A Crooke childhood

Today is the last Friday of the month and so it’s guest blog day.  I always love to share others thoughts and as the summer holidays officially start in our local national school, this reflection on school holidays from the 1960’s is a real counterpoint to the activities of children today.  I’d like to thank Breda Murphy of Crooke for sharing it with us, and hope you enjoy it as much as I.

Recently I met a local woman on one of my regular walks on the strand below Crooke and we exchanged the usual, ‘isn’t it a lovely day, great spell of weather, it’s lovely down here’. She said ‘it’s a little bit of heaven’ and that’s exactly what it is ‘a little bit of heaven’. I am so grateful for living so close to it all my life. 

I was born and grew up in Crooke Co Waterford, opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side of the harbour. Every morning when I opened the curtains there is was, the river. My mother could predict the weather by looking at the river; what colour it was, its texture and how close Duncannon looked, don’t ask me how that worked but I wish I had listened to her more instead of dismissing it as ‘mad stuff’!! 
The rhythm of the river with its constant in and out led to my first realisation of my own insignificance; it went in and out whether or not I showed up. My father made his living from the river as a fisherman and later as a seaman. We waved him good bye as he sailed past the house heading to Liverpool on the mail boat the Great Western. The river and the strand played and still plays a significant role in my life. 
The Great Western in war time colour

Primary school summer holidays were spent on the Barrack Strand between the Carrig Rock, dividing Woodstown and Passage and ‘Johnnies Lane’ or the ‘Chapel Lane’ under Crooke Church. We picked cockles when the tide was out and ate them raw by twisting the back of two cockles together to open them, swallowing from the shells like oysters, although in my mind a sweeter tastier option. Or we lit a fire and cooked them in a discarded bean tin in water from the stream. 

Chapel or Johnnies lane

We had unlimited lands and seascape as our playground to facilitate the unbounded fantasy of a herd of children let lose for the summer. We swam, walked and rolled in the mud, we picked shells to use as money, we spent days picking the best shaped stones for ‘nucks’ or flat stones, a ‘bed bone’, for beds, like hopscotch or the best stones for skimming. I still come home from a walk with a pocket full of ‘best’ stones. We climbed the cliff, made ranches, saloons, houses, castles, forts, villages, cars and buses in the sand. We dammed and redirected streams, made pools and lakes. 

A modern scene from the barrack Strand, still a playful place!

We learned what we didn’t learn in school; how to light fires, how to occupy ourselves, use everything available; nothing was rubbish, tins, glass, old rope, even plastic took on a new dimension after being washed up in the tide and became a blank canvas. We learned to cooperate, be in teams, compete, lose, take care of others, back each other, be taken care of, learned to drink water from a steam by cupping our hands, learned to take risks and be brave, to ‘get in’ and swim in cold water, to undress and dress under a towel and dry ourselves without our mammy’s, with teeth chattering. We learned all this unsupervised by adults. We made mistakes and recovered and mostly adults didn’t know anything about them. 

When we came up off the strand, Mrs Hegarty and Mrs Barry, who lived near the lane down to the Barrack Strand, often had a plate of bread and butter waiting for us hungry children, glorious. We learned gratitude, bravery, the comfort of clothes on your body after being cold and wet. We laughed, at things only children find funny, we cried, we fought, we made up, we got hurt (physically and emotionally) we recovered, we learned resilience and compassion. 
Another familiar sight from Passage Hill, Duncannon on the opposite shore

The older children (12 or 13) learned leadership, being responsible for minding the younger ones. We learned the pecking order, obedience and disobedience, loyalty and friendship, possibility, hunger as a sweet sauce (our tea never tasted so good) generosity, kindness, what peace felt like. 

Later in my teenage years and beyond I spent time alone by the river, time to think and dream and unfortunately it’s where I learned to smoke. I walk by the river now whenever I can. It brings me back to when; my time was unlimited, I was never in a hurry, I lived in the now and laughed a lot. I need a summer on the strand!!

And don’t we all. What lovely memories this brought up for me.  The only addition I could think of was our love of crab fishing here in the village of Cheekpoint, otherwise this account was so familiar and so affirming. Any wonder I love being beside, on and taking photos of the river and all its comings and goings.  Thank you Breda.  

Our next guest blog will be Friday 28th July, and I’m hopeful it will be another memory, this time of a summer holiday in Duncannon from a fellow blogger from Carlow. If you would be interested in submitting a piece I’d be delighted to hear from you at russianside@gmail.com.  The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc.  I’d also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
You might also like my facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales
I’m also on twitter: https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *