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Dunmore East is a small fishing village on
the south-east coast of Ireland, 16kms from
the city of Waterford.
It sits on the western side of the Waterford
Harbour Estuary, 4.8kms from Hook Head in
Dunmore East, Co. Waterford,
Do you remember when you got your first TV set?
Did you put blue cellophane over your screen and say you had a colour TV? Many Irish
people did believe it or not!
Did you sit up watching the fuzz and snow on screen and think it was great?
Did you wait and wait for your TV set to heat up?
Do you remember the first time you saw colour TV? What was your reaction?
Did you watch TV with your family, friends and neighbours all sitting round the set together?
Did you treat or imagine soap/film stars to be real people?
Remember the old soaps, Tolka Row and The Riordans.
What were your favourite cult shows? Batman, Halls Pictorial Weekly or the one armed Man
in The Fugitive or perhaps The Man from Uncle.
Remember the old cartoons, Felix the cat and Popeye or current affairs programmes like, 7
In my time as a child we had neither Nintendo nor Computers or any other gaming device
that had the ability to narrow the mind's focus while at the same time broaden the girth. TV
appeared in my part of Dunmore during the late sixties, and gradually introduced itself to a
sceptical audience. It opened at around 5-30 in the evening with a test card and then began
its nightly assortment of programs commencing with the Angelus at 6pm. I remember
hearing that Dunmore had some kind of an affinity with one of the news readers, Charles
Mitchell. I think he had distant Dunmore relatives or the like, and I also remember my
Grandmother sitting close to the TV as Charles delivered the evening news, talking to him,
nodding and shaking her head, and tut tutting upon hearing his account of some of the more
serious events of the day.
Then there was the coloured cellophane paper that was stretched across the black and
white screen in an effort to suggest that you now had a colour set, and of course the
programs, “Rin Tin Tin”, “F Troop”, “The Virginian”, “Heres Lucy”, “Mission Impossible”, and
the ones I liked the most, the early evening offerings of “Flipper”, “Skippy”, “Donald Duck”,
“Lassie”, and my all time favourite “Robin Hood”
“Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen”
I can still sing the song today and of course, I knew of a glen, in those times there was an
actual glen within the village of Dunmore .
Our Mothers seldom tolerated children sitting around the house so if we were not doing jobs
or the like, we were outside playing as children used to. One of our favourite pastimes was
playing Robin Hood and his Merry Men down in the Dunmore woods.
Gangs were important when playing these games, Robin needed Merry Men and they were
often scarce within the area that was known as the Dock and Coxtown. The Lower Village
on the other hand, had Marian Park housing estate, which produced droves of Merry Men
just waiting for the chance to take up arms and defend the woods against the northern
invaders from the wilds of Coxtown.
Robin Hood was not alone in being one of our boyhood role-plays, others included King
Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and after a blast of Friday afternoon reading in the Killea School library,
Cuchullainn and Fionn Mac Comhaill entered the wood. So also did a number of the Fir Bolg
ready to remove their enemy's entrails using strange devices, which had been pinched from
the innards of their Fathers lobster pots. Weapons were easy to fashion, a branch of a tree
with some of Andy Taylor's twine attached became a longbow, another branch became a
sword, another became a staff, and if you had the good fortune to steal a dustbin lid from
outside one of the Hotels you had a shield. It was often on a winters evening we marched
here and there through a leafless and frosty wood hiding from the Sheriff's Men and praying
for the summer months when the woods became a warm haven of green trees and ferns.
A chance explosion however at the rear of an un-named house at circular road produced
one of the finest swords ever found and used in our games. Its owner arrived into our
enclosure one evening dressed to kill in the finest suit of armour we had ever seen. He was
a skinny village boy who was forever trying to join our group but needed to impress Robin if
he was to make the grade. On this particular evening he looked more than impressive.
Around his right shoulder he had slung a small tree branch strung from end to end with a
piece of “Billy the Butchers” finest twine, “ a longbow we all agreed,” in his right hand he held
one of his Mothers sitting room curtain poles, “a lance we all agreed,” in his left hand he had
managed to steal one of Stan Power's dustbin lids, “a shield we all agreed”, on top of his
head sat an old enamel chamber pot ( piss pot as they were known), salvaged from the
Cookaloo dump, “ a helmet we all agreed” and finally hanging from his side was the greatest
sword we had ever seen. “Where'd ye get it?” , we asked with envy. “It was like King Arthur
and Excalibur”, he told us, “I was sitting at the back of the house last night looking into a
bonfire me aulfella had lit when there was a loud explosion and three of these swords leapt
into the air and landed beside me”.
“Yer a lying bollicks” came the response from Robin, and a few of the Fir Bolg had to be
restrained, but nevertheless his story needed investigating, so off to the back of his house
marched the Merry Men to investigate the mystical account of finding the swords. True to the
young Knights word, two other similar swords lay on the ground and they became the
immediate property of Robin who decided on the spot he would now arm himself with two
swords instead of one. Others were filled with envy at the sight of the swords and all were
curious as to their origin. We began sifting through the remains of the fire until finally we
came upon the source of the new swords which in no way was as flattering as the stone
anvil that housed Excalibur. It was a Grandmother's corset, half burned and charred from the
flames. We could only guess that the life-long restriction of flesh had been too much for the
garment, and during the fire the previous evening it had spewed forth its corset stays into
the air as it finally succumbed to the tremendous heat of the flames. This of course did
nothing to alter our admiration of the newfound weapons, so what if they were corset stays,
they were excellent swords, you couldn't break them and they looked like the real thing. It
also meant we had a ready supply of swords. Every house had its live-in Granny, and every
house had its smouldering fire at the back usually lit by the aulfella of the house, and every
Granny had a corset.
Bonfires at the back of Cottages were special events from that day forward and they were
observed from a distance to see exactly what was being burned or discarded. It was all too
often a Merry Man or a member of the Fir Bolg, or just a plain old Knight was seen charging
into a strangers back yard, rummaging feverishly through his bonfire, and exiting at speed
over the garden wall clutching the burning remnants of a corset once the property of the
Grandmother or Mother of the house.
My own Mother heard of the tales of corset stealing and in hindsight, it must have seemed to
all of our Mothers a very perverse activity for a group of young boys to be engaged in.
Soldiers would often report as we sat in our hut in the wood that they expected to be armed
any day soon with a new sword as a recent inspection of a Family member's corset revealed
that it was almost in tatters and would soon enter the back yard bonfire.
We would go on missions and of course, the mission had to include robbing from the rich to
give to the poor. We were fully aware of who was poor (ourselves), and as our boyhood
minds did not always count riches in pound sterling, apples became a crucial source of
barter. Kathleen Hearney's apples were the best in the village and her orchard bordered on
the wood. It was patrolled by Miss Hearney and two of her foot soldiers Madge and Kathleen
Burke. The orchard was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and getting caught in Hearneys
orchard was not to be recommended. One evening as we were engaged in removing apples
from the orchard we were caught by the entire Miss Hearney platoon. She removed four of
us from the orchard, put us in her Morris Minor car and drove us down to the Garda
Barracks where we were interviewed by the Garda on duty, Harry Burke. It must have
looked an odd site to Garda Burke, two of the Fir Bolg standing before him with their entrail
removers in their hands, Robin Hood himself, and King Arthur in full armour with a piss pot
on his head, and of course, all with corset stays hanging from their belts.
“Tis a serious crime”, said Harry, in earshot of Miss Hearney. “Tis a jailing offence ye stand
before me for and I am considering locking ye up for the night”. Our tiny hearts beat in our
chests at the thought of a dungeon and being locked up for the night. “Of course”, continued
Harry, “all could be saved if ye promised never ever to return to the orchard again”. “We will,
we will”, echoed the voices around the barrack, and so we were set free to once more roam
the green wood and plan a new attack on the orchard.
One of our last great missions was to ring the Convent Chapel Bell during the service of
Benediction. We lay in wait for Father Power to arrive and enter the Convent Chapel. We
watched as most of the village Grannys arrived for the service and estimated how many
swords were still awaiting collection. When the service was half way through we struck and
proceeded to ring the bell as loud as we could. After about five rings, the old bell left its
mountings on the side of the building and came crashing down on us near removing Robin's
head in the process. We ran for the flat rocks as Father Power and the Nuns rushed from
the Chapel to see who had dared to ring the bell.
Our exploits made the Sunday Mass in Killea that weekend with Father Power advising
Parents to be aware there were brats living in Dunmore who had pulled the Convent Bell
from its mountings on the previous Friday afternoon during Benediction. A hush fell over the
congregation as the news was relayed, Fathers shook their heads and Mothers and
Grandmothers tut tutted out loud.
Robin Hood, King Arthur, and two of the Fir Bolg slowly raised their eyes to look at Father
Power. From our positions as Altar Boys we had the best view in the Church.
From the short story writings of Mick D
The Chapel Bell
The Short Story Writings of Mick D.