Kevin Mullen was aged 7 at time of bombing and living in Sandymount strand. His father worked for Dublin Corporation in Dangerous Building sections, and was involved in the clean-up operation after the bombing. Kevin recalls making his first holy communion the day after the bombing, and visiting his father onsite among the rubble of the North Strand. Kevin also recalls his memories of life during the Emergency including witnessing a dog-fight on Sandymount strand, memories of Star of the Sea school, Christmas time, and rationing.
Listen to story here:
Duration: 30:35 mins.
Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project Phase 2
Track Number: 01
Name of the Interviewee: Kevin Mullen
Name of Interviewer: Marc Redmond
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 1
Date of Interview: 23 March 2010
Name of Transcriber: Marc Redmond
Length of Track: 00:30:35
This interview is taking place on 23rd March 2010 at the Lab in Foley Street, present are Kevin Mullen and Mrs Mullen with the interview being carried out by Marc Redmond on behalf of Dublin City Archives.
MR: Now Kevin can I ask you what is your date of birth? and what age you were in 1941?
KM: 6th of the second, 6 February 1934 that’s my date of birth.
MR: you were 8 years old?
MR: 7 years old. And where were you living at the time?
KM: In Sandymount.
MR: And what did you parents do?
KM: My father worked in Dublin Corporation, he was in the dangerous buildings department in Dublin Corporation and my mother was a housewife (laughs). I was part of a large family of boys, I was the seventh, there was one more, there was eight of us.
MR: And what are your recollections of the night of 30/31st ….
KM: On the night I slept through it. The air raid siren was on top of Ryan’s pub in Sandymount. Do you know Ryan’s pub?
MR: I know it well.
KM: Well that was where the air raid siren was and you’d hear it, it’d wake up the dead, but I didn’t hear it. The next morning we were told that something had happened, not so much a change in plan, but things had to be reorganised at home. My father had to go straight into work, which was in here obviously around the North Strand, and my mother had to take me for my First Communion in the morning time, right? Like, that’s actually how it occurred. I didn’t really appreciate what a bombing was or anything else I don’t think I would have cared really at the time but I had made my First Communion in Sandymount, at the school ‘Star of the Sea’ in Sandymount, and just behind the school you see there was the anti aircraft battery which was manned, and this thing was going all night and then the air raid siren was going all night, and I happily slept through it all cos I must have been tired (laughs).
MR: And you did see some of the aftermath?
KM: Oh I did yes. Well you see what happened was, my mother (pause), my father went off, right?, and my mother took me to my First Communion and then after the First Communion there was the question of having breakfast in the school, and so on and so forth and then she had to come out to the North Strand to see my father for some reason, so at 7 you don’t ask what you’re going to do, right? You just do what you’re told, but I do remember actually being here on the site in the North Strand and seeing the damage and there was a lot of rubble, a lot of dust, a lot of dirt, right? A lot of damaged buildings that I vaguely remember. I wasn’t allowed to walk over the site. I was kept to one side, but what I did see was, there were a lot of cottages, right?, around, and in one case a gable wall of the cottage was sucked out. From the inside you passed through and just stuck your head in the door it was perfectly alright in appearance and then when you walked to the end to where the gable wall was there was no gable wall.
MR: That must have been extraordinary
KM: It had parted the paper, the wall paper, people used to paint, or used to put paper over paper over paper, so what you have was an inner wall of decorated paper, and the gable was sucked out, so when you looked in you had a perfectly ordinary, well probably disturbed, but dust and dirt I wouldn’t have particularly noticed as a child, but when you walked around to the end of the house there was no gable wall .
MR: Oh it was gone ?
KM: It was gone, and it was one of those remarkable things that it could happen so cleanly as if you cut it with a scissors.
MR: And your father was obviously working as part of the clean up operation as well?
KM: Oh he was yes.
MR: Is there anything that you would have remembered him ……?
KM: Ah yes I remember quite well, he was here, I had to keep …. stay quiet, you didn’t interrupt, whatever was being done. There was a lot of people working, horses, carts, there was no bulldozers or caterpillars or anything else like that at the time, it was all manual labour, and he would be organising the work as part of the team from Dublin Corporation and he would have been examining ……. the houses that were damaged were quite obviously damaged, but the ones around, like your brother’s [Interviewees brother’s house in Rathdown Villas Terenure, damaged by a German bomb on January 2nd 1941 ‘Donore Bombings’ ] house you were talking about, the damage wouldn’t be apparent, right?, but he’d be looking at those to see what was safe and what wasn’t safe, right? And deciding what was to stay and what was going to be knocked down. What was dangerous to go into and what wasn’t dangerous to go into, right? And that was his job, and that’s what he did, right? And….there was a whole lot of them there at the time and you remember all the people around, you know, and he was quite good at what he did, he was excellent at what he did.
MR: And did he speak much about compensation arrangements, or…?
KM: Oh not at all no, like it may have gone on … as I said my memories … I was too young …. my memories would be nil except that when they rebuilt it he said to me “Jesus they made a lousy job of it” (laughs) they just … they really did nothing, but then it was 1941 they had no materials, around you know? And there was very little they could do. It was a very grim time, you would actually say it was a damn grim time really but what you did see as a kid was from a totally different perspective, you did what you were told, you know you didn’t actually try and analyse anything to come to any conclusions, but he did speak about it and said that the Corporation put up more of the same, you know, they really didn’t do anything and there wasn’t a great deal of work I think done until sometime afterwards, except the demolition.
KM: What would involve him in deciding what was going to stay and what was not going to stay
MR: And was there much talk in the period after that, fear of more attacks, were people aware …?
KM: Oh yes, I remember when … and I wouldn’t be able to place it exactly .. the date … but I remember an airplane, two airplanes, an RAF plane and a Luftwaffe plane having a dog fight, I think they called it, on Sandymount Strand when I was going to school and ….. one was chasing the other trying to maneuver into position to shoot it down and I thought it was great, what better could you get going to school than two planes having a dog fight (laugh) but there was a woman who lived nearby, ran out and grabbed me and dragged me in and I was furious, as a kid to miss the best thing to ever likely to happen since school opened, since I started school, that was really it, cos she wouldn’t let me out again, so I was locked up until the dog fight ended and the RAF plane actually shot the German down but not over Sandymount, but you could actually see it going on.
MR: Wow. And what about things like school yard games and that type of thing, would they have involved …..?
KM: Absolutely. Star of the Sea was interesting, it was two schools. The school that I went to … I went to the old school which was immediately behind the church, dated from the time of the church building which was probably 1845 or 50 or whatever it was.
MR: It’s still there I think. Is it?
KM: Oh yes.
MR: I know the building, it’s just on the coast road there?
KM: And there was the old Victorian style school behind it, right? big cut granite stone, and the old boiler house and all that but then before the war they built the red brick building … I don’t know whether you know Sandymount ?
MR: I know it yes.
KM: Do you know the red bricked building behind, it’s actually the school. That was opened when I was there and I remember transferring from the old school, it was actually an old school hall, you know … steeple roof built like a church and it was divided I think into three or four classes by heavy drapes, green heavy coloured drapes with big brass hooks, you know, you had three or four class and you’d look … you’d go down to your class and you’d see it on the wall, they had the attendance who’s was in school that day and the numbers in it, you know how many were in classes and the numbers were 40 / 50.
MR: Per class?
KM: Per class, yes.
MR: Would you remember other things like the issuing of gas masks?
KM: Yes we had gas masks at home, and they all arrived in and we all had to try them on. I remember actually trying it on, you know, we all tried it on, we were all shown how to use them, the gas masks.
MR: One issued to every family member?
KM: Oh yes, we had … there was eight boys, right?, my mother and father … there was ten of us so we got ten has masks, right? … I don’t know whether they allowed for expansion as we grew up or not (laughs)…. but I do remember them quite well actually, you know, we thought it was very funny, you know and other equipment, there was a stirrup pump issued, don’t know why … a stirrup pump was for putting fires out, right, and they were sometimes put into certain houses in certain areas, now you might have one for 20 houses or something like that you know, and I forget now how they worked …. you pumped them up and down and they gave you a bucket or water or whatever it was to put out fires, that was really ….. I don’t think they were very useful. I never saw one actually in use, there wasn’t a great deal of difficulty.
I do remember the bombing on the South Circular Road. …. I remember that and we did have a piece of the bomb … very small, about the size of my finger, about that size, quite thick, with a swastika. Stamped on it, so you knew exactly where it came from, you know, and the rumour was that it was a deliberate attempt by Hitler to eliminate the synagogue on South Circular road but that wouldn’t seem very likely, it wouldn’t seem likely at all. Then during the war itself there was no great change, the odd plane flew over and the odd occasion when the anti aircraft guns would go off, they could really make a hell of a noise, you know, they really, really could, they’d lift you out of it. The anti aircraft just behind the school, and just behind that was a dump, which is now a nature reserve or whatever they call it, but it was a bloody dump, and the dust carts used to go in and out and in and out all day. As I said, just behind the school and on that you had the army huts to house the fellas that were going to man the guns which went off from time to time. I don’t know how many times, but they would wake you up very quickly when they started firing and that was about it. The other thing was that going towards the end of the war, two very large American planes came over, I’d say very substantial ones, I wouldn’t be able to give you what they were, literally at house top height, I mean literally you know, I mean they knocked the branches off the trees they were going so fast and so low and I remember my brother saying “we won’t see those again, they’ll come back as a No. 3 bus” (laughs) but in fact they did come back again and they were obviously some fellas on a ‘skyte’ in the planes flying over Dublin and flying really low … like tree height, if you can know the twigs and branches off a tree you’re really flying really low, and then that was about it.
The glimmer man and those things, well you did what you had to do, you know, and the procedure there was that beside the gas stove you kept a basin a cold water and a cloth, a heavy cloth, and if the glimmer man were to call, and if you were using the glimmer to cook (laughs), you took the cloth over, you know? filled with water and you washed it down in case you were accused of using the glimmer which apparently was illegal and could cause you gas to be cut off and that actually was the ploy.
MR: And do you have any other memories of things like pawn shops or rationing, how did rationing affect a large family like your family?
KM: To me it didn’t make any great difference, you got what you got, and I didn’t know hunger, I mean I didn’t know it as a kid. I suppose my father was a great forager so we had enough to eat, you know and diet was very plain and then as a kid you didn’t know any better or any different, and you tended to get stews and potatoes and whatever was available. You had fish, loads of fish, you got lots of fish because fish was not quite popular but it was quite common. There was fishermen on the Liffey and you’d simply buy fish every week and sometimes twice a week, it was the only food available. But it wasn’t actually ….. from my point of view it wasn’t at all hardship you just grew up as a kid, that’s the way you grew up as kid, if they were having a war they were having a war you know, if they weren’t having a war they weren’t having a war, you didn’t know any difference and since it wasn’t affecting you directly, you got your meals, that’s all that counted really.
MR: Did any of your relatives go to England ? or did any of your other relatives work in the forces here?
KM: Yes I had an uncle who was in the British Army, my father’s brother. [It’s] funny he served in the first World War and the Second World War, which is rather unusual, very unusual. There were two sides of the family …. within the one family, one was extremely nationalistic and he wasn’t but I mean they were still the best of friends. There was no arguments and even after the war if I was going to England I would have to call to see James, right? And if he came home it was like the prodigal son you know, he was still greeted as a brother to my father and they were still the best of friends, you know?
MR: Would you have noticed any different when he went to England after the war, would you have noticed much difference between the rationing, was it still in force over there ….?
KM: Oh yes, the conditions in England after the war were absolutely appalling, and funny, I was only talking about that the other night, there was a completely different, if you like, psychology as far as they accepted higher levels of authority, right? And there were people living in England and working in England in conditions, and things weren’t good here, but in conditions that we wouldn’t haven’t even begun to tolerate here, they were totally regimented. Then you began to realise the reason they won the war was they had a lot of bloody downtrodden people, that was really it and when you moved around England you saw it. You know you really did see it. They worked in dreadful conditions, dreadful jobs and they were paid buttons, you know? I mean the idea of Churchill after the war, lost the first election after the war and when I went there in 1947 you began to realise why, you know, the people didn’t have a life, they weren’t treated reasonably well in England, they really weren’t and it wouldn’t surprise me if a socialist and a labour party were elected because things were so bloody bad in the place that it made our place look like heaven. That’s a fact actually, you know?
MR: And even at the time here during the war, did people follow the course of the war?
KM: Oh Yes, I remember as a kid, you know as a child, after the war started, I remember when the war started, the English papers issued a lot of maps, war maps, mostly desert areas. And one particular paper issued flags, stick on flags, German, English, and to help you follow the course of the war you had this big map and you put the flag in the positions where the English army were and where the German army were, and then you could follow the war as you advanced presumably the flags forward and it gave you an idea that was always one thing I remember seeing that, you know where are they today type of thing.
MR: Would that have been a popular thing among younger children as well?
KM: It was for adults really. You’d look at it and say well ….. but the information was very limited …. the information….. then we had our own censorship here. There was a massive censorship here but they’re had to be to an extent. We had a spy lived quite close to us. A German spy (laughs) that’s a fact actually, he was a radio operator and eventually I think he was tracked down and arrested, and taken away to do whatever they do with radio operators. There was a policeman lived virtually next door, a young policeman, and he became a bit upset about it and he wouldn’t trust anybody over anything, he’d arrest his own mother quite happily – an oddity then, he became quite an oddity. But I do remember another person who was definitely a spy right? But that was revealed after the war, so there would have been, I think there would have been a deal of sympathy for the Germans by people from before the war and the reason was a) the Irish went to England to work principally, the reason for the animosity towards the British was previous history in Ireland which is very relevant and it was almost immediate for most of them and they couldn’t see any point in siding with the British having just got rid of them as far as they were concerned, so there really was, I mean, a positive animosity between the two sides and De Valera called it right, he couldn’t afford to go into war because there was so many people saying “we had the so-and –sos for so many years why invite them back in again” and it was genuine, it really was genuine. But then you would have families where you would have one side people who were republicans and the other side fighting in the British Army. So you had that mixture of people within families. There was never any animosity really that I remember between them. Certainly I would have to meet my uncle, call to him to see how he was if I was in London. Later on when he would come over and stay for holidays, as I said he fought in both world wars, the first one he fought in the Dardanelles which was pretty bloody I believe, and the Second one he was in army , which my father said was a contradiction in terms (laughs).
MR: Would you remember other things, for example, radio broadcasts like Lord Haw Haw.
KM: Oh absolutely, I remember Lord Haw Haw, I do actually remember hearing Lord Haw Haw .
MR: Would a lot of people have talked about him?
KM: Yes he was quite popular. I mean he was quite popular, here you got a very restricted, again a very censored British broadcasting, as you got a very censored RTE broadcasting, Radio Eireann or whatever they called it at the time, and then again service was very limited on Radio Eireann. It didn’t broadcast all day and you got a very restricted information flow from it, except what the Government of the time wanted to tell you, and the same thing applied to the British Broadcasting Service. But I do remember Lord Haw Haw. I do actually remember hearing him a number of times. He had a slightly fruity accent is the best way to describe it you know, and “this is Lord Haw Haw speaking” [Kevin speaks in posh accent mimicking William Joyce AKA Lord Haw Haw] and he would give probably a dreadful description, an alarmist description of what was going on and people accepted it was possible or it wasn’t possible but there was a latent, a huge latent animosity as far as the English Government was concerned and Churchill wasn’t exactly flavour of the year at any time after he had made very definite references to this country, and he simply hated the Irish. I have to say that. He simply did. I was talking to a fella recently who actually worked for him and he said he simply hated us in total. So you didn’t really get any great cooperation between the two countries. It was interesting because the animosity was quite obvious and quite ferocious at times.
MR: Is there anything else from that period that particularly sticks in your mind with regard to the clean up operation or would it have been a novelty for kids to see soldiers on the street, or did that become par for the course?
KM: No there wasn’t. The war was par for the course. Things to remember …. I remember pictures which go back in my own mind, to, in the Phoenix Park probably the 15 acres, big railway sleepers stuck into the ground right through the 15 acres and they were used to stop planes landing right on the 15 acres and it was like row after row after row. Then there were huge stacks of turf, which was brought up and stored in the Phoenix Park for distribution through Dublin or whatever it was going. Then the other part was turf cutting on the feather beds, people would cycle up get their turf up there and bring it down. It was part of the season of the year, you had to get your own turf, or buy it or get it in some way, it was a local turf, I don’t think there was any coal as far as I remember, I don’t remember any coal as such. It was turf we used. Electricity, was considered to be our own industry. You used electricity when you could in preference to gas, because it was the old wood saving thing, burn everything bar their coal. That’s exactly what was done. There were huge political implications in the whole attitude of people towards what existed at the time. We had an electric cooker. My father said everything bar their coal. It was our electricity we used that was very much his attitude.
MR: What other things, for example, with would young children, there was so much stuff rationed, what type of things would have been a treat? Anything special that you remember that would have been an occasion, Christmas…
KM: I tell you the only big thing in food terms, after I suppose October, you talked about your Christmas Dinner which was coming up on Christmas Day and the big treat on Christmas Day was to get turkey and ham if you could, and Taylor Keith’s lemonade, and orange, and that was heaven. The taste of turkey and ham and Taylor Keith’s was bliss as far as kids were concerned, you were really living it up on that particular day. But treats, you didn’t really get that many, not really, but then you like you didn’t feel deprived because as a child you didn’t know any different, you simply didn’t know it and as far as I was concerned I don’t think that I can ever say I suffered any great loss of anything. You know, clothes you weren’t fashion conscious at all, you got what your brother wore before you, that’s the way it was. It was handed down from member to member, that would be saved and patched, there was much more patching of clothes, you know you didn’t have new stuff at the drop of a hat, it was saved and reused, saved and reused, until it got to the stage that it couldn’t be used any longer. But it wasn’t actually great poverty. It was simply ‘make do and mend’. That’s all it was but as a kid you didn’t miss it because you didn’t know any different. You might have if you’d been born well before the war, you might have but you didn’t because I didn’t know anything about it. But it was a totally different mentality of people to now. I’m not saying it was better then, but it was far more restricted then, far more restricted and that’s really all. The North Strand I do remember being brought out to see my father to contact him because I was having my big day and my mother took me out because I was going off to my granny’s to see probably if I could get a few bob and a collection of cash, but there wouldn’t be a great deal of cash either you know but it was the thing to do, you had to bring your son out.
MR: In you communion clothes?
KM: Absolutely. There wasn’t really that much cash, you know there really wasn’t. You didn’t live on the idea of borrowing cash and you walked everywhere, you played in terms of games, you played a lot more football, running, racing, hurling, whatever games were, that’s what you …. and you didn’t have money to buy a ball so you had to make your own from socks, lots of old socks, that’s what you used. It was very simple, and that was really how we lived. You got a meal, you were happy, you could leave home in the morning, you’d climb Mount Everest as long as you were back for your lunch. If you didn’t get back for your lunch you were in trouble, that’s the way it was. Meal times were very important, because food was short. There was vegetable growing and fruit growing and raspberries growing. Whatever would be grown in the garden was grown in the garden you know because potato growing helped to feed the family so it was very important to keep that going.
MR: There would have been a lot more fresh food around as well I suppose, very few people probably had a fridge, or would it have been also the case maybe that the gas rationing that you had specific times..
KM: Yes it was cut off time and that was it but you accepted that that was the case. I mean you didn’t think there was any great virtue in it but you never questioned it at all. But what I did find was the huge change in conditions between here and the UK. When I was going to school, and I went to Secondary School which everybody didn’t go to, but during the school holidays, I’d go to England. This would have been in the late 40s, but I was 16 and I’d work the full summer during the time and make some money and have a good time, save a few bob and come home. But it was just a matter of, you lived by what was available and you had to forage for yourself, really, and it was like the breakfast I had on the First communion morning which was a boiled egg, bread and butter, that was considered a feast at the time. You were quite happy you didn’t expect to get anything else and so our taste was simpler, our want was simpler, and that was the end of it really, that’s really all…
MR: That concludes the interview with Kevin Mullen and I’d like to thank you for attending and you’ll get a copy on CD and I’ll see you on the 29th.