molly’s. What
was her name? Malone comes to mind, but I can’t be sure.
Surely Balbriggan hadn’t got its’ own, anyway she
wasn’t a fish monger’s daughter or was she? They
had a sweet shop at the top of Quay Street. I digress. The reason
for mentioning Clonard Street leads me to Burrows. Burrows what
went on in there no one knew, and I wasn’t about to find
out until years later. They were embroiders, and very renowned
in their field too, no messing. But they were in the industry
all the same, and that was not where I saw myself spending the
best years of MY life. No sir thank you very much. Still there
was one option open to me if I was going to discount a career
in Textiles or fisheries and no it is not working the land.
I would work for Wavin. Yes Wavin, the new kids on the block,
for the new kid on the block. Manufacturers of the worlds best
PVC pipes. This was the only chance on my staying in this town.
All I had to do was slap in the auld ‘Application Form’
and “when do you want me to start?” I left Balbriggan
on receiving a very polite, ‘thank you but no thanks’.
So here I am back
after thirty three years. Taking a stroll down memory lane.
Visiting the auld haunts. God but this place last changed.