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Double Take: The plaque commemorating Raymond Chandler's unlikely connection to Waterford

One of the leading crime writers of the twentieth century has roots in Waterford.

RAYMOND CHANDLER IS undoubtedly one of the leading crime writers of the twentieth century, but did you know he boasts an unlikely connection to Waterford?

The creator of the iconic Philip Marlowe character wrote several acclaimed books, including The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. Nearly all of his novels were adapted for the big screen and starred the likes of Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, and Lauren Bacall.

But while he may have wound up as one of the most popular authors of his era, Chandler came from decidedly humble beginnings.

He was born in Chicago and spent his formative years in Nebraska. Both of his parents had roots in Waterford’s Quaker community. His mother, Florence Thornton, was from a well-to-do family of solicitors in the city, while his father, Maurice Chandler, was descended from Quakers who had also lived in Waterford once upon a time.

Chandler’s father worked on the railroads and was an alcoholic. He soon abandoned the family, prompting Florence to return home to Waterford. There, she and her son moved in with her brother Ernest Isaac Thornton, who provided financial support to his sister and nephew.

The Thorntons were middle class and preoccupied with social status. Chandler’s biographer Tom Hiney described the author’s surroundings as a “a rarefied Anglo-Irish world of servants and quasi-gentility; quite removed from late-nineteenth-century Nebraska.”

Chandler later recounted instances where his uncle refused a meal and demanded that the help prepare something new and more to his liking.

Sometimes when the dinner did not suit him he would order it removed and we would sit in stony silence for three quarters of an hour while the frantic Mrs Groome browbeat the domestics below stairs and finally another meal was delivered to the master, probably much worse than the one he had refused; but I can still feel the silence.

Chandler and his mother escaped the stuffy surrounds of Waterford and emigrated to London to live in a house his uncle had organised for them. There it was decided that Raymond Chandler would attend a local school and spend his summers in Waterford.

In Waterford City, a plaque hangs outside the house where Chandler spent some of his childhood, often surprising those who stumble across it.

An unlikely origin story, if ever there was one.

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Amy O'Connor

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