Mairead King was 5 at time of bombing, and living in Sackville avenue, with her parents, brother and three maiden aunts. Her mother was in Rotunda Hospital on the night of the bombing, having given birth a few days previously. Mairead recalls her family’s actions on night of bombing, and her own childhood upset at the destruction of a doll at Gallagher’s Provisions Shop near Five Lamps. She also discusses the Small Profit Shop on Ballybough, how her family coped with rationing, and attitudes to the allies and the Germans during the Emergency.
Listen to story here:
Duration: 21:31 mins.
Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project Phase 2
Track No: 02
Name of the Interviewee: Mairead King [MK:]
Name of Interviewer: Marc Redmond [MR:]
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 1
Date of interview: 13th April 2010
Name of Transcriber: Marc Redmond [MR:]
Length of Track – 00:21:31
This interview is taking place on 13th April 2010 at the Lab in Foley Street. Present are Mairead King and the interview is being carried out by Marc Redmond on behalf of Dublin City Archives.
MR: Mairead, thank you very much for coming in.
MK: Not at all.
MR: Can I ask you a little bit about your personal situation in 1941, your date of birth, your age and where you were living etc?
MK: Well I was born on Christmas Day 1935, so I would have been 5 and a half at the time, I was born in the Rotunda Hospital, and we lived in Sackville Avenue, off Ballybough Road which was between Croke Park and North Strand, about 5 minutes from the North Strand. On the night of the bombing, I distinctly remember… actually previously to the night of the bombing we used to hear planes going over which rather frightened me.
MR: You were living with your mother and father?
MK: Oh beg your pardon, I was living with my mother and father and three aunts.
MR: Three Aunts?
MK: My father’s three sisters who weren’t married and lived with them. It was a very old house, an old cottage type house and at the time I had a brother, Dennis, aged 2 and a half, and my mother actually was in the Rotunda Hospital having my other brother Colm, he was born a few days previously.
MR: Right, and what did you dad do?
MK: My father was, well he worked at farming here in North County Dublin and he distributed milk and eggs around the city, well mostly the north city. My mother didn’t work, no, and one of my aunts was a dressmaker. The other aunt was a cook in Dublin Castle. She worked for the (pauses); the guards were there at the time.
MR: And you recall hearing airplane noises?
MK: Very much so, very much so. That’s what woke us up initially, was the drone, which still I can still… (pauses)
MR: Hear them?
MK: [nods in agreement] Hear it, and they were very low. Now we had a skylight in the room and I could swear I saw the planes, possibly didn’t but, in my memory I did. My aunt said I was lying, I was in that bed with my aunt Esther, and she said I actually rolled over her with the fright that night. The house shook initially from the sound, the planes were very low and my brother didn’t wake up, everybody else was awake, and because the house was old my mother and father slept in a small bedroom to the front of the house, so we all went in there, and started saying the rosary. That was my memory. I was in the bed, and my father was very upset because he was anxious about my Mam, not knowing where the bombs were dropping. You see there was another bomb had dropped at the junction of North Circular Road and Ballybough Road,
MK: Just in the centre of the road, which was quite near us, just over the bridge from where we were. I think that was the first bomb actually, I think the other ones were later. We went in as I say, and we were saying our rosary, and we used to joke about it, one of my aunts was always complaining how many prayers they were saying, and that night she kept saying “say another, say another Rosary” but it was the noise was the worst. Now I wouldn’t have realised that it was bomb, so the front window, we had no front garden, there was a granite window sill and the next morning when we went out there was a big piece out of the window sill. My memory of the next morning, it was a beautiful morning, I do know, and the road was littered with glass, slates, bricks. I don’t remember the clean-up operation. I know my father went down to collect my mother from the hospital. He walked down to the Rotunda and they got a taxi back, but they had to do a detour because of the other bomb. So, I know when my mother arrived in I was delighted of course to see her, not realizing the significance of the whole event, but that she was there and the baby. There was nobody, thank God, nobody around our area that was injured. I think there was one person killed up in Summerhill as far as I can remember. Now, my family would have known quite a few of the people on the North Strand, and I have another recollection of when (laughs). There were shops along that were all destroyed and we used to …. there was a shop there on the corner, near the Five Lamps, called Gallaghers, it was a big provisions shop, Mam used to shop there, and there was another shop nearby, and I had picked, I saw a doll up on a shelf which I really wanted, and an aunt of mine had put a deposit on the doll, but of course I didn’t get my doll, and that to me was my big disappointment (laughs). The bombing meant very little. I went to school in North William Street which is just beside it, now I had only started school, I mean I was only five and a half but I would have started in the September. We weren’t really allowed down for quite a while, because of the damage and the rubble, and all that sort of thing you know. I don’t ….. I can’t say that I remember a lot of about what happened after that, because I suppose it was like that for quite a while without anything being done. My main recollection would be the people talking about it continuously, and I always fascinated because there was a lady who lived nearby who, I think there were from …. I don’t know where they were from, but she always referred to it as the “Bumming” (laughs) and I thought this was fascinating. “The Bumming” was …., this was the bombing of the North Strand. But basically I don’t think really outside of that, I don’t think I’ve an awful lot of recollection of what happened. We lived in the house then until 1958 and it was taken over by the Corporation. They built flats there on Sackville Avenue but I know the piece was still out of the window sill when we left (laughs) but really apart from that it’s not very much of a recollection.
MR: Can you remember how people, later, how people at the time felt about the bombing?
MK: Oh well they were terrified really; you see well they discussed it in great length. I had an aunt who lived in Belfast, and they used to come down stay with us to get away from …. you know …. they had bombings themselves, and as a matter of fact they were actually down at the time getting away …. my grandmother lived in number 11, we lived in number 6 … and of course we thought we were going to be in for the same treatment as the (pauses) ….
MR: Right and that was the general feeling that there was a possibility?
MK: that there was a possibility that it was the start of something … (pauses) nobody really knew. You see I think, as far as I can remember, I wouldn’t have remembered this, but they spoke about it, I don’t think they were allowed write about those things you know …. (pauses) you knew nothing about the war really as far as I can remember.
MR: There was censorship?
MK: there was censorship so it would have been after the war that we heard about all the things that had happened, you know, but I do know that that episode was very strong …. (pauses). The people around, they discussed it for quite a long time, and as I say, because I was only very young, I was more concerned about my doll …. not getting my doll!! And I don’t really remember a lot more about it. As I say, we went to the school but we weren’t really allowed down near the …. (pauses) it was only up from the canal, do you know the school there? But you weren’t really allowed to go up. I think they were afraid of gas and stuff like that and they didn’t really know.
MR: And what are your other general memories of the war? Do you remember rationing or the glimmer man?
MK: I do remember, oh very much so. I remember the glimmer man, and you know they’d be going along, and if they were cooking something they’d turn off the gas, but they’d be feeling it (the cooker ring) to make sure … in case the glimmer man came (laughs), they’d move their hand over the gas. Also the rations books, yes, we were all right because there were my three aunts, my mother, my father, and us (3 children), so that they were able to eke out, you know, tea and stuff was rationed very badly, but because there were so many in the house, adults, they were able to manage, you know. I also remember the gas masks, and I was very annoyed because my brother, Dennis, got a gas mask that had, you know, a kind of a Mickey Mouse face on it (laughs) and I didn’t because I was older. Anybody under three or four got these fancy ones so that they wouldn’t be frightened about them. My aunt was very well she was great at the cooking, because that was her job. I know that I never cared about sweets, I always loved fruit, bananas were my thing and there was a shop that had those plastic bananas, well you know they weren’t plastic but (pauses).
MR: Sweet bananas?
MK: No they weren’t real bananas, it was just a display, and I was convinced that I could have those because that was all I wanted, but what she used to do (pauses). She used to make a spread, she used to boil parsnips, and mash them, and put banana essence in, and spread that on the bread.
MK: Which I wouldn’t touch but, she was very inventive about all those kind of things, but my father, because he was doing the milk and stuff, he used to churn the milk and make our own butter. So in that respect we were all right, you know. We weren’t ever short of very much, and then, the bread, which I used to call black bread, which I wouldn’t eat, it was a loaf, but they didn’t take any of the wheat germ out of it, it was supposed to be very good for you, but I couldn’t bear it. But the aunt that I was talking about in the North, she’d come down, and they had this white bread, it was like unleavened bread, which I loved. I’d eat that. It was probably of absolutely of no benefit whatsoever, but I liked that. I hated the other bread, the black bread. Another thing too, my aunt, she worked in the Educational Company, and she was coming home one evening from work, and this man stopped her at Amiens Street there, he was going back up the North, and he had tea that he had brought down from the North, and he was supposed to meet a relative to give it to them, but they didn’t turn up, so he gave it to her. We had tea (laughs) for a long time, so we weren’t short of the tea.
MR: And would you have recollections of other things like Christmas?
MK: Well, Christmas, my birthday was Christmas day.
MR: Of course.
MK: And I had a lot of cousins, but every Stephen’s Day we had a party in our house, I think we were the only ones in our area who had a Christmas tree at that stage, and we had lanterns on the tree. They were glass lanterns, and you lifted up the top and you put a candle in.
MK: I can remember those very distinctly. I also remember electricity coming to our area. We were one of the last places. I suppose it was around about …. I was probably about four and a half before we had electricity you know. I think it was around 1940 when it came to our area, and the light outside was a gas light, and the man used to come and light it at night. (laughs).
MR: And you would have been possibly 8 or 9 before the war ended?
MK: The war ended 1945 so I was 9, Yes I was almost 10.
MR: Any recollections of that?
MK: Very vague now really. The only thing I do remember was seeing a picture on a newspaper, it wasn’t an actual photograph, it was a drawing of the concentration camp victims all along … that I do remember stuck in my memory. I think that was the first time anything was written about it in our papers anyway. Yes I do remember that.
MR: And does your family … would they have known anybody injured or killed?
MK: Oh, my parents would have known quite a few, I don’t know who they were but they would have known people from the North Strand, oh they did. Yes very much.
MR: You obviously stayed in your own house that night?
MK: Oh we did, we stayed there the whole night.
MR: Can you remember people that your family may have known who had to be relocated?
MK: Not in our area, no. Not in Sackville Avenue, despite the fact that the house were, as I say, very old.
MK: Well most of them there. Actually, nobody was injured, a lot of damage to the houses, as I say, slates, glass, those kind of things, but no there was nobody injured in that particular area. I had a friend, I think she was, they lived actually just down off the North Strand, I can’t remember the name of the place there, the house, there are flats. I’m talking about the far side of the North Strand, but no, they were okay. I don’t know how they escaped because they were practically beside it, you know, but it was mostly, if you were coming from, if you were coming from town out, it was mostly on the left hand side, all along, all the shops were on that side, they were all destroyed, you know. There was a lot of damage, a lot of people injured. As I say, no I didn’t personally know anybody, my family they would have known.
MR: You may have been a little young to have remembered this, but did the war come into kids games, did they play the Germans and the Brits?
MK: Not really, not that I remember. Well you see, I would have been one of the younger ones, my family would have been one of the younger … most of the people living there would have been older, would have been my Mam and Dad’s age. You see it was my mother married and my father lived with his three unmarried sisters, so when they married my mother moved in. It was supposed to be temporarily, but we stayed there, we never moved, we never moved away and there were four of us arrived eventually but we all lived together but no we didn’t, we played ordinary games you know, hopscotch and such.
MR: And did you have any relatives in the services, relatives in the LDF?
MK: Yes, I had a cousin of mine Dominic, he was in the Army, he drove an ambulance so he would have been about fourteen years older than I was, other than that, no, because my father only had the three sisters. He didn’t have any others, and they weren’t married, so he didn’t have any other relatives.
MR: Do you have any other final thoughts or memories that stick in your mind from that period?
MK: Well no I can’t say (pauses) I know we had a very happy childhood, because we were very lucky. A lot of the other people around, they were quite poor really in that area, a lot of them. We as I say, because of my father was lucky to have a job, and two of the aunts worked, one of them worked in the education and the other was a dressmaker, then as I say the other aunt Mollie, she was a cook, and so we were considered comfortably off, and my father was very keen on education, that was the primary thing for him. At that stage I was a bit too young, but as we grew older he insisted we go to Secondary school, but we were the only ones in the avenue. Our family were the only ones who went to secondary school, you know? Every year we had a holiday, and even at that stage we used to go to Wicklow for, you know, two to three weeks, and I can remember going from the time I was very young. Another thing too that most of the families there wouldn’t have even know about, they wouldn’t have had holidays, I had a very happy childhood I’d have to say. The house was quite old, but had a good garden, and my father grew vegetables in the garden, and we had fowl (laughs). We had hens and ducks.
MR: A few people had mentioned that actually.
MK: Yes, we had hens and we had ducks and I remember we had a bath and my father would put a plank, and the baby ducks would walk up and plop into the bath. My younger sister Mary, who wasn’t born until ‘43, she used to go around with the ducks in her pocket when she was a tiny little one. We’d a kind of a rural upbringing, you know, because my father’s family had a dairy, his family, his father died before he was born and (pauses), but they had a dairy in Sackville Avenue, so they were quite comfortable, but it didn’t transfer to him because his father died. It just didn’t, but it was there now and he used to keep (pauses), they had pigs actually, and that was up in number 1 Sackville Avenue, they were a side place, a big side place, small sort of farm in the city. A lot of people kept pigs, and hens.
MR: Yes it seems to be the case; a few people have mentioned it.
MK: Yes, well we always had our own, so we had our own eggs as a result you know.
MR: Other people have mentioned the pawn shops being a kind of a currency.
MK: Oh there was a pawn shop, I don’t know that, but there was a pawn shop at the top of Buckingham Street. I remember the pawn shop all right. I didn’t, we never had any dealings, but I do know that my mother in law in later that she much older, and she used to say about her wedding ring, that she used to get, I don’t what she got in the pawn shop, it was a very good ring. But most people did use the pawn shops, you know, and money lenders. I remember money lenders down in Seville Place, and a lot of people around used to use the money lender. The pawn shop, no I don’t think we ever, but I do remember the pawn shop , it was just off Summerhill, Buckingham street there, up near where Cullen [Bill Cullen], what’s his name “Penny Apples” (laughs) “It’s a long way from penny apples” they lived on Buckingham Street there. Yes, the pawn shop was supposed to be a great place, and they used to talk about it, and they’d say that they’d put the suit that the husband, the suit would go in on a Monday, and go out on a Friday, and I don’t know what the advantage was. I supposed they had very little. There was very little social welfare.
MR: One woman actually mentioned to me, that you’d put a suit like that into the pawn and you’d be terrified that somebody doesn’t die during the week.
MK: I know! That you’d need the suit back. Well that’s another thing, that you talk about dying, I also remember that there was a little shop down on Ballybough Road, I think they called it the Small Profit Shop, and most of the people around, when anybody would die, everybody had to go into black completely (mourning clothes), and I mean they’d go into debt, and we had a rule in our house, that if anybody died – that was out – no black. You know? That wasn’t going to happen, life went on as normal. As it happened, they all lived to be good ages. One of my aunts was 96 that we lived with, the other was 94, my father was 88, so they all had good lives you know. So I think I’m going to be here, my daughter was saying “you’re going to be here to haunt us forever” (laughs) but, no you know I can also remember when Coca-Cola came, they had a plane, you know, a little bi-plane with one of those signs out for the Coke [(An aircraft pulling an advertisement display streaming from bind], which I never liked, but I remember that happening. But, you know, nothing in relation to the war so much. There were a lot of things you couldn’t get during the war, but as I say because my aunt was very inventive, we never seemed to be short of anything, and I certainly didn’t, but I suppose what I would have been eating wouldn’t have made much difference, but I don’t think I can think of anything else. I know there are lots of things that might come to me. Our family were very nationalistic.
MR: Would the attitude generally have changed, in the sense that after the bombing, did people think there was going to be an invasion?
MK: They did absolutely, because my family would have been, you know “De Valera was god” and of course Churchill was the devil.
MR: “Persona non grata?”
MK: Yes, absolutely, and, because at that time it was going on, which I wouldn’t have, he was prepared to give us back the six counties if we allowed him to use the ports. I do remember them talking about that very much, which of course he didn’t get. So a lot of people felt he should have, that they should have sided with the Brits (whispers) ‘but we didn’t agree with that’.
MR: Is there anything that you can remember, whether there was a pro German, or pro British feeling?
MK: Well because they didn’t know what was going on in Germany, they would have been more pro German. Most of, you see where I lived as I say, a lot of people would have been in the old IRA, and they didn’t refer to them then, they were always referred to as “he’s one of the boys” you know? My mother, actually my uncle was actually shot, he was killed, he was only 17, my Mother’s brother. He was a runner. So from that point they wouldn’t have been…
MR: Pro British?
MK: Not at all, no, no. Now it wasn’t as if, because we didn’t know what was going on in Germany, it was only after the war that they realised. Even then I don’t think they would have been too keen to side with the British. They felt sorry for the British people, because after that night of the bombing they often discussed, how did the people in London and that, night after night, how did they cope with it, because we only had one bad night. I think there was one or two other episodes but nothing like that you know, and how did they cope?
MR: And can you remember, after the bombing, was there any more awareness of air raid drills?
MK: Oh we had, there was an air raid siren up on the school and they used to try it now and again and of course that would make me nearly die of fright thinking it was going to happen. But it was just practices to make sure it was working. Also there used to be another big barrage balloon, you’d see it flying over the docks there you know, we could see it from the thing. I don’t think, as I say being that big younger I suppose your just caught up, my abiding memory of that night, it is there, I mean I can see it in my minds’ eye, exactly that night, later on I suppose your kind of taken up with other things.
MR: That’s great Mairead, Thanks very much for coming in.
See also: Mairead’s story