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Growing up in Newbridge. Mary Nolan (Arrigan)

Mary Arrigan is a well-known children’s writer and illustrator and lived in the town and in Moore Park.

'The Cove, Eyre Street – writing that address even now draws me into the warm cocoon of my earliest memories. Our house was the last one on the right, at the end of the street (it is now a health-food shop). Our sitting room – known as ‘the carpet room’ because it was the only room with a carpet – looked out across the river to what was Maher’s field before the primary school was built. Other youngsters from the area – the Henseys  - Noel, Willie, Anne and Paddy; the large family of Crummeys, whose two aunts, Maggie and Mamie ran an old-fashioned shop selling grain, sweets and, best of all, loose biscuits from glass-topped boxes; Dunnes, whose dad had a sweet shop and hackney car. In Canning Place lived the Lunneys  (father a garda sergeant) and the Breens – Seamus, Anne and Tom (hardware shop on the corner of Main Street). My brother Gay (Gabriel) and I loved the adventure of crossing the bridge with these kids to play in Maher’s field. We flew kites, caught minnow in jam-jars in the river, played hide-and seek in the big ruined house behind the chestnut trees, and fought the youngsters from the cottages known as Chinatown. When I was about six years old I discovered that the field had belonged to my grandfather, Tom Maher, and that my mother, Dolly, had been born in, and grew up in the house. I remember the day that the old house was knocked to make way for the new school. It seemed as if the whole town came to watch. Brick by brick, all of my mother’s memories came tumbling into a heap of rubble. I was too young to understand her tears.
'Growing up in a street back then was like living in an extended family; all doors were open to us children. The house next door was home to Paddy and Dora Fox, tailors. It was fascinating to watch them chalk shapes on fabric, cut them out and sew the parts together on the clickety-clackety foot treadle sewing machine. Irons were constantly heating before the fire to press the finished jacket or trousers. At one time Paddy employed a tailor called Simon who had just enough English to say ‘Mary my girl.’ At the age of four one didn’t ask questions about where people came from - they simply materialised from somewhere - but I think he’d been a Jewish war refugee. An elderly lady called Katy lived in one room at the front of Fox’s. It was the sort of haven I aspired to have when I’d grow up. It was a treasure trove of the fascinating clutter Katy had gathered throughout her life. My favourite was a statue of the Virgin Mary which, when a key under her dress was turned, played the Bells of the Angelus. Katy’s big, soft bed was tucked behind a blue curtain. Much as I pleaded, I was never allowed to sleep there. It was Katy who taught me to see pictures in the fire. She would turn down her oil lamp, poke the red coals and tell me stories of dragons and giants – and they were so real as their shadows danced across the ceiling.
'Summertime focused on the river. I had a love/hate attitude towards what was laughingly called ‘the strand’ which was accessed down a steep path above the fast flowing Liffey. That slip-sliding journey, with towel and togs under my arm, was a nightmare only partly relieved by Gay’s grip on my arm. A fraternal act, which he felt entitled him to half of my Honey Bee toffees - six for a penny in Mrs Murray’s sweet shop two doors from The Cove.  Mrs Murray had a lodger called Mr Duffy who shuffled about silently in brown slippers with the sides cut to relieve his bunions.'

A new series of interviews by Raphael/Ray Ryan on local people’s memories of growing up in Newbridge in the 1950s. Our thanks to Ray.

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