“Old Folks” party

This weekend marks an renewal of an old tradition, the Senior Citizens party. 

I recall many years back the parties going on in the Reading Room and as youngsters we passed by and could hear the voices and the music and do our best to avoid the cars abandoned on the roadside in the dark.  Cars drew up all the time, disembarking patrons to the event and when in full swing more cars drew up, this time filled with steaming pots, boiled potatoes & veg, roast turkey, hams and side dishes.  All the food was prepared in local homes and was delivered piping hot and ready to serve.  The beer and spirits had been stacked up earlier in the day, and I believe little of it had to be bought as the two pubs in the village went out of their way to provide the liquid refreshments.

Pattie Ferguson reprises here role at the party, with the Thursday Club
in Reading Room in the early 2000’s – following much improvements.
Photo via Bridget Power

The hustle and bustle and organisation must have been tremendous as, in those days, the Reading Room was a much more basic building.  A small porch at the upperside was the access point. The double doors that are there at present marked the entry to the main hall which as now could be divided into two, and a curtain at the rear screened off the stage.  No space then for a kitchen, which would come in time, much less for a toilet, which from a present perspective, must be a bit shocking to realise.

According to details in the 2009 book, Cheekpoint & Faithlegg Through the Ages, the origins of the party were thus “The present Cheekpoint and
Faithlegg Community Association evolved from a small group of people who got
together in 1977 in order, we understand, to organise an annual
dinner-dance.   At that time the local
population was much smaller than at present, the postman (Martin Nugent) delivered
mail by push bike from Half-way-house Post Office to less than two hundred
homes.  The initial ad hoc committee
comprised of amongst others Gerry Boland, Kay Boland (Doherty at the time),
Patty Ferguson, Tommy and Theresa Wheeler, Helen Barry and Kathleen
MacCarthy.  The “Residents Association”
were formally established in 1978 with the assistance of Tommy Sullivan and Fr
Michael Dee and adopted the aim of promoting and fostering a community spirit
among the people of the area

The plan was to cater
for all ages, from infant’s class at school to those collecting the old age
pension at Wheeler’s Shop at the Crossroads. Someone came up with the idea of
organising get-togethers in the form of an annual party at Christmas for the
children and one for elders during that bleak period between January and March.” 

It was a few years later that I got my first “taste” of the party, which at that point had moved to the school.  Then I was a volunteer member of the local Civil Defence and it was part of our duty to be mobilised into action on the night.  Either Gerry Boland or Neil Elliott would drive the ancient ambulance on the night and we would wind our way around the village and off the roads in Faithlegg to collect anyone without a lift.  The collection was usually a sober affair, serious chat about the weather, the menu, little snippets of news, the drop home was an all together more fun affair and as a teen I got great mileage out of it.

Diners sitting to their dinner
Photo via Bridget Power

The school provided great comfort in the extra space and convenience of a toilet for patrons.  The dance space was probably half as much again.  Music was provided from amongst the locality also, Jim Duffin would be eager to perform, but it was Peter Hanlon and band who provided the main act.  Singers were much in demand, and it must have been a minefield to Peter to keep the show on the road, and ensure the regular tenors or sopranos got their five minutes of fame.  A few years back we pulled together a short video of the events with photographs supplied by Damien McLellan, Tommy Sullivan and Bridget Power.

Peter and band entertaining the crowd
Photo via Bridget Power

Although we were there to work, and did so including serving, clearing and directing people around the building, we were also there to have a bit of craic.  The big draw of the night was a chance to maybe sip a beer.  The older men were always encouraging. Tom Ferguson, Ned Hefferenan and Jimmy O Dea amongst others.  As a teen, prior to going out to a pub, it was often the first time I heard great yarns, similar to the one I retold about my father at this years heritage week event.

There was also dancing to be done, and the women on the night danced with the men, with each other and if need be with us, the helpers.  This of course was a cause of mortification, but you were told to grin and bear it, and indeed you did.

Although very simple affairs, ran for very little cost and with a maximum of community goodwill the old time Christmas parties were a great affair.  Hopefully this years event will match those of the past, either way, we wish all those who are organising and all those who go along, a great night.

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

The Reading Rooms Cheekpoint

Pat Murphy of the Green always told me that according to Aggie Power of Daisy Bank House (Susan Jacobs Grandmother) the Reading Room was built in 1895, the year a horse called The Wild Man of Borneo won the Grand National. Mrs Adelaide Blake, (originally Adelaide Power – Faithlegg House), who then resided at Fairy Mount had it built as a free library for the people of the area. I always wondered what it would have looked like in this era, with the pot bellied stove sitting in the middle of the floor and people sitting around in it reading a paper or a book or playing cards and chatting. 

At some point in my teens I read D.H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.  In the story the central character, Paul Morel, struggled to move away from his working class mining roots in Wales through, in part, his visits to the mining unions sponsored Reading Rooms.  In it were stocked lines of books and a supply of current newspapers, that the miners and their families could be better informed and have broader horizons.  Had this been Adelaide’s intention? The
Reading Room has always been a feature in our lives in Cheekpoint.  For social, health, community matters and education, it has played a continuous role.  For some it was probably a tentative role, an occasional visit but to me it was always central, important and respected.

Jim Duffin playing “the Box” 1990’s
Photo credit Bridgid Power

One of my earliest memories was queuing to attend a sale of work coming up to Christmas time.  Doors opening, we rushed in to buy a comic, book or some toy or other. Home baking was also part of the day and if lucky we might get to share with others in a bag of homemade buns or biscuits and a fizzy lemonade.  Whatever few bob we had would be quickly spent, but I could always rely on my Grandmother for an extra dig out.

At the end of the day we might pick up some pieces that no one else would buy, as the place was cleaned up and I recall Martin Nugent (and later Jim Duffin) burning some magazines and other odds and ends outside by the back door.  In those days a tall hedge blocked the “Hall” as we sometimes called it, from the road and all around was a mixture of grass and mud.

The Hall in the past was a simple affair.  No toilet, a small porch, the large room that could be divided in two by sliding doors and the stage area and back door which was an addition in the early 1950’s.  Tommy Sullivan’s father Chris had taken on the job, with the help of local volunteers.  The Hall had been originally made of a timber framework with corrugated iron walls and roof and internally was panelled by wooden lathes.  The “insulation” was horsehair and there was many the night that we huddled around an old Superser gas heater trying to keep warm.

Sunday morning social gathering 1940’s

The stage at the rear of the hall was used for concerts and as a musical stage and in our own times as the space where the DJ’s of the youth club discos spun their vinyl discs.  Principal DJ was Philip Duffin and deputy was Michael “bugsy” Moran.  Philip preferred disco, Bugsy was rock and it was always a bone of contention.  I can still remember Bugsy stripping wires with his teeth in an effort to add an extra speaker to “burst some eardrums”.  My first and last appearance on the stage was a mid 70’s concert where I performed “Little Boy Blue”, not my finest hour!

Ray McGrath regales the villagers at a recent Heritage week event

There was also a brown wardrobe which gave the hall its other function this was the Dispensary.  I’m a little in the dark about the origins of it, but in our day it was where you went on a Tuesday to see the doctor and the wardrobe was unlocked and swung back to reveal an array of medications, timber spatulas for depressing your toung and worst of all – syringes.  At some point in the 1980’s the wardrobe disappeared and locally it was known that there was some issues about medications being stored in “inappropriate places”  It was only a few years back in Dungarvan that a local man told me how he and friends used to travel around the rural dispensaries in a search for drugs, he joked about how easy it was to break into these cabinets and to both medicate yourself and provide an income boost from supplying others! 

John Jacob entertaining the Thursday Club 1990’s
Photo Credit; Bridgid Power

I’ve written before about how important it was as a venue for civil defence.  But it was also a space for community meetings and social gatherings for young and old.  It was the need to improve conditions for all members of the community that spurred voluntary efforts in the 1980’s and many years after to improve the hall to the standards it is at now.  Details of those many volunteers were captured in a 2009 publication “Cheekpoint & Faithlegg; Through the Ages” via the Development Group

My Aunts Margaret O Leary and Ellen Doherty (RIP) at last years craft fair
photo credit Becky Cunningham – Cheekpoint FB page

I’ve often heard remarks about the Hall being unfit for modern purposes.  And to be honest, it probably is a bit modest compared to some of the venues that are on offer in the area and that citizens might be used to availing of.  But for me the Reading Room is a special place, filled with memories, fulfilling a modest useful purpose and a testament to the vision and probably the hopes for the community of Adelaide Power. Ar dheis Dé a anam Adelaide

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Cheekpoint Civil Defence unit

I’m not sure when exactly Civil Defence started in the area but I joined in 1978 just as I began first year in De La Salle.  At the time, Peter Power in Faithlegg was the unit leader and each Tuesday night if memory serves we would go up to the Reading Room and from about 7.30 – 9pm we would be put through our paces.

We started with a lecture, and each week we learned something new, for example the heart, the blood system, the bones of the body.  As Peter gave his lecture (and later he would be replaced by Gerry Boland and Neill Elliott) we took notes, asked questions and generally tried to keep up.  A blackboard was often used to highlight sections but we were also given a first aid book which helped to more clearly explain specifics. 

Aligned with the lecture would be a practical.  So if we did the bones in the arm, it would be sling practice thereafter; how to rig a sling to a broken arm, and make sure you didn’t tie a black knot!  There was a nice equality to the practical – we each got to be the casualty and the first aider…and we all got to tidy up.  Another part of certain nights was drill.  We had to learn to march, stand to attention and stand at ease and we all had to learn to salute – cue Benny Hill imitations…when Peter wasn’t looking.

Photo credit; Carmel Jacob.  Civil Defence unit late 1970’s
posted to Cheekpoint facebook page
Back Liam Doherty, Keith Elliott, Francis Heffernan, Andrew McDermott, John Kent, Charlie Hanlon, Gerry Boland. Middle Pearl O’Leary, Paul Doherty, Neil Elliott, Pauline Doherty,John O’Leary.
Susan Jacob,Gwen Jacob,Una Duffin,Jackie Doherty,Myra Heffernan,Maureen Moran,Sandra Doherty rip,Kay Doherty

The fun part of course was the practical, whether being a casualty or first aider.  Searching for injuries, immobilising arms, checking pulses and breathing.  The practical allowed us closer to the opposite sex and if ever there was a reason not to miss an evening, that was it!  Casualty treated, they were removed to a designated spot and from there via virtual ambulance to hospital.  Some casualties could be walked over but others needed a stretcher.  Now lifting any of the girls was a breeze and most of the boys you could manage, but imagine the trouble when faced with lifting either Gerry Boland or John Boy Kent onto stretchers.  Both built like American linebackers, all of the team was required and it became a test of strength and sometimes endurance in order to lift the casualty and move them towards the stretcher.  In time we learned to lift gradually and slide the stretcher in.  But I can still remember the night we nearly dropped one of them (to remain nameless) and the look he gave us…chilling, the message was clear drop me and yer dead!!

All the work led inevitably to the county competition, a bringing together of each areas team in the county hall in Dungarvan around the month of April.  The template was the same, a mini bus or car to the event.  The teams brought away to a separate waiting area, the hangers on such as we were dispatched to the hall to watch the show.  Each team (5 members if I recall) would be led in by their captain separately.  They would be briefed as to the situation, maybe an industrial accident, a bus crash etc.  Wounded patients would be scattered around the hall, some lying unconscious, some groaning in mock agony others wandering about in a state of shock, and the team would be let loose to deal with the situation.  Timed by a top table, they would be expected to assess the situation, treat the casualties and have them ready to be put in an ambulance before the time had elapsed.

As our teams arrived we would clap excitedly, and wait with baited breath to see how they did.  We hoped they would be first into the hall, or at least near the front, as then we would be all together for the remainder of the afternoon.  With the bigger lads, we could skip off around the town or at least pretend we were bigger by being in the teams company.  First Aid was so popular at that stage that we normally fielded two teams and at the time I think the boys were led by Gerry Boland and the girls team by Kay Doherty…any wonder they married

Once all the teams had taken their turn, it was off up Lawlors hotel for a slap up feed.  First time I ever had a croquet potatoes!  Over the desert and coffee the speeches were made and then finally the third, second and first places were announced.  There were several teams from around the county including Dunmore, Kilmacthomas, Clashmore and Dungarvan.  Incredibly, given the population of the other towns, Cheekpoint regularly placed first and second.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it, because once you finished in first place you were then placed as representative for the county in initially a regional competition and then national.  The competition for these of course was much fiercer but the hotels tended to be bigger and the meals more sumptuous.  The first time I saw anyone buy a bottle of water (Perrier) was at the Royal Oak in Carlow.  Wonder does Ann O Leary remember that!

Eventually we would go on to make the team ourselves.  I never realised how much pressure I would feel as the date drew near for it.  We would have been visited by the county civil defence leader Colum Bannon who would have brought uniforms and boots for the team.  These would be brought home and badges sewed on, maybe a trip to the dry cleaners, whilst the boots would be worn at the weekends to break them in.  Coming nearer the time, we would increase the nights of training, and school work would take a back seat to the first aid book, sisters or brother would become the practice casualty and you would be listing the major pressure points, arteries in the body, or bones in the finger in your sleep.

Photo of the Civil Defence team in Uniform and with county award
1990’s via Tomas Sullivan
Back: Michael Barry, Michael Murphy, Kevin Sullivan, Chris Elliott, Colin Ferguson, Darren Sullivan, Colm Bannon
Front: Sandra Cahill, Carmel Jacob, Jenny Doherty, Gerry Boland, Marianne Murphy, Annette Sullivan, Ali Cahill

On competition day you would hardly eat with the nerves and the trip to Dungarvan would be a tortuous affair.  You would be led into the waiting area where you would be tested by a leader from a different county.  Eventually you would line up behind the captain and be led out into the main hall and you would scan the floor to see what was ahead of you.  Hopefully no electrical wires suggesting an electrocution, and definitely not someone wandering around wailing and throwing their arms up in the air…fecking shock victims, always the most theatrical got to play the part, thinking they were up for an Oscar

My greatest disaster was allowing my casualty to almost die on the floor in Dungarvan.  I had pushed up her sleeves when checking for bleeding, only to push up a medical alert badge with it that told me she was a diabetic.  One sip of coca cola was all that was needed, I nearly had her in the virtual morgue!  To be fair, at least Kay, who was the team captain that day didn’t throw me out of the window.

The end of the civil defence season was of course the June bank holiday camp. Always in an army barracks and if I recall only one of a few; Crosshaven, Duncannon, Tralee and Lahinch, but maybe more of that anon.  Then long summer holidays when the autumn seemed a lifetime away, but when it came the Civil Defence would ease the dreary long evenings.

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales