Michael Fox Singer & Radio Presenter

A nostalgic visit to the North Wall Quay in Dublin

A nostalgic visit to the North Wall Quay in Dublin

“Ships that pass in the night”

A recent visit to the impressive and imaginatively designed Convention Centre  in the International Financial Services Centre located around the North Wall area of eastside Dublin brought me to a place I had not been to since the 1960’s, as a youngster travelling from Birmingham to the west of Ireland for the annual holiday with grandparents.North West Railway Hotel

That whole area has been transformed dramatically since I was last there. It is now a conglomeration of modern day edifices of concrete, steel and glass. Some remain empty, while others await final completion or whatever fate may be in store for them, all casualties of the frenetic, unprecedented, construction and development boom that took place in Ireland during the so called Celtic Tiger era. A time from which the country has, sadly, learned a much documented hard lesson and for which its economy, and its people, have paid a bitter price.

 

The modern scene that presents today gives no indication of the very different scenario that once existed along the North Wall quay on the north bank of the River Liffey, the major river artery flowing through Dublin and meeting, a short distance down river from the North Wall, the waters of the Irish Sea. A convergence overlooked over by the two tall, historic, and landmark “Poolbeg Chimneys” part of the Poolbeg Electricity Generating Station, still known locally as “The Pigeon House”, the name of an earlier generating station at this location. The North Wall was indeed a significant part of the whole “docklands” area spread along the north and south banks of the Liffey between Dublin city centre and the sea.

London  North West Railway Offices

 

In earlier times the scene at the North Wall was quite different from the present aspect, with busy goods warehouses ranging along the length of the quay, cargo and passenger ships arriving and departing, and all the bustle of a busy dock area which provided welcome employment for local workers. The mix of traffic along the road outside, cobbled in places, included a variety of horse drawn carts conveying goods to and from the dock warehouses.

Dublin Convention Centre

 

Across the road from the quay stood the buildings of the London & North West Hotel owned by an English railway company and ship owner of that name (later to be known as the British Rail Hotel) and that company’s office building and railway goods yard. Both buildings are still extant, silent and empty, their architectural design of yesterday contrasting refreshingly with their neighbouring modern day structures.

 

All of the activity I have described  has now gone from this area, overtaken in the march of time and progress by more modern means of travel, particularly with the introduction of high speed passenger/vehicle ferries and the advent of cheaper air travel, and innovative “multi-modal” methods for the handling and transport of cargoes. Essentially, the old “docklands” area of Dublin is now thriving in a new location developing near the river mouth, busy as ever with passenger traffic and cargo handling.

 

View from North Wall Quay todayMy visit to the North Wall was nostalgic as, standing at the edge of  the old quay, now a pleasant walkway, I recalled how as a youngster in the 1950’s and 1960’s, with my family, I had at this very place on many occasions disembarked from and embarked upon the B& I Line vessels “Leinster” and “Munster” tied up at the quayside. These vessels resplendent, as I recall, in an attractive dark green white and black livery “sailed” overnight, departing Liverpool and Dublin at 10 o’clock in the evening and arriving at their respective ports of destination around 7 o’clock in the morning. Cabins could be taken for the night for restful sleep before the early morning arrival in Dublin.

The two ships, floating illuminated palaces to an impressionable youngster like myself, would silently “pass in the night” somewhere along the North Wales coast. Travelling on these ships was a wondrous adventure and an integral part of the annual holiday “pilgrimage” to the west of Ireland.

To stand at the deck rail of the ship as it ploughed the dark waters of the sea somewhere below, braving the wind and the occasional lash of sea spray in the face, and looking over in the direction of the North Wales coast before gaining or leaving the pitch blackness of the open Irish Sea, a myriad of town and village lights could be seen, stretching the whole length of the coastline like a string of fairy lights.

 

The early morning arrival of the ship at the North Wall and its tying up at the quayside was a captivating experience for the young observer. The ship, having turned around near the mouth of the Liffey, would navigate stern first up river to come alongside the quay at the North Wall where deckhands and onshore “dockers”, with the casting and catching of ropes and all the loud vocal exchanges that would accompany the task in hand, would proceed to firmly secure the vessel to quayside bollards and other “mooring” fixtures. I noted that some of the latter are still in place.

 

On one occasion, following disembarkation, youthful inquisitiveness and a tentative enquiry of one of the ship’s crew as to how the ship was “driven” resulted in an enthusiastically taken up invitation (an invitation which probably could not be extended nowadays with Health & Safety restrictions!) to my brother and myself to go below decks, into the very bowels of the ship, to see its engines.  On reaching the engine room, and meeting a wall of heat generated by the hard labouring of the engines during the ship’s nocturnal journey we viewed, wide-eyed, the mighty diesel turbines which powered the ship. An enviable experience, we decided, and one to boast about to our peers when we returning to school after the holidays!

 

In those pre-drive on/drive off ferry days my father would book passage on the ship for the family car. At Princes Dock East in Liverpool the car would be craned into the ships hold and craned out again at the North Wall in Dublin by large dockside cranes essentially used for loading and unloading ship’s cargoes. On disembarkation at the North Wall we had to wait for a period for our car to be extracted from the ship’s hold and then it would appear, being pushed through the warehouse to where we were waiting by a gang of dockers. Then, a friendly “resident” member of the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) would assist my father with Custom’s Clearance and all the legal formalities associated with the “importation” of a vehicle into the Republic of Ireland, albeit for a short holiday period, before we sped off to our holiday destination in “the West”.

 

A feature of the post-holiday voyage from the North Wall back to Liverpool by the “Leinster” or the “Munster” I recall would be the early morning offloading of Irish cattle from the ship at Birkenhead Docks, with the ship then navigating across the River Mersey to enter the Liverpool tidal lock system enabling it to access its berth at Princes Dock East.

 

No more do these two ships “pass in the night”. All the above has gone, consigned to the proverbial annuls of history. Coincidentally, during my short visit to Dublin which led to my nostalgic journey back in time, news came that Stena Line, the present day operators of the seasonal high speed ferry service between Holyhead in North Wales and Dun Laoghaire south of Dublin, had finally, for economic reasons, closed down that service, ending many centuries of passenger travel, and countless journeys by Irish men and women on that sea route. A great many of the travellers were emigrants in pursuit of gainful employment and a new life away from Ireland. Thus, ends an historic service, one which in its time had also been entrusted with the important carriage of mails to and from Ireland, and the closure of yet another maritime era.

The Leinster

 

Michael Fox – February 2015

 

THE FLYER: A SYMBOL FOR BOHOLA

THE FLYER

 

“For the people that went, for the people that came back, for the people that stayed”

 

 

Whilst travelling the Swinford to Castlebar, Co. Mayo road quite recently I chanced to hear, in an interview on the local Mid West Radio, that a newly erected sculpture, intriguingly named “The Flyer”, was to be officially “unveiled” that evening in the nearby village of Bohola. The sculpture represented a  “reflection” upon, not only the mass emigration from Bohola and surrounding districts, in poorer times, but also upon those that remained behind, and those that were able to come back., all “fliers” in their own way.

By Steam Train and Ship to Ireland

 

By Steam Train and Ship to Ireland – A Youthful Adventure

 

(And We Didn’t Have to Change at Crewe)

 

This month I share with readers an “adventure” from my youth, one which might possibly strike a nostalgic chord with some.

When my grandmother passed away “at a great age” in March 1961 this appeared to signal the last of our visits, in fact, what had become annual pilgrimages with our parents, from Birmingham, “home” to the west of Ireland. My grandfather had passed on some three years previously.

 

Following my grandmother’s death my father closed up the old family homestead in Killasser, near Swinford,CountyMayo, disposing of the contents, bringing finality to the involvement of the Fox family and its lineage with the parish of Killasser. The house, in fact, along with the adjoining few acres of land from which a subsistence living had been eked in earlier times, was sold to the nearest neighbour who, sadly, turned it into an animal byre. This was the house which my father, at the age of 22 years, and almost single-handedly, had built for his parents, the construction cost being funded by necessary periods of working “across the water” in England. 

Blessing of New Footbridge at Cloonlumney, Swinford

Blessing of New Footbridge at Cloonlumney, Swinford

 

 OldBridge, a Bridge to the World

 

On Saturday 5th August, on a glorious summer afternoon, Mass was celebrated at the new footbridge over the River Moy at Cloonlumney, near Swinford. This was in memory of the many thousands of people who had used the old bridge at this spot during the last century.

 The occasion also saw the blessing of the new footbridge, which had replaced the old time worn bridge in the summer of 2005. The work was carried out by the Office of Public Works, with the new structure, as did the historic one that it replaced, linking theCountyMayoparishes of Killasser/Callow and Swinford.

A Traditional Irish Christmas

A Traditional Irish Christmas

 

 Pat McCool, our Editor, suggested to me recently that it would be nice to have from  here, in the west of Ireland, for this edition of “The Harp” a nice “Christmassy” article.

 

 At this time last year my contribution consisted of, essentially, a “ramble around Christmas”, based upon a busy festive diary as a musician and entertainer.

 

 Initially, this year, and in response to this suggestion I had in mind writing a piece comparing the drawn out, commercially focussed ,and perhaps as some might say, the brash lead up to the Christmas period which I had so often experienced and, indeed, had unavoidably been a part of during my time in England, with the measurably more laid back, less commercially driven, and indeed shorter lead up to Yuletide in the west of Ireland (however, given the changing times and prosperity that are now “in it” here, sadly, it cannot be too long before the latter becomes but a reminiscence!)

A TALE OF TWO INNISFREES

“A TALE OF TWO INNISFREES”

 

“I’ve met some folks who say that I’m a dreamer,

And I’ve no doubt there’s truth in what they say.

But sure a body’s bound to be a dreamer,

When all the things he loves are far away.”

 So goes the first verse of “The Isle of Innisfree” that wistful, emotive song, the air of which so hauntingly permeated, indeed, dominated, the soundtrack of that icon amongst films that nostalgically and romantically portray theIrelandof yesteryear, “The Quiet Man”, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald. No less so when the screenplay required, for particular scenes, the engendering of feelings of strong emotion.

 

 The song was written by Kells, County Meath-born Dick Farrelly, a one-time member of An Garda Siochana, the police force of theIrishRepublic. In his lifetime he composed some 200 songs and poems, but it was his song “The Isle of Innisfree”, which would bring him worldwide acclaim, and the song for which he will always be remembered.

A Sticky Experience – My First Visit To An Irish Ballroom

A Sticky Experience – My First Visit To An Irish Ballroom

 Popular Irish magazines, such as Ireland’s Own and Ireland’s Eye, have in recent times carried nolstalgic stories about the “showband era” which ran from the late 1950’s and petered out towards the end of the 1980’s, and have profiled a number of the bands (indeed, band lead singers) particularly popular with the dance-goers of those times.

 

 Interest in that period has been awakened a little more by the recent sad loss of the legendary Joe Dolan of the Mullingar-based Drifters Showband fame and Doc Carroll of the Royal Blues Showband, who hailed from Claremorris in my owncountyofMayo. Indeed, as I write, news has come through of the passing of Brendan O’Brien of the Dixies Showband, based inCorkanother leading band of the day.

A Station Once Again!

A Station Once Again!

 Not long after my return to my “roots” in CountyMayo to live during 2002 I became actively involved with the “West=on=Track” community-based campaign to reopen in its entirety the “Western Rail Corridor”, from Sligo to Galway, Limerick and beyond.

 

 My contribution to this extremely well orchestrated campaign which to date has achieved very positive results (although there is still further work to be done) has been two fold. At grassroots (or perhaps “trackbed”) level in Swinford as a member of the local campaign support group, I have been helping to muster support for the reopening of the line, and our own station on this line, at the same time working directly with the prime movers in the campaign providing editorial for local newspapers, features for various publications, and material for the campaign website (www.westontrack.com) as well as engaging in correspondence with relevant government ministers and departments on behalf of the campaign.

IT’S TIME TO GET THE SLEAN OUT!

IT’S TIME TO GET THE SLEAN OUT!

 Saving the turf - or you can’t beat the peat

 

 The following reflects in part an article which appeared in a recent edition of the Ballina, Co Mayo-based journal, the “Western People” (and with due acknowledgment to them), and may be of interest to those of our readers who in the past have enjoyed the experience of “working in the bog”.

 

 The gas source quite recently discovered off the north coast ofMayomay never makes its way to the smaller communities of Co Mayo but that will not leave them with fuel-sourcing problems, for the time being at least. They are surrounded by bog land which has served their heating and other fuel needs very well down the years!

 

 April is the month when, traditionally, the preparatory work of “cleaning” the bank of turf (otherwise known as peat) is carried out. April, generally dry, is the best month for cutting (or “footing”) turf although, as a rule, with other pressing farm work, the month of May is when activity in the bog is more likely to be seen. There is an old belief that, to facilitate drying, turf should be cut when the moon is waning!

 

 

The Mobile Shop in Rural Ireland

HAVE CLOTHES PEGS, BACON, CARBOLIC SOAP ETC

–     WILL TRAVEL

 The Mobile Shop in Rural Ireland

 

 By Michael Fox

 

 A familiar sight on the highways and byways (or boreens) of ruralIreland, in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and a lasting memory of mine from childhood holidays spent with my grandparents inCountyMayo, was that of the mobile shop. A lorry or large van, it was perhaps better known as the “travelling shop”. Indeed, I recall one travelling shop operating into the eighties before “calling it a day”.

 

 It was, in its day, a veritable “supermarket on wheels” bringing from the town to the rural dweller a diversity of essential “consumables” to meet the needs of everyday country living, and catering for a lifestyle (not a word generally in use at the time!) quite different from that enjoyed by many today.

I Saw a Ship A-Sailing

I Saw a Ship A-Sailing

The recent Irish Ferries dispute, relating to the moves by that company to dispense with the services of its existing seagoing employees and to replace them with “cheaper” non-national employees has been well documented and reported.

 

 As the dispute became more bitter, and as talks to try to reconcile the opposing views of the ferry company and the involved unions dragged on, its four vessels remained tied up in port, inconveniencing booked passengers and freight customers and with considerable loss of revenue to the company as business haemorrhaged to other carriers, with the inevitable loss of goodwill, quick to go and a lot harder to regain.

Give us back our railway!

Give us back our railway!

Success in community campaign to re-open the Western Rail Corridor

Monday 29th March was a very important day, indeed, for the West of Ireland.

 

On that day, the first phase of the “Western Rail Corridor”, which will eventually (and subject to Ireland  climbing out of its current, post-Celtic Tiger, financial morass and gaining the firmer ground of economic  stability and wellbeing) link Limerick to Sligo through the western counties of Clare, Galway and Mayo, was opened to passenger and freight traffic.

 

This phase, from an existing, reincarnated, “railhead” at Ennis in County Clare latterly served by passenger trains from Limerick, to Athenry in County Galway and linking there with the existing mainline railway from Dublin to Galway city is tangible evidence of success on the part of a vigorous, well organised, well supported, community campaign, under the banner “West=on=Track”, and with strong  support from  local councils along the route , local politicians, various associations and agencies, including the Western Development Commission, to persuade the government here of the merits of reopening the still extant, albeit disused ,railway line, lying in the undergrowth all the way from Ennis to Sligo, “unwanted and unloved”, awaiting a renaissance when, one day, its time might come again.

 

Happily, and with the opening of the first phase of the “Western rail Corridor” project, which no doubt in the future will be regarded as an historic one,  that day is now here, in a different Ireland, with different travelling needs, from that which existed when the original railway closed to passenger traffic over 30 years ago.

 

The new passenger train service on this first phase, with brand new track, trains, stations and all the installations along the way required for the operation of a 21st century railway, on weekdays provides five services in each direction between the cities of Limerick and Galway , with four services each way on Sundays. The new services, in particular, cater for commuters travelling in and out of both cities, “commuting” as a term not having been part of the language of the times which saw the demise and eventual closure of the original railway service. The timetables for the new service provide for journey times, end to end, of between two hours and two and a half hours, depending on the time of day. Admittedly, the total journey time by road is shorter at, about, one and a half hours, however, the hope is that car drivers, particularly “commuters”, will leave their vehicles at home (or at least at the “park and ride” facilities at rail stations along the way) and “let the train take the strain”, to quote a slogan originated some years ago by the railway authorities in Britain in support of advertising campaigns to get more people on their trains.

 

For many years, there has been a concerted campaign to reopen in its entirety all the way from Limerick to Sligo what is an historic railway line, essentially to support the development of infrastructure in, and pursuant to attracting business and jobs to, the west of Ireland, which never, in reality, benefited from the Celtic Tiger years, to the extent that other regions, cities and towns to the east of the River Shannon did. I have commented “tongue in cheek” in previous writings referring to the economy here, albeit at the same time making a serious observation,  that a westward-bound Celtic Tiger never completed his (or her!) journey to “the West” having either been misdirected  by a faulty “sat-nav” or having met a sad watery end in trying to swim across the Shannon!

 

The “West=on=Track” campaign has seen the coming together of a number of local community groups all based in and around their local closed stations, with the common objective of securing the reopening of the railway line, and their local station with it, with all the perceived benefits this would bring to their communities.

 

Whilst preparing for the opening of “Phase 1”, work has been ongoing further up the old line from the rail junction at Athenry, with surveys  being undertaken between that point and Tuam, a large County Galway town with many potential “commuters” for Galway city, and from that town to the south County Mayo town of Claremorris, one time a very important railway junction, indeed, a veritable “Crewe  of the West”, where railway lines from Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Sligo and Ballinrobe all converged.

 

Preliminary reports suggest that, once completed, “Phase 2”, covering the line southwards from Tuam via Athenry into Galway city will have the potential to deliver commuter traffic in excess of that envisaged on the now reopened line from Ennis into Galway city, and may in fact be one the most viable sections of the whole line.

 

Reflecting the Governments philosophy on these matters, it is most important that passengers and freight traffic support the now opened “Phase 1” sufficiently, to underscore the, extremely well stated, case for the opening of “Phase 2”, and subsequent phases of the railway, right through to Sligo. The value of the whole project once completed, with its potential to deliver much needed prosperity and jobs to the west of Ireland, will be greater than the sum of the individual phases. The message to passengers, “commuters”, and companies with freight traffic to offer (and to use a hackneyed expression) will be to “use it and don’t lose it” and thus avoid the line becoming a ghost railway again, settling back once again into the rich west of Ireland undergrowth from which it is slowly but surely emerging at the present time, in a manner akin to the proverbial “Phoenix from the ashes”!

 

In putting this piece together, I was prompted to “dig out” from my archives a somewhat yellowed copy of the Coras Iompair Eireann (C.I.E. for short) Winter 1958/59 Passenger Trains Timetable which, at the time could be purchased for the princely sum of four pence (in old pre-decimal currency). Pages 28 and 29 of that publication provide details of what was, by then, a very limited rail service between Limerick, Ennis, Athenry, Tuam, Claremorris and Sligo. In fact, there was only one train each way each weekday (no Sunday service ) traversing the full length of the railway, taking a leisurely five and a half hours to do this no doubt reflecting the general pace of the life of “the times that were in it”! This somewhat un-demanding  schedule allowed the train driver to miss certain stations en route unless “flagged down” by an intending passenger or instructed by the train guard to stop to allow someone to alight from the train.

 

Modern day travellers on this western line as it (hopefully!) progressively reopens can certainly look forward to rail journey times somewhat faster than those applying on the line some fifty odd years ago and, hopefully, will be persuaded to leave the comfort of their cars and take to the rails of the “Western Rail Corridor”.

 

Michael Fox

April 2010

 

 

GOING OUT IN COUNTY MAYO – 45 YEARS AGO

GOING OUT INCOUNTYMAYO– 45 YEARS AGO

 

Whilst browsing through microfilmed newspaper archives at my local library recently I came across the “Entertainment” section of the County Mayo-based “Western People” edition for the first weekend of June 1963 which, that year, was “Whit Weekend”.

 Classified advertisements spread over three full pages, with details of an array of dances, cinema attractions, sports and other competitive events etc to take place over that weekend and the following week, provide an interesting snapshot of the entertainment and leisure activity on offer in and around County Mayo, in the socialising scenario of that time, some forty five years ago now.

You’re welcome home – and when are you going back?

You’re welcome home – and when are you going back?

 

A nostalgic look back at the holiday journey from Birmingham to County Mayo

 

For my sister, brother and I, as youngsters growing up in Birmingham back in the ‘50’s and into the ‘60’s, the annual summer trip, nay pilgrimage, “home” to Ireland was an eagerly looked forward to event.

 This is an account of a typical journey back to our grandparent’s home in the west of Ireland in those times. Sometimes the journey would be undertaken in one long day, on other occasions it would take place through the night. However, for youngsters, the journeys to and from Ireland would, in fact, be integral to the whole holiday and its enjoyment.

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