by Joe Macavin
I no longer live in Phibsboro, but I recently heard someone on the radio refer to the ‘Norrier’, this rang bells and suddenly I remembered this was North Dublin slang for the North Circular Road – one of the main arteries running from the edge of one of the most beautiful parks in the world to the docklands, many things were sparked off and how the ‘Norrier’ was a witness and part of so much of the history of the city.
To me it always started at the Phoenix Park gates, on the other side of the gates that vast expanse of greenery, encompassing Aras and Uachtaráin and the light in the window. I always remember hearing of the stray German bomb which fell across the road from the zoo knocking down the railings. The lone cyclist at 6 a.m. on his way to work was confronted by heard of buffalo, zebra and some camels.
My mother said to myself and the brother, “When you are finished your dinner you can take Russ (our dog) for the usual walk”, every so often this was the punishment meted out for some misbehaviour.
It was accepted without rancour, but now when I look back, this was a good 6 – 8 mile walk, with Russ the Airedale pulling your arms out of their sockets. Off we went down the N.C.R. towards the Phoenix Park around the bandstand in the hollow opposite the zoo and back again.
Coming through Park gates my brother said, “Have you any money?” I thought he wanted something in the Park shop. The Park gates shop was an oasis for hungry children after walks in the park. I said I have six pence – I am so tired, “lets get the bus, and say nothing” said the brother.
The friendly bus conductor immediately said, “get that thing upstairs” pointing at lovely Russ. How dare he! Up we went and found seats at the back, my brother let the dog off the lead and he wandered under the seats sniffing at everybody.
Now how did we know a lady with a fox fur collar would be upstairs on the bus, not only that but she had the head of the fox sitting on her lap. Good old Russ spotted it and launched himself into her lap. She let out a piercing scream which awoke another dog who launched into the fray. All the passengers were standing on the seats. Suddenly the conductor appeared, “Get that f…… yoke out of here”. After some minutes we got him down the stairs and ran like hell, fearful of the consequences we had left behind. We hid until the bus had departed and shuffled our way home, we said nothing but there was no doubt we had been punished and had lost six pence – Russ seemed very happy!
Let’s move on up the road on the right of the N.C.R. was No. 48, the house of Harry Clarke the stained glass expert. One could not walk into a church anywhere in the country and immediately not recognise a Harry Clarke window, they are truly unique. He had a very special gift and his artistic talent can be seen around the world.
Heading towards the city, the first turn on the right was Oxmantown Road. Immediately around the corner was a huge gable wall from the houses on the North Circular. Every time now I pass, I see him volleying the ball at the gable end and then regaining control, he nodded and called my name, we were in the same class in the National School in Phibsboro. It was the famous Liam Whelan who at 16 was to join Manchester United and later to become an Irish International star but sadly at a young age to lose his life in the Munich air disaster.
Approximately ¼ mile further onto the left you will encounter a strong smell, very difficult to describe, it was one of the major abattoirs in Dublin where thousands of cattle were slaughtered every year, and the blood would often run out the gates and across the N.C.R. The abattoir was 100 yards within a terrace of beautiful two story red brick houses which ran for approx half a mile of the road. What amused me was that some very rich families lived in these lovely houses, and where was the bonus, across the road was a fenced-in cattle market which would accommodate anything up to 16,000 cattle, from a Wednesday to Thursday each week for 3 to 4 months of the year.
The whole of the ‘Norrier’ was affected by this market, when the selling of the cattle was complete; they would be driven by three drovers in approx lots of 50 to 100 down the NCR all the way to the docks approx 7 to 10 miles. It was as well the N.S.P.C.A. was not present for the drovers who used no mercy in controlling the herd. I remember clearly when a bullock broke away and entered a shop in Phibsboro, there was utter consternation the shoppers all attempted to climb the counter eventually two drovers got him out, not before he left his calling card on the floor. The majority of the cattle came by rail to Cabra Station which was only used for cattle; some came from as far away as Tralee in Kerry. The main dealers were the Craigue and Cuddys – my sincere thanks to Michael Cuddy for the market information. In summer approx 6,000 sheep would be sold and 3 to 4,000 pigs. As the pigs were not great walkers, it took them much longer to get to the docks, some would say, “I have enough of this”, and sit down, but everything was covered, a character called ‘Hoppy Murphy’ followed the pigs and the tired ones got a lift in his cart.
Across the road from the markets was the famous Hanlon’s corner pub, which led down by the market to Augrim Street and City Arms Hotel which was owned by the Conroy family. There were two separate rooms in the hotel set up as banks, one for the Royal Bank and the other for Bank of Ireland. These were there for cattle market days. Lots of the cattle dealers stayed overnight, and I am led to believe the card games were not small.
The first house on right after the markets was totally hidden from view by trees and bushes and was the home of Dr. Dunne, Director and Doctor of Grange Gorman mental hospital. I knew his son and would play football in the vast garden. Even in my youth I recognised the beauty of this vast garden with all types of plants, it often puzzled me the number of gardeners. I subsequently discovered they were unfortunate patients from the Gorman, but it was probable a great release from the appalling institution of its time. Some years later I visited the Gorman but this time, it was so revealing it was the set for the famous “Michael Collins” film, and they had built both sides of O’Connell St. Mansion House, the front of the Rotunda Hospital, full tram tracks and two trams in O’Connell St. It was fascinating and great feeling for the history of that time.
That reminds me, a fellow used to follow the herds and pick up the manure, to sell to the keen gardeners in the area. Now don’t get me wrong, we were not wallowing all the time in cowshit. Every few months we would have a classic parade. No I am not joking. In fact it would be a presidential parade preceded by the cavalry, yes the cavalry from McKee barracks from the equitation school which would accompany the President to a state function. Some twenty to thirty horses with their riders in full uniform, a uniform unique to the cavalry, black jodhpurs, bright light blue tunics and Busby hats something similar to the Queens guard in the U.K.
It was always a spectacular sight. We would often purposely miss the bus, if we knew they were coming. Sadly some 4 or 5 years later they were disbanded due to financial constraints.
Just short of Dorset Street on right side of the Norrier is a house where James Joyce lived for 6 months, now do I have to tell you about him what a literary genius, James Joyce was born in February 1882.
Just close to the lights at Summerhill, I was invited to lunch in a small semi red bricked house. It was the Sheridan family home; Jim Sheridan directed some classic films, “My Left Foot”, “The Boxer” and his brother the playwright – two such brilliant men from the inner city, right beside the Norrier.
We cross the busy Dorset St. and towards Summerhill and the Five Lamps, some ½ mile on the left of the NCR is the turn for Croke Park. Just below our road there was a bus stop and when the herds of cattle came, we stepped into the nearest garden and closed the gates, all taken for granted funnily just across the road in a pals house, Frank Ryan, I had my first kiss, we were in the back garden of a house on the North Circular Road in Dublin. The parents were out for a few hours and their son was house minding.
We were playing football in the garden; we were all approx. 11 years of age, full of development and innocence. Frank went into the house to get something and came out with something entirely different – two girls, one I knew, the other a little older than us and she was a buxom girl – then I would not have know what that was. The stranger turned out to be German Maria – we involved the girls in some sort of game like pass the ball.
After half an hour we went in for a glass of water and retired to the sitting room. After some time and silly chat we were playing pass the parcel, we were having great laughs and fun, as the loser came up with ridiculous dares. Eventually Maria lost, she was German which added to the fascination, but to me at that stage she was just another girl, but foreign. After some time, she said, I will kiss Joe, everyone roared with laughter and I blushed. Now I was used to kissing, that is to say my mother, sisters and aunts but when Maria kissed me, the whole concept of kissing seemed to change, my whole frame seemed to have received a very pleasant experience, don’t ask me to describe the kiss, because quite honestly I got a shock – which I enjoyed.
Afterwards I thought why don’t my family and aunts kiss like that – I often wondered what Maria thought of my attempt at a kiss!
I feel it is ridiculous to write about a roadway when I mention Croke Park. What a place it has in Irish history, the millions of Irish year after year either hurling or football who have travelled up or down the Norrier to get to Croker. And then Tipp and Dublin playing in the championship and suddenly the gates are smashed and the British armoured cars opened fire on the unarmed civilians and players. This of course was in retaliation for Michael Collins “12 Apostles” who had wiped out the British secret service the night before and so “Bloody Sunday” was born, never to be forgotten.
Last year the Queen of England was to pay her respects to the fallen in a moving ceremony both in Croker and a never to be forgotten ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance. We still have long memories but that week, healed a lot of old wounds.
Who would have dreamed that France and of all countries England would play a rugby game in Croker in February 2009, despite the objections of the six Northern Counties and Cork. It is amusing or amazing to think as an Irish man that I was refused permission to play hurling or Gaelic football because of the ban on foreign games by the so called Gaelic elite.
Doyle’s Corner was a main intersection at Phibsboro, it had two cinemas, The Bohemian “The Boh” and the Blackwire, both are now gone. I have very fond memories of the “Boh”, every Saturday morning we had the 4 penny rush, this was for the school children up to 12.
The cinema opened at 9.30 a.m., you paid your precious 4 pence and hopefully found a pal, why, because it was two to a seat. The pictures were all either Westerns or Detectives, sometimes we would get something like the “Wizard of Oz”.
The noise was incredible but one walk down the aisle by the usher one minute before 10.00 a.m., there was suddenly utter silence, any so called trouble you would be out instantly! The curtains were drawn and we were in a different world. The silence was only broken when the “chap” probably John Wayne shot the baddie, but when he kissed the lady, we would all boo. At 12.30 p.m. the lights came on and we all saddled up banging our asses and cantered home, up the Norrier.
Just before Phibsboro church there is a small lane on the Cabra Road side leading up to Dalymount Park home of the Bohemians F.C. and at that time venue for all the International matches. I saw Stanley Matthews perform his wizardly on the field and 1950 Ireland played England in the world cup with five minutes to go it was nil all, a very simple move and Tom Finney a famous English footballer scored the goal to put us out. It was my first time to encounter a deafening silence; it was shattering as the fans trudged out of “Dalyer” not believing what had happened. I returned to Dalymount in ’52 unfortunately only as a substitute for Bective Rangers to play Wanderers R.F.C. in the first flood lit rugby match in Dublin.
In the early 70’s Yugoslavia came to play an International in Dalyer. The then Archbishop of Dublin, McQuaid issued a statement, saying this is a communist state and in conscience nobody should attend. It was then the power of church and state showed its arrogance. Dalymount had a full house. The people spoke – referring back to the ban on foreign games in 1938 Douglas Hyde was President of Ireland and automatically patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association. As President he came to greet Spain in Dalymount on behalf of the people of Ireland, because he attended this foreign match, he was sacked as patron of the G.A.A.
Doyle’s Corner, at the intersection had two pubs, Mooney’s and Doyle’s and across the road were two banks, AIB and Irish Permanent. I met the commander of a local volunteer force, from the 1920’s. We got talking about Phibsboro and he reluctantly recalled an encounter, a raid by the volunteers not on the bank but on the money due to be put into the British armoured car, which was the wages for the warder’s in Mountjoy jail. One of the volunteer’s fired to quickly. There was mayhem in the bank, so they all took off in different directions, my friend ran towards town crossed over to be confronted by the butcher from Heron’s Butcher with a meat cleaver; as soon as he saw the gun he was gone. The volunteers all escaped but no money.
Back to the Norrier further towards Phibsboro was premises where a religious order printed “Our Boys”. It was a semi religious comic but had huge circulation, 100 yards further on you crossed the bridge, no you would never know you were crossing a railway line but this is what I called the secret line mostly underground that connected Heuston Station with Amiens Street Station, don’t ask me why it was in use but never used commercially. Imagine the thousands who arrive in Heuston Station for Croke Park and could have been left ½ mile away from the Croker in Amien St. Oh I am so clever! What, someone has heard me! Yes the Luas is to be linked to the Northside via this secret line.
Just beyond the railway bridge on the left were the gardens of Phibsboro Church, St. Peters, which is a magnificent old style church and was run by the Vincentian Fathers. I was an altar boy for 5 years, slowly graduated from a server to ringing the bells or swinging the thurifer at benediction or funerals. Because I was only 200 yards from St. Peters National School I was often chosen for funerals at the 10.00 a.m. mass, as a result I missed the first class at school. This was allowed much to my delight. Every second week I served at the 8.30 a.m. mass and all were expected to be at the Monday night benediction. It was in the days everybody well nearly everybody went to confession every week. Suddenly it occurred to me, “oh I have not been to confession”. I was about 8 or 9 at the time, I was racking the brain for something to tell “forgot the morning prayers”, spoke badly about somebody. Suddenly an inspiration, something in the catechism had puzzled me and was not explained. I will ask the priest. I rattled off the usual and then said there is something troubling me, could you explain the Immaculate Conception, I don’t understand. Well he threw a fit “you little brat, get out”. I was gone in seconds but was terrified that the Ma might say were you at confession?
As I said earlier the main entrance to Dalymount Park was only 250 yards from the church. One day a fellow in front of me on the path shouted to a pal, hey Jimmy were you down in Tolka to see Drums against (Drumcondra United played Bohs in Tolka Park and who had just bought 2nd hand floodlit lights – first in Ireland) how were the lights? His pall shouted back, it’s brighter at Benediction!
Now that I am interested in history, I always get the strange feeling at Doyle’s Corner which leads on to Glasnevin Cemetery. The history pages roll back as you try to imagine the funeral corteges moving to their final resting places. Daniel O’Connell, Parnell, Arthur Griffith, 10 days later Michael Collins, who gained us our independence was laid to rest at the age of 31 years. His funeral was the largest ever in the country, stretching from O’Connell Street to his grave in Glasnevin. To this day his grave is covered in freshly cut flowers. At the crossroads in Phiser I always sense the clip clop of the horses pulling the hearse against the sound of military boots accompanying their leader on his last journey backed by the long lasting funeral march of the military band – later to be followed by Emmet Dalton, De Valera and reinternment of some of the signatures of the proclamation of the Republic previously interred in a limestone grave in Mountjoy jail also on the Norrier.
I remember coming home one evening passing Mountjoy and some sixty people were outside the gates reciting the rosary. I asked my mother what that was all about, she said somebody was murdered and they were sentenced by the courts and will be hung in the morning, those are friends and relations saying prayers for the poor man. Times have changed but I still get an eerie feeling passing the prison. A Mr. Pierpoint an Englishman was brought from England to hang the unfortunates. The last hanging was at 8a.m. on April 25th 1954. Between 1923 and 1954 some 30 people were hanged.
Across the road is the famous Mater Misercordial Hospital, which celebrated 150th birthday last year, it is a university teaching hospital. Admits approx 16,500 patients annually. See 40,000 patients for day cases, treats 47,500 patients in A & E, treats 220,000 outpatients.
These are incredible statistics but it brings it all home what is required from a major hospital serving Dublin North inner city, it was opened by the Sisters of Mercy under the venerable Catherine McAuley in 1831. It was the first hospital to remain open 24 hours a day to patients, starting with the cholera victims of 1866. It is now the National Centre for Cardiac Surgery – Heart & Lung Transplantation & Spinal Injuries Centre, Pulmonary Hypertension. Also under the Mater Foundation became the first hospital in Ireland to screen for Breast Cancer, when they undertook a project to screen 18,000 women free of charge in North Dublin and Cavan/Monaghan.
It is strange that on one side of the Norrier thousands of man hours are spent getting people back to full health, while on the other side there are hundreds locked up for crimes against humanity. I am sure you could write a book on that!
Now we are crossing at the Five Lamps, a famous landmark in North inner city commemorates five major battles fought in India during the British Empire. It is situated at the junction of five streets, Seville Place, Amiens St., Portland Row, Killarney – all this area was very fashionable, but the act of union and the Famine forced rural masses into Dublin seeking work and relief. So through Seville Place and to the docks where, we exported all the cattle, sheep & pigs to Liverpool or smaller ports on the Welsh coast. Its now time for a pint. Many pubs in the docks area had special licenses which allowed them open at 5.00 a.m.
A quick story, from a dock pub, late night revellers coming from a dance decided to call to one of the pubs, they had only arrived and a fellow in the corner started playing the fiddle, it was awful, just scratching, one of the party said get him a drink and stop him. Some time later I heard he played his artistic trick and had free drink most mornings.
The Phoenix Park seems a long way off!