Michael was aged 12 in 1941 and living at Charlemont Parade. Michael speaks about his memories of the bombing and its aftermath, including the reactions of his classmates and stories which circulated regarding the victims.
Listen to Michael’s story here:
Duration: 15:26 mins
Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project Phase 1
Track Number: 08
Name of the Interviewee: Michael O’Higgins
Name of Interviewer: Ellen Murphy, with Andrew O’Brien
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 1
Date of Interview: 9 April 2009.
Name of Transcriber: Andrew O’Brien
Length of Track: 00:15:26
Ellen Murphy (EM): So, interview with Michael on 9th April 2009, also present is Ellen Murphy, Andrew O’Brien and Ulrika Nilsson, of Dublin City Archives.
EM: So, Michael, what age were you at the time of the North Strand bombing?
Michael O’Higgins (MOH): I’d say 11 or maybe 12, I’m not quite sure – it was ’41 wasn’t it? Well, then I would have been 12, I think, but it doesn’t tie in with other things – I remember I was in fifth year in the Primary, and I was in Secondary School by the time I was 13, those two dates don’t tie up, but I was born in 1928 anyway and that was it, so it looks…I would have been 12…I wouldn’t have been 13 until the November, but I did a year afterwards in the Primary School before I went on to Secondary and I was still in Secondary by the time I was 13, so I can’t figure that one out, but there you are.
EM: And which area of the North Stand were you living in?
MOH: Charlemount Parade, that’s just over Newcomen Bridge, on the other side of where the bomb fell, and there was a bit of a dip and so we escaped the worst of the bombing. I think there were 35 or 37 people killed in the bombing, I knew at least of one of them but, that was about it. We lost the worst of the blast anyway, it went over our heads.
EM: So, on the night of the bombing who was in your house?
MOH: My mother was there. I’m not sure if my father was or not – he often was on night work – now whether he was on night work that night or not I’m not sure, I can’t remember.
EM: Who did he work for then?
MOH: C.I.E., or G.S.R. I think as it was that time you know.
EM: And, so, what do you remember about the actual night then?
MOH: I remember I had tonsillitis. I had been sick for a while with this tonsillitis thing and I was in bed, and the next thing I heard a whistle waking me up and I realised straight away it was an air raid. I don’t know how I realised – well I’d seen so much of it I suppose on films and things like that – I recognised the whistle of the bomb, and I knew it was an air-raid and then the explosion came, and a lot of the plaster on the ceiling came down. We had an extension at the back of the house; it was a wooden extension that was blown in two. All of the street though, had more or less the same type of problems with the house.
EM: Did you come down the stairs and on to the street then to see…?
MOH: It was a bungalow – there was no stairs but I jumped up immediately…my mother came in, as far as I can remember she came in then anyway, and whether I went down I can’t remember but that was basically it. The odd thing, I remember, I didn’t feel nervous at all, but when it was all over I felt my knees and they knocking together even though I didn’t feel the least bit frightened or anything you know, or whether it was the after-effects of the whole thing or not I don’t know.
EM: And do you remember the ARP [Air Raid Precaution]? Or any of the people…?
MOH: You had a lot of A.R.P. people around, My uncle, who lived quite close by, he was in the A.R.P., and his wife and himself they came over to our house, I suppose to see how we were, and then he was going off in the A.R.P. I think they were recently married at that time, and his wife was a little nervous seeing him go off, but not an awful lot. A couple of amusing incidents – I heard afterwards whether this story is a make-up one or not I only got it at second-hand. I had another uncle by the way who was a policeman, and he lived exactly opposite, the school, which I went to – I better give you the full story first of all. This policeman was coming down apparently and this little young fellow was running up and he was running up in the middle of night to see if the school had been blown up – he was hoping the school had been blown up – but that could be a story, and it could’ve be my uncle, because my uncle would’ve been the policeman who lived directly opposite you know but there you are.
EM: And were you able to spend the night in the house afterwards…there wasn’t too much damage?
MOH: Oh Lord yes – we didn’t have to leave – but the workmen were around, the repair gang if you like to call them, they were around for quite a few months afterwards you know – they seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. It was the best day’s work they ever had, I think, you know.
EM: Corporation workmen or?
MOH: I suppose so, yes.
EM: Did you ever remember hearing that you got compensation or anything for any damage that was done?
MOH: No, no, I don’t…it wouldn’t have been us anyway – we only rented the house and so whether the landlords got any compensation or not I don’t know.
EM: What was it like in school and things afterwards – were people full of talk?
MOH: Oh yes I remember – we went in to school the next day – and a Christian Brother came around and put his head in and checked all the pupils…to see that everybody was here…and he just said ‘good’, when he saw us all here and he went off to check some other class then as well, you know. That was it.
EM: And had there been anyone in your school that was badly affected by the bomb then?
MOH: Not that I’m aware of, no. The butcher that we used to go to, he was killed in it and I’ve the funny feeling another member at least of his family was killed also – the story went around, again whether it was true or not, he was beheaded or something in the blast, now whether that’s true or not, as I say, I can’t be sure.
There was one girl, I think her name was Madge, either Madge was lying in the room – there was the two girls apparently together and one had got out of the bed to go over and have a look at what was happening and the blast apparently blew her right through from the window over to where the bed was – one of them was killed – I’ve a funny feeling it was the girl in the bed that was killed, but the girl who was blown across the room, as far as I can remember, escaped – it saved her life in actual fact being curious apparently, but there you are.
EM: And what was kind of the talk in the schoolyard afterwards? Did you talk about who was responsible…?
MOH: I don’t think so, plenty of talk I’m sure alright, and kids’ comparing notes…it wasn’t of great importance. I wouldn’t remember exactly you know.
EM: What was it like in Dublin during the Emergency in general? Do you remember food rations or having to come with imaginative…?
MOH: There was a half ounce of tea – there was a joke about that, there was a song about it – bless De Valera and Sean McEntee for giving us brown bread and a half ounce of tea – it was that sort of a song going on at the time you know – it was a skit, that class of thing.
EM: Do you have any questions, Andrew?
Andrew O’Brien (AOB): Yes, please. There was a couple of things there that kind of prompted me to think of, maybe we could to talk a little bit more about – Ellen’s already talked about school and so on – you had breaks, and you had lunchtime and you had summer holidays as well – at your time then would you have preferred to play cowboys and Indians or Germans and goodies and baddies?
MOH: We played football in the street a lot – it was a lovely life in a way – I often wish to God we were back there – back to that time, because we came home from school with a tennis ball – we could play football in the street and maybe twice a year a detective would come around and chase us off the street. Sure it was all a big joke as far as we were concerned, as far as he was concerned I’m sure it was a big joke as well but there were no cars on the road – you would see an odd car with a huge big canopy over it and it full of gas, driven around on gas – they were obviously official cars who had this. But all the other cars were off the road. A doctor maybe had a car now I’m not sure about that, but that was it. But it was grand to see the place free of cars – there wasn’t even any cars at the best of times in those days, but now quite honestly I hate the sight of a car.
AOB: And during the summer holidays then – that was, looking back on it now, no different to any other summer holiday before or after that?
MOH: Not that I can remember no – my people who came from the country…I used to go back down to an aunt of mine every year – I used often stay behind down in Wexford, and I loved it down there – though there’s no difference there at all as far as I was concerned anyway.
AOB: And you mentioned that you knew one of the victims – who was that may I ask?
MOH: As far as I can remember his name was Fitzpatrick…was it Fitzpatrick, I think it was.
AOB: You don’t know his first name?
MOH: No, I didn’t know his first name, but I think there was a girl named Madge who would’ve been a daughter of his.
AOB: And this Fitzpatrick chap was a butcher?
MOH: On the North Strand itself where St. Agatha’s Church is at the moment – there was a whole lot of houses right in front of it – they were all blown down so for the first time you could see the Church from the main road, he was one of those houses, at the corner of William Street I think it was.
AOB: And he was the butcher was he?
MOH: He was the butcher, yes.
AOB: It’s incredible to think that the bomb that had fallen at the Newcomen Bridge could decimate lives and yet you were under the bridge?
MOH: Well, let’s put it this way, there was a curve like this, if you go over the Newcomen Bridge there’s a curve on it, the bomb fell here, which is near where the Church was – we were over here and we missed the blast – the blast went over our heads.
AOB: The bomb fell on the south side; just on the south side was it?
MOH: North or south side…west side I’d thought more than anything else, I’d say.
AOB: And you were just on the other side?
MOH: I was on the other side.
AOB: You were lucky.
MOH: Come to think we were on the north side; it was the south side of the bridge.
AOB: It must have been strange when daylight broke, and you saw this scene?
MOH: Oh – we couldn’t believe it – I remember going up. There was barricades up of course –we couldn’t get much past the bridge itself, and all the crowds were gathering there, again I’ve a vague recollection of ambulances coming along and bringing off a body maybe or something – maybe only one of those I saw – that sort of thing was going on all the time probably. There was a soldier on the bridge and he was talking about we just had them in our sights or something – the aircraft guns were going ‘pop pop pop’ all the time – where they got all the ammunition from I don’t know.
AOB: Whereabouts were the anti-aircraft guns?
MOH: I don’t know, probably in the Phoenix Park or something, I couldn’t say.
AOB: What time did the bomb actually fall at?
MOH: I’ve a feeling again it was probably one in the morning, now I’m not sure, although I had been asleep for a long time before that.
AOB: And then the funerals?
MOH: I don’t remember the funerals much mind you, I don’t remember that at all.
AOB: Interesting – O.K. I think that’s pretty much covered it, but I just want to talk about…as Ellen was talking there about the Emergency generally like, and rationing and things like that. My uncle used to talk about…there used to be a type of toffee around at that time called half time jimmy – I don’t know if that was around when you were growing up.
MOH: I remember…there was only a half-ounce of tea – My father didn’t like coffee so they left a half-ounce of tea for him, and I liked the coffee, my mother liked the coffee. I enjoy a cup of coffee ever since, but there you are. That was the first time though I tasted coffee in fact.
AOB: Any explanation given by any of the adults or teachers as to what this bomb was about, why it happened or anything like that?
MOH: No, I can’t remember anything on that. I remember some time after that an Irish fellow, he was in the air force and he grabbed a biplane, I think it was, a gladiator or something and he went off to Germany. He wanted to join the Luftwaffe – and he was forced down in England, I remember this quite well, and that was a great joke in the classroom and the teachers said he was mad, you know, strange to say about two or three years ago he was on the radio here – and this time he was living in England – and he lost his job of course in the Irish Air force – I think he was a trainee officer or something or maybe a sergeant I’m not sure, but he was forced down in England, and he ended up and he fighting in the R.A.F. against the Germans in the Battle of Malta.
AOB: And you went down to Wexford, and they had some bombing incidents down there as well?
MOH: Yes, but I wasn’t there at that time you know. They had stories about that I remember a funny one. Apparently, an English or a German plane but they dropped a petrol can out of the…apparently there were men in the field, now this is a story again whether it’s true or not I don’t know, someone working in the field took up their spades pretending they were going to fire on the airplane and the story is that the airman dropped a petrol can out of the top of the…but they fainted apparently but that again could be a story I don’t know.
AOB: O.K. Thank you very much.
EM: That’s great, unless you’ve any other final comments you want to add yourself?
MOH: Offhand, I can’t think of any – there used to be little bit of rows, not rows around the street, but arguments amongst the kids – some of the kids were pro-German, and some were pro-British if you like – I’d say the majority were pro-German at that time – because it was a very nationalist time, it was only twenty years after the War of Independence you know – and that class of thing. One fellow, he was disgusted that it was the Germans who did it and he said all the people will be anti-German now and he was disgusted over that, you know.
AOB: There was a real strong pro-German?
MOH: I wouldn’t say it was pro-German – kids will say anything for the sake of an argument. There was nothing terribly except this one fellow bit of, I think he was a bit of a head case – he came from a very unhappy home, his mother and father were dead and there was an elder brother, who wasn’t the best to say the least – I saw him give the young fellow a terrible beating one time you know – but this young fellow he had problems purely and simply. I think he needed something to hate half the time the poor kid – but that was it, he was very pro-German – he was the fellow who said the people would be anti-German now and he was disgusted over the fact that the people might be anti-German.
AOB: And as you grew up then, a teenager, a young man, at work or whatever, had your own family or whatever – to what extend did the North Strand bombing, which was a key event in your childhood, colour your way of looking at the world generally?
MOH: It didn’t have any effect at all. I don’t think so. We were surprised…people didn’t believe the propaganda they got in those days– and some of the British propaganda was a bit over the top – they were very emotional altogether at that time, and they were disgusted we didn’t go into the war with them and that got up…again as I say, the north side of the city was more nationalist minded as far as I could see, than the Southside – I have that impression still, but anyway – no there wasn’t any great…no.
AOB: The colour or the stain of the North Strand Bombing didn’t reach down deep into your psyche.
MOH: Ah no, not at all. There was a thing afterwards I read, that annoyed me a little. I think it was in the old Evening Mail, a notice in the old Evening Mail, apparently, that some British officer was talking to some his men in the airport or something, it must have been the time that the radar system came in and they were able to deviate the planes and they had a great laugh the next day when they heard Dublin had been bombed. I remember that struck me as a bit odd, you know.
AOB: O.K., thank you very much.
MOH: Not at all, you’re welcome.
EM: Thank you very much.
– End of Interview-