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Columba Books

'No cash register. Peggy’s Leg. Big Time bar. Dairy Milk. A tin of Coke' 1970s memories of Dublin

Fr Bryan Shortall remembers his childhood in the 1970s – from what he ate to what was on the radio.

IN HIS LATEST book, Sending Positive Vibes, Fr Bryan Shortall writes about finding hope in some of the most challenging and often seemingly hopeless scenarios he has encountered as a priest and Capuchin friar. In this extract he shares his memories of growing up in the 1970s.

Visiting an elderly parishioner – a life-long smoker. The smell of cigarettes all around the room. It was strangely comforting. It was like a time-machine. I was taken back to my childhood.

Government warning; “Smoking can damage your health” it said on the side of the cigarette pack. We’d stop at the late shop on the way home. “Ten number 6 please.”

The sights, sounds and smells of Dublin in the late 1970s. It was noisy in the city except on Sundays, most shops were closed on Sundays. More noise but less busy.

Petrol. The Honda 50 motorbike could be heard before it was seen, and the smell of its exhaust lingered long after it disappeared around the corner and out of sight. The black and white Atlantean CIE Buses belching out diesel. Getting on the bus, the conductor
with his leather satchel full of coins and his ticket machine would say “Seats on the top.” And smoking was allowed upstairs.

Drawing finger pictures on the window in the cold and wet condensation and wiping it to see outside as we drove along on a rainy day. The sporadic ‘ding’ of the bell as people signalled to the driver they wanted to get off. “Do not cross the white line until the bus stops.” The hissing of the doors as they opened.

The coal fire at home. My mother putting newspaper against it to try and light the fire. Smoke going up the chimney. And if the door opened the smoke would fill the sitting room. Pungent but homely.

Doing the dishes in the sink. Look up. The noise of the Aer Lingus BAC 1-11 overhead as its tail almost rips through the sky. Outside on a frosty evening the smog would hang like a blanket over the houses in the city and over the ‘chimbley’ pots and television aerials.

Nana’s Stew: unique and delicious. And her mashed potato, milky and buttery. Pork chops and baked beans. Grandpop sitting by the fire preparing his pipe. Condor plug. He cut the tobacco with his little knife, the flake dropping into the V he made with a page of
the Evening Press. Then when the pipe was filled and lit, he would do the crossword reaching into his sideboard for the Collins Gem Dictionary. 

The pipe smoke rising like incense mixing with the smoke of Mr Dowling’s coal. The pig man calls, and nana brings out a pale pink bucket of slop. Yesterday’s stew, potato peels, beans, and he spills it into one of his big steel bins. “Thanks missus.”

The Ferguson television goes on – or was it Bush? RTÉ News. This was the second news bulletin I would have seen. Around in Auntie Chrissy’s she would have been watching Crossroads. Then the News at 5.45 with Alastair Burnett. Back to nana’s and the Angelus
would be ringing and then Maurice O’Doherty would read the News. Or Don Cockburn. “The Taoiseach Mr Cosgrave said today…”

Going to the shops. The shopkeeper writes how much with a pencil on a brown paper bag. No cash register. Peggy’s Leg. Big Time bar. Dairy Milk. A tin of Coke. Cool pops. HB Loop the Loop for 6p. Iced Caramels. Clove rock. Sherbet dip and fizz. Snap gum. TK Red
Lemonade and Ciderette. We used to return the empty glass bottles for three pence.
Going to the Chemist. Unique Smell. Almost indescribable in words but you know what I mean; wood and ointment. Barley sugar. Radiomulsion.

The hardware shop where Frank Russell sold Crown paints, or Valspar, or Berger. My dad had to open the tin with a flat head screwdriver and stir it for ages. Ultra-Brilliant White it said on the tin. He had a lamp for sale. “See that Enda – it would look better in
your sitting room than in my shop.”

I loved the smell of the back of the Brennan’s Bread van. And Jacob’s biscuit factory. We just knew when they were making Mikado. Jam in the air.

Running down to the gap at the end of our road. The JCB and the dumper were moving up by the pylon. The smell of brown topsoil and the yellow of the rapeseed flower giving way to house foundations as Kilnamanagh estate expands and takes shape. Sliding down
the hill in the snow on a Net Nitrate bag. The girls played ‘beds’ with a shoe polish ‘piggy’ and swung on lampposts. The lads played ‘three-and-in’ and we all played Relieve-io and Spin-the-bottle.

“Eeenie, meanie, miny, mo…” 

The milkman coming around the neighbourhood in the dark of the early morning. The clink of glass bottles dancing on the doorsteps.

He takes away the empties. Battery-powered milk float. 

The smell of a wet day. Newspapers soaking up the water on the shop floor. And sawdust; there was sawdust all over the butcher’s shop floor, and the smell of breadcrumbs. The days of the separate pork butcher and the beef butcher shops were coming to an end.

“Give us six nice slices of ham Mister.” And Frawley’s on Thomas Street. The Frawley’s club dressed us all for Christmas. Never could people have imagined the Pope driving down past John’s Lane in his Popemobile – but he did.

The Bee-Baw of the white ambulance. The dark blue Garda cars and the ‘Black Maria’. My Dad’s Mini Traveller JNI 69. Give her choke on a cold day. A mystery tour to the Old Boley Wood in the mountains in the summer. Flo Gas and boil the teapot. Tayto crisps.
Ham sandwiches, salad sandwiches. Cadet cola. Tomato sandwiches with pepper in Granny Greta’s. Starving after our swim in Vincent’s pool. The Riordans would have been on; Benjy and Minnie. The light of the Geyser flickering at the far end of the kitchen.

Turn on the taps in the bathroom, the whisper of the water flowing down the drain. We found a gas mask as we explored the attic. And old shoes.

The smell of school and the corridors and the blackboard and dusty chalk. Pale blue desks in St Kevin’s. Old wooden desks with ink wells in James’s Street. Names scratched with set squares into the area underneath as well as chewing gum and stale bread stuck
under the desks. Bubble-gum. Super Bazooka and Bubblicious. New schoolbooks and second-hand ones too, covered in wallpaper or brown wrapper. Capital Exercise Book 88 pages. ‘Guaranteed Irish’.

Milk bottles being delivered outside the door. Freezing corned beef sandwiches on Monday, buns on Wednesday, and jam on Friday.

I couldn’t drink milk. Snorkel jackets and Duffel coats. Dozens of ETs walking home after school. 

What was on the Radio? Larry Gogan, Gaybo, Abba, The Nolan sisters, The Bee Gees, The King is Dead. Pirate Stations. On the telly? Who shot J.R.?, The Late Late, Going Strong, Quicksilver, Wanderly Wagon, Mart and Market, Charlie’s Angels, Quincy, The Professionals, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, and then Closedown. In the Cinema? Jaws in the Adelphi and Saturday Night Fever in the Savoy.

Little did we know that the city would become busy on Sundays.

Little did we know that Jervis Street Hospital would become a shopping centre.

Little did we know that there would be a soccer game played in Croke Park.

Little did we know smoking would become anti-social.

Little did we know the Quays would become one-way systems.

Little did we know that Dublin Docklands would be the place to live and work.

Little did we know that in the future we would laugh at the thoughts of the telephone on the hall table at the bottom of the stairs.

Little did we know one day we would access the world on a portable device the size of a calculator and immediately be able to tell everyone on our timeline about our day.

Little did we know in the future we would buy bottled water.

Little did we know about the revolution that was soon to happen in Irish air travel.

Little did we know about Google.

Little did we know…

Sending Positive Vibes by Fr Byran Shortall OFM Cap was born in Dublin in October 1969. He joined the Capuchin order in 1987 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1997. He graudated with an MA in School Chaplaincy from Mater Dei/DCU in 2004. He has worked in various ministries to date, including school and hospital chaplaincy, and local leadership in the Capuchin order. His first book with Columba Books, Tired of All the Bad News, was published in 2016.

Sending Positive Vibes is out now, published by Columba Books.

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Fr Bryan Shortall
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