Robert Hughes was an infant in 1941, living on 43 Parnell Road with his parents and two older sisters. His family home was damaged by the Donore Bombings in January 1941, and the family moved temporarily to Wexford. He speaks about long-term impact of bombing on his family, and also his memories of growing up in Dublin in the 1940’s.
Listen to Robert’s story here:
Duration: 20 mins.
Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project
Track Number: 03
Name of the Interviewee: Robert Hughes
Name of Interviewers: Ellen Murphy, Elizabeth Kane
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 2
Date of Interview: 6 April 09
Name of Transcriber: Ellen Murphy
Length of Track: 00:19: 54
Ellen Murphy (EM): This is an interview on 6 April 2009, with Mr. Bob [Robert] Hughes. Present is Ellen Murphy, senior archivist, Elizabeth Kane, and Ulrika Nilsson from Dublin City Archives. Would you like to tell us some background about your family, and your memories of the events surrounding the Donore Bombings?
Robert Hughes (RH): I have two older sisters, Anne and Carmel, and along with my parents Annie and Arthur, we lived at 43 Parnell Road. This was a lower middle class area with red brick purchases houses built in 1937. The location was quite scenic with large oak trees along the canal bank and vegetable allotments on the other side. The night the two bombs fell, I was only two years old, and in a cot in my parents back bedroom. My sisters were in the return bedroom. Anne, the youngest was 5 years of age, and Caramel was nine years old. Fortunately nobody was in the front large bedroom, fronting onto the canal, which suffered the greatest impact. The first bomb fell on south circular road between Donore Avenue and a Jewish synagogue; the area itself was a mixed religious area, with many Jews, Protestants and a majority of Catholics.
Just prior to the bombing which occurred at 1 am my parents and I were asleep but both my sisters were awake. Carmel had a call to nature and was sitting on a chamber pot when the bombs fell. Prior to the explosions, she had heard the planes coming up the coast, and subsequently always reflected they had a unique droning or whistling sound. She didn’t wish to recount the experience too often, because she felt embarrassed to, when it was actually taking place, and where she had her experiences from. Anne was also awake and heard a bang followed by a large flash of light. After the explosion Carmel tried to go back to her bed but there was glass everywhere including on the bed clothes, the front door was blown up the stairs, and within an hour the ARP- who is the Air Raid Protection Officer- arrived and told all houses to turnoff the gas and open the windows. This was possibly unnecessary because all the windows were blown out in any event. Ann my sister remembers seeing two houses on a subsequent visit to the Circular road had been virtually destroyed, and she also saw like perhaps portrayed by Orpen [William] in some of his paintings on the First World War in Belgium, there was a dressing gown floating in ridiculous pattern off a bedroom wall that was totally standing on its own. Perhaps it was a result of the bombing, but my father was appointed a volunteer ARP [Air Raid Protection] officer. He subsequently organised drills of the neighbours when we had to put on gas masks, and throw imaginary incendiary devices into buckets of water.
EK: What was your father’s name?
RH: My father was Arthur and he was very interested in local initiatives. The area of compensation appeared to come through fairly rapidly, but the perception of my family was that whereas the North Strand Bombings were done as a warning to Ireland not to hand over the ports to Britain, whereas in the question of the south side bombings, Germany provided compensation relatively fast and admitted it had been a total mistake. My two sisters were dispatched to separate aunts and I headed to my grandparents in Rathmines.
EM: Was this the night of the bombing or subsequently?
RH: This was within a week of the bombings, maybe perhaps two nights after the bombings. It was totally in practical to stay in the house
EM: And the night of the bombing, did the Red Cross bring you somewhere or did you spend the night in the house?
RH: Well the time the bombing appeared to have occurred was around 4am, so it was virtually day light, very shortly after that, but we were sent to our aunts within forty-eight hours of the bombing. There were no casualties in the bomb that affected our houses, and this was one that landed on the allotments across the canal bank however my own mother subsequently suffered a miscarriage. She was pregnant at the time of the bombing, so whether it was the bombing or whether some other particular reason, we will never know.
EM: But the shock of the bomb…
RH: It was certainly a big shock. My sisters were particularly lonely on their own with the aunts so my father then decided he was going to bring the family together during the period of the re-building of the house. He rented a cottage with his country cousins, in Castletown, North Wexford, and my mother and the three children went there while my father journeyed up and down to Dublin. At that time, he worked as a senior clerk in CIE, which was the transport company of the time. We were the typical city evacuees in the country, and the cottage had no running water or electricity. Before the expiry of the tenancy my mother fled back to Dublin. All three children briefly went to the local two-roomed school in Castletown, a part of our pedigree, which subsequently became very useful in our later life. Our whole household had only one casualty-being the mother
EM: Thank you so much for having such detailed notes prepared. Did people at the time, think it was significant that the bombing happened near the Jewish synagogue?
RH: We always felt that that was not significant. We felt that the bombers were trying to off load their bombs before they went back to Germany but there was a feeling abroad, you know, some of the cynics would have remarked, that they were trying to bomb the synagogue. I don’t know whether I already said, the relationships between Jews, Protestants and Catholics in that particular area was absolutely very close and very harmonious, so there was no sense of any enmity between any of the two groupings
EK: Did your sisters know any of the people that might have been injured?
RH: My sister Carmel, the eldest, had a Jewish friend who lived three doors away and she went to visit her friends on the South Circular road, and in fact she spend the night of the bombing in that friends house, and one of her friends were injured, so not seriously. Its, a bombing like this always seems some scars, and the miscarriage that my mother suffered, it was subsequently translated into- she became something of a depressive.
EM: Did your father have any stories from the ARP [Air Raid Precaution]?
RH: That’s the thing I said about. They can remember that he assembled the neighbours and they’d all gather around, and we had to apparently put on the gas masks, I am sure it was like- The Last of The Summer Wine [television program]- where they all stood around, and the idea was if there was any incendiary device and they were trying to decommission them, dump it in a bucket of water… that was the training
EK: Eventually your family were re-housed?
RH: No the house was restored, not re-housed. We were evacuees down to the country. I personally used my country origins in my later life, because within the organisation I worked for-I worked in Bank of Ireland for a long time-I retired 10 years ago, and I was appointed at one stage to head up the Agribusiness Division of the Bank. I had to travel to all the co-op meetings, now you know the scene, and I would have to listen to all the farmers, and they wouldn’t listen to me for 10 minutes unless I had some country pedigree, so I used to flog my Wexford ancestry.
EM: And the time you spent in Wexford
RH: Yes, and it worked; of course I swotted up on North Wexford history as well (laughs) It worked. If they thought you had never stirred out of Dublin they wouldn’t waste their time of day on you
EK: Were you ever compensated for damage to house?
RH: I don’t believe money passed, but everything in house was restored. Some people said subsequently that my mother should have claimed for the miscarriage but that wasn’t era. Compensation wasn’t a factor in those days.
EK: Do you remember the fire brigade or Red Cross?
RH: The fire brigade, the Red Cross, turn off the gas, turn off the electricity, they would have come, and the nearest station would have been Sun drive road or Rothmans. They would have been the nearest fire brigades.
EM: Were all your family out of Dublin when the North Strand Bombs fell
RH: We have no experience of that. We were possibly down at Wexford at that stage. But we went to school in Wexford in a two room cottage; I think it is still there today in Castletown. Everyone learnt something from it, my next sister was telling me that when she did go to which ever school she went, I think she went to Loreto school in Crumlin road, and she was advanced a class, due to being, because in those days they didn’t have this kindergarten stuff they have now days, the pre-school thing-but she was advanced having gone to the school in Wexford, and they put her up had a class. It worked that way.
EM: It had an impact on all your lives…
RH: It had an impact on all our lives.
EK: The Irish Times reported that bombsites were visited by many people in the aftermath. Do you or your sisters remember that?
RH: The thing I remember is that thousands of people did go out on the road because there were photographs taken of the people at the North Strand Bombings, and there were certainly 5 or 600 hundred in the photographs so the people did go to see them. We were on the periphery of the city as it was then. I mean they were only starting to build the big estates stretching from our house to Crumlin village and into Drimnagh. So we were the last of the purchased house and then they built the council houses, and all my friends were in the council houses, and I was out in the street most of the time. It’s a great area. One of my sons was interested in buying one of what was a council houses, which is now a purchase house, and he went along and he was priced and this is only about two years ago, and they -looking for 600,000 for the purchase house, the council houses, because it is right at Sally bridges. I went along with him to look at a house. I had left, I got married in 1965, and of 12 houses, stretching from our house up to the bridge, 8 of them still had same families in them, 2 years ago, the names, so it shows how much valued living. Now prices have gone back since then.
EM: I have one final question, did yourself and your family talk about the bombings growing up and in later years, or has it just been this interview process, which you made all start thinking about it.
RH: The bombing was always prevalent in our minds because it left a lot of shrapnel in various objects in the house. I subsequently got married and I was given, my mother passed onto me, an oil lamp that she got a wedding present of. And this oil lamp had a shade damaged in the bombing, and it was knocked to the ground. So we’ve replaced the shade, but oil lamp itself is still a beautiful object. So it’s a constant memory, its part of us, part of, our, and I think others must have same impact. Bombs destroy and impregnate all aspects of your house, so you must live with it thereafter. The question I now would have, the allotment concept is coming back into fashion. The allotments along by the canal where the bomb dropped must still have some shrapnel in the soil, so is that going to be covered by metal detectors or what I don’t know? Remains of the bomb must still be there.
EK: Every now and again you see people with metal directors.
RH: When you are growing up in cities there’s a way of entertaining yourself if you are a street urchin, like I was (laughs) and at Leonard’s corner there used to be an old, how do you describe it, a chicken- killing abattoir, and it was done according to the halal right. So that meant that they slit the neck and turned them upside down while still alive, and the chicken would shake its legs until it was dead, and that was the halal way because the Jews of Leonard’s corner- that was their religious way of doing it. But if you wanted something to do you might go up and look at the chickens being killed. [Editor’s note: Food prepared according to Jewish dietary laws is known as Kosher. Halal refers to food prepared according to Muslim religious practice]. And then up at Harold’s Cross Bridge, there was an abattoir down a lane, now you would have (pause) only one animal would be shot at a time, and it would take an hour or two to clear after that one animal, it was a heifer or whatever it was, you know and they’d have to strip the skin off and de-hide it, and in later life, I was in charge of meat factories all over the country, and they would process something like 100 cattle an hour, it was all mechanised, these things come up, and they were electrocuted it was more humane. But then it was a gun, they shot a cartilage, it was opposite Gordon’s bank on the canal, and that was another place for [entertainment]. The other free show let me tell you about was up to the convent on a Sunday, on a wet Sunday afternoon, you had nothing to do up to the convent, and you went into the dead house there, the morgue and the stiffs would be laid out on marble, and there’d be a dare to lift the hand of the stiff and then you charge away (laughs)
EK: Did you ever get caught?
RH: Oh we got chased (laughs). You had all these free shows; you had to create your -these sort of (entertainment)
EM: Was there shrapnel in any other objects that you remember?
RH: Yes it was in the piano and then we had what do you call. They used to all have these fire-guards not fire guards, they kept the draft out, the screen, and draft excluders as well, and the screens would be folded out, and the screen was nearly torn to shreds, there were gaps in that all over the place.