Memories of Balbriggan in the 50’s
By Roger Turner
Part 2: A Very Different Way of Life.
|I wonder how youngsters pass
their time in 21st century Balbriggan? My generation would have
done anything for what they have nowadays. Eye-Pads, Pm3 Players,
Gamestations, CD machines that torture your ears from a hundred
yards away, and mobile phones that can do everything but make the
tea. This lot of youngsters have it all. But way back in the fifties
we had no television to watch, no DVD’s and most people didn’t
even have a record player. But we did have the radio, and even now
I could easily do without the TV, but not the radio. It was a different
way of life back then when the team from Balbriggan.net consisted
of a couple of old fishermen sat on the harbour with a big wooden
needle and bale of twine, repairing them.
Roger & Rita
|So, you ask, what did we have back in the
Well, if you give me a chance I’ll tell you. We had; Measles,
Chickenpox, Comics, Snakes & Ladders and, in my case, a brand
new mouth organ. That’s right, a mouth organ. Throughout the
year I would save pennies, thrupenny bits, tanners, any money I
could lay my hand on to buy a new mouth organ as soon as I got to
My mother middle, and her brother Chris with
the dog. |But why wait until I got to
Balbriggan, I hear you ask?
Well, apart from the fact that it had become a ritual, they were
imported from Germany and twice the price in Sheffield to what they
were in Balbriggan. That meant that for the same money that the
basic one would cost in Sheffield, I could buy the top of the range
one in, er... oh, now, what did they call the place? You know the
shop I mean. It was on Dublin Street somewhere near the old Garda
station.(Heeney's?) You went up two or three steps…. Come
on memory, don’t start letting me down now.
You know, we spend a lifetime carefully recording data and images,
laying them down in some dusty corner of the mind only for the brain
to malfunction when the time for retrieval comes round.
And to compound matters, the brain sends you loads of information
you didn’t ask for, but the brain seems to think you might
just make good use of. That’s what is happening now, so please
bear with me while my brain goes off at a tangent…
way back, almost a century ago, a Scottish born Englishman called
William Calow discovered a charming seaside town to the north of
Dublin, and fell in love with it and the friendly people who live
there. He had red hair, a short red beard and was given the nickname
of “Willie With The Whiskers” by the locals.
“Willie With The Whiskers” was what today would have
been called an entrepreneur and although the family business was
sweeping chimneys he made a small fortune from selling the soot
as fertilizer. For those who don’t know, different types of
fires produce different qualities of soot.
Willie developed a recipe for mixing furnace soot from the steelworks
and factories with household soot, and then selling this product
to farms where it was spread on the land to increase crop yields.
Bill Calow(Stevie) Rogers Grandfather |
Willie with the whiskers, Seated
|But it wasn’t
soot that brought Willie to Balbriggan, but weaving. Willie, now
a moderately a rich businessman, had a business pal who came over
to set up a weaving factory, that I seem to think was later called
Stevensons. This pal ran the factory for sometime and invited Willie
for a holiday and Willie was smitten.
Now we are talking about the years before the First World War when
fishing boats were still in sail, and Willie would take a crate
of Guinness to the harbour and sweet-talk his way into going out
on the fishing boats. Balbriggan drew him back like a magnet and
over the years he came over on a regular basis where he made many
friends.Willie loved the place so much that he almost bought the
hotel in town, but his wife didn’t want to come over to live
in Balbriggan on a permanent basis (silly woman).
Eileen turner, nee Calow seated, and Aunty Eileen, McKenna
do believe though that at one time he owned a cottage on Drogheda
Street. After the Great War, his son, also called William, but better
known as Bill or Stevie (my Grandfather), brought his young wife
(Nan) and their daughter (my mother, Eileen) over to discover the
charms of Balbriggan for themselves. At first they came across via
the steamer to Dublin, but in the early thirties he bought a motorbike
with a sidecar and started to come via Stranraer, into Larne in
the north and drive down to Balbriggan. But they didn’t just
stay in Balbriggan; they would be off touring before they went home.Over
the years they became friends with many locals, and my mother became
good friends with Eileen Carlton. Her father, Jimmy, was head gardener
at Hampton in those days. Mother and Eileen became good friends
and stayed in touch until mother died in 1980.
My Nan Calow on the motorbike they would have
come to Balbriggan on during the early thirties. In sidecar is
my mother, Eileen, and her brother Chris.
Mother went over with
Nan and Steve until she married my dad (George) in 1939. Mother
and Dad were due to go over that summer, but Hitler had other ideas.During
the war our Pat was born and in 1946 or 47 she was taken over by
Mother and Dad.This was Dad’s first visit to Balbriggan and
he too fell in love with the place.
remembers on his first day in Balbriggan he was instructed to go
to the Garda Station to get an emergency ration book. At that time
they stayed with the Misses Mangam, just up Skerries Street on the
right from the Square. (You know the ones. Houses that stood back
from the road, with silver painted railing in front.) When he told
the Sergeant where they were staying his attitude changed from a
hard-nosed copper, to friend, and although they were only staying
a week, he gave them rations for a month. Now that’s Balbriggan
people to a tee.
I was born in 1948 and came over in my mothers arms a couple of
Right, that’s the history lesson out of the way, now lets
get back to the 50s!
Nan Calow and My uncle Chris at Isacs Hole.
|I’ve given up trying
to remember the name of shops, so we’ll just call that shop,
The Mouth-organ Shop. There, that’s one in the eye for my
It’s over thirty years since I last visited, and even then
Balbriggan was changing. Where once we kids innocently trespassed
over some farmers field, plans were afoot for posh houses to be
built there. But what’s new? The house I spent my summers
in on Craoibin Park was itself on a newly built estate.
The one thing that still sticks in my mind is that if you went to
call on someone, and they were out, then the key was always in the
lock and you just let yourself in and made a pot of tea.
Nan Calow 2nd from back left and Chris at the front. on St Peters
|Auntie Eileen’s house
was no different, and soon after our arrival we would be sat at
the kitchen table with hot sweet tea. If we were very lucky, she
would have baked some soda bread to enjoy with a little real Irish
butter. Gee, I can still taste it, well almost. I once bought Irish
soda bread in our local supermarket, and it were rubbish and nowt
like the real thing!
When my mother and Auntie Eileen got together they would talk for
hours and hours and hours. That didn’t suit me, for I had
lots to do and lots to see, so I would start off fidgeting.‘Why
don’t you take him for a walk,’ Mother would say to
‘Do I have to?’ Pat would ask.
‘Yes,’ insisted Mother, ‘unless you want to do
That did it. ‘He better not show me up, then.’ Our Pat
knew what I was like. ‘Can I some of me money for a new mouth
organ, Mum?’ I would ask.
| ‘No, Mum.’
Pat would then say. ‘He’ll in there for ages trying
them all out and touching everything in the shop.’ ‘I
won’t, Mum,’ I said, with finger crossed. ‘Honest.’
Mother took some of my money from her handbag and gave it to me.
‘Mind you behave for your sister.’
Some chance. I’ve been playing our Pat up for years and still
To pacify Pat, mother would give her some money for sweets.
‘You’re not having any,’ our Pat would tell me
once outside the house. I just smiled at her and said nowt.
|I was first brought
to Balbriggan as a babe in arms, so to me it was a like second home.
Our Pat, however, was about six or seven when she was first over.
What I just took in my stride, she must have wondered at. Her first
visit came shortly after the war and things in Sheffield were in
very short supply. Sweets in particular, were virtually unavailable
in Sheffield, but in Balbriggan were on open sale and plentiful.
My Dad tells me that they couldn’t get her out of the sweet
shop in the square, and the old chap who owned it kept on giving
her samples to try. No wonder she were always being sick when we
Nan 2nd from left back. Chris front right.
|Anyway, once we had been in
the Mouth Organ Shop, it was off to the sweet shop for her treat.
She was tight with her money, was our Pat, and if I wanted sweets
I had to buy my own.
Next stop, the harbour. As you approached it your nose told you
if the tide was in or out. Now all harbours smell, but non-quite
as bad as Balbriggan with the tide out. I pity those poor souls
who have spent their hard earned money on buying expensive housing
down beside the harbour, for I bet it still smells the same at low
Raymond McKenna in the back garden of Craoibin Park, late 50s/early60s
|But even at it
worst, the smell was nothing like we had left behind in Sheffield
where thousands of factories produced a thick acrid smog of pollution
every day that hung over the city like a cloak. You know, despite
Sheffield being built on seven hills, most days you could not see
from one hill to the next.
Oh what joy it was to stand on Balbriggan harbour and see ‘The
Mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea.’ (Where’s
me mouth organ?)I loved that harbour and would take the first opportunity
to walk up and touch the lighthouse to thank it for a safe return.
And it was a real lighthouse in those days, with a real light that
needed a keeper to take care of it.
| Do you know,
I never ever went inside that lighthouse! (Who nicked the dome?)
‘Come on Roger,’ our Pat would shout, still stuffing
sweets into her face, ‘lets go for a walk on the back strand.’
I would stick my hand on my hips in defiance. ‘Can’t
I stop here to look at the boats?’
‘No you can’t!’ she would snap. ‘I promised
mother I’d keep an eye on you.’
‘Oh, go on, Pat…’ This would go on for a few minutes
until she either gave in or gave me a thick ear, and it was usually
the latter. Big sisters could be beastly when they wanted. But that
never stopped my winding her up.
|Despite all my
protestation I really liked the back strand for there were many
good flat stones ideal for skimming across the sea. She might have
been bigger and stronger than me, but I could always skim a stone
further than our Pat could. It’s all in the wrist you know….
But of course you do, for I bet like me you will have spent many
hours perfecting your skimming action on the back strand.
Back at Craoibin Park, Mother would have unpacked our cases, put
all our clothes away, and with Aunty Eileen, would be busy preparing
a meal. Chatter, chatter, chatter whilst peeling potatoes, chatter,
chatter, and chatter whilst setting the table.
My mother, Eileen, Nan Calow, and Chris.
they seemed to do, chatter, chatter, chatter. We were well out of
‘Lets go and see the trains,’ I would suggest. I knew
I was on to a winner with that for our walk from the back strand
would take us over the level crossing on Church Street.
It was the days of steam trains and I loved the sound and the smell
of steam trains. Mind you, most boys did. Even our Pat likes trains
(it’s because she was never sick on them), and we would spend
ages waiting for the Dublin Express to come thundering past.
From there we would walk up to the canal if time permitted. Now,
at this point, I must raise a question…. Why do Balbriggan
people call it a canal when it is obviously a millpond? In Sheffield
we have a canal that goes through the industrial east end, down
a series of locks to Rotherham and then on to Doncaster. Boats carried
coal to the steelworks and took steel up to the docks at Hull. Now
that’s a canal. Canals in England were rubbish strewn, dirty
and becoming neglected. But the canal in Balbriggan was clean, beautiful
and always had a family of swans swimming around. So come on you
clever people, enlighten a poor English boy, and tell me why it
was called a canal.
||On our way back to Craoibin
Park we would stop off at the cinema to find out what film they
were showing. It was usually something we had already seen back
in Sheffield, what did matter was the fact that all films were censored
at that time. That censor must have needed a very sharp knife when
the Carry-On films crossed the Irish Sea! Crossing the Dublin Road
was our only problem on that first day, for it was the direct road
from Dublin to the north and carried a large amount of traffic even
back in those days. Mind you, it was nothing like we were used to
in Sheffield. And it was the only road in Balbriggan that did carry
much traffic for the motorcar was the preserve of the rich back
in the fifties and most people in Balbriggan were ordinary working
people who walked or rode a pushbike.
| Once safely across
we passed the field full of cowpats on Market Green and were soon
back at Craoibin Park.
|Now so far I have
failed to mention Rory and Rita, Aunty Eileen’s children.
Well, when we arrived at dinnertime they were still at school. The
poor things had another week before they broke up for the holidays.
Rory was a wee bit older than me and Rita just a little younger
than me… or was it the other way round… What the hell,
we three were about the same age, but our Pat was eight years older
than me, and she never let us forget it. But on the whole, we were
all the best of friends.
Fresh fish and chips for tea were a must on a Friday in Balbriggan
and tasted wonderful. We all enjoyed our meal and chatted all the
||After Mother and
Aunty Eileen had washed the Delf we all went for a walk and headed
for my most favourite spot in the whole of the British Isles…
Back in the mid-fifties, The Bower was a wild, desolate and exciting
place, close to civilisation yet strangely isolated from the real
world, and so different to anything we had round Sheffield. Even
on calm day waves would do battle with the lichen covered rocks,
becoming angry as they crashed and rolled toward the shore. On a
day when the wind was blowing off the sea, huge waves would be whipped
up and come crashing over the rocks onto the headland. Fantastic!
The taste and smell of the sea only added to the beauty of The Bower.
I got older, I would go most days to The Bower, sit on a rock and
play my mouth organ.
But to get back to that day, we children would play, explore and
enjoy the summer’s evening. We would look out to sea and watch
the fishing boats heading back to port and watch the seabirds following
on, weaving and dipping to retrieve fish guts thrown overboard.
It was an easy meal for them with plenty of food for all, but even
so, squabbles broke out.
|Closer to shore, porpoises
bobbed out and then back down into the water as they chased shoals
We stayed on The Bower until the daylight started to slip away and
we just had enough light to make our way back. The end of a very
long and tiring day.
I would go to bed worn out, hoping that tomorrow would be a very
special sort of day, and it always was…
To Read Part
1 Click HERE
To read part 3 Click HERE
To contact Roger click HERE