Ron Black was 10 at time of North Strand Bombing and living in St. Ignatius road. He recalls the sounds and vibrations felt on the night, the actions of the local ASF and ARP warden, and visiting the bomb site with his friends in the days that followed. Also recalled are arguments with friends over his family’s pro-British stance, death of his brother who was an engineer on oil tanker, and stories of his brother Douglas who joined the RAF. Ron talks about attending the Protestant church mission school in Lurgan’s street, and changing to St. Joseph’s Catholic school , his first job in Morgan Mooney’s, and popular songs and jokes in Dublin during the Emergency Period.
Listen to story here:
Duration: 37:37 mins.
Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project Phase 2
Track Number: 04
Name of the Interviewee: Ron Black (RB:)
Name of Interviewers: Marc Redmond (MR:)
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 1
Date of Interview: 13 April 2010
Name of Transcriber: Marc Redmond
Length of Track – 00:37:37
This interview is taking place on 13 April 2010 at the Lab in Foley Street, present are Ron Black, and the interview being carried out by Marc Redmond on behalf of Dublin City Archives.
MR: Good morning Ron, thank you very much for coming in
RB: Pleasure Marc, it’s nice to be here.
MR: Can I ask you to tell me a little bit about your personal situation in 1941, your date of birth, etc.
RB: Yes I was born on St Ignatius Road, in 22 and where we lived during the time of the bombing. I was born on Aug 26th 1930 so at the time of May 41 I was just approaching 11 years old, I was just a couple of months short of being 11.
MR: Okay, and what memories do you have yourself of the night of May 31st 1941.
RB: Well I remember it very clearly and the days following. As I say we lived on St Ignatius Road by the Royal Canal, just where Dorset St. ends and Drumcondra begins. We used to say we were three bridges from the North Strand down the canal. Approximately 10 to 12 minutes walk. I remember my father came into the large front bedroom where my brothers, Angy (Angus), Jimmy and I slept, and told us in a very hurried voice, that the city was being bombed, and to get dressed without delay, and although the blackout was in force, we used to pull the curtains apart before getting into bed to let the fresh air in, the windows were always open in those days. Through the curtains we could see the searchlight circling the sky and hear the Ack Ack sound of the anti aircraft being fired. We went down the stairs to the front parlour where my sister Jessie, my aunt May and my mother were standing near the window looking at the sky, and my father was at the front door talking to some of the neighbours. My mother had a bottle of holy water in her hand, and was sprinkling it round the room and stairs and the hallway. She kept this bottle hidden in the large back bedroom that she shared with my aunt May for use at times of fear, like whenever she heard a ‘banshee’ on the canal or there was a bad thunderstorm. My father being Scottish Presbyterian, was not aware of its presence, and probably would not have approved of it being in the house. We weren’t downstairs very long before the house quivered with a tremendous explosion that seemed to come from just down the end of our road. It frightened us entirely and my mother pulled my brothers and me to her, and started praying while my father hugged my sister and aunt. Next we heard loud voices and the sound of running feet outside the door, and looking out we saw our local ARP [Air Raid Precaution] man climbing up the lamppost outside our house, and lowering the dim gas light to a mere flicker. This was shortly followed by the shouts of our local LSF [Local Security Force] man climbing back up the lamppost, to raise the flame to its previous dim illumination. In about 10 minutes time there was even a more powerful explosion and again the house vibrated. We sat down in the kitchen, terribly afraid of what could possibly happen to us. My mother and my aunt still praying, and my father opening the gas mask boxes that had been there for some time. My sister said quite frankly, “I’m not going to stay in the air raid shelter down the end of the road”. It was not very sanitary (laughs)
RB: It was after, eventually the siren stopped droning and the Ack Ack of the guns ceased firing and it was after 3 o’clock when we went back to bed upstairs, and after a long time I fell asleep. After breakfast that Saturday morning, the entire street was filled with people talking excitedly about the North Strand being flattened by German bombs. The word had spread fast but without many details. It had been rumoured that the canal and the river bridges had been mined against land attack and we wondered if Newcomen Bridge was still standing. The grown ups stood at the front doors talking to the neighbours, while the young people clustered in the centre of the road with their pals. I first talked to my friend Frank Cluskey who lived across, directly across the road from us, and then my two best pals, Joe Leahy and Tommy Flood got into a discussion. Neither Joe nor Tommy, they being pro German, could believe that the German planes had dropped the bombs. They insisted that it was done by the RAF. They were influenced greatly by their schoolteachers and parents, while Jessie, Angy and Jimmy and I went to a small quiet Protestant church mission school in Lurgan Street, where the emotions and opinions were definitely pro British. Also my family was pro British considering my father was ex British army, with one of my older brothers in the RAF, and another the second engineer on an oil tanker. That Saturday morning the sun was shining, and I seem to remember, or recall, that there were particles of dust floating in the air. At that point we didn’t realise how close one of the bombs had come to our road, so Joe, Tommy and I decided to walk down to the North Strand, to see the extent of the damage, and join the large procession of people walking down the North Circular Road. We didn’t get beyond Russell Street because further down near the O’Connell School the road was cordoned off, and by standing on the steps of one of the houses, we could see lorries, ambulances and soldiers and LDF [Local Defence Force] personnel across the North Circular Road, searching and clearing piles of rubble. At that time we had no idea of the dimensions of the bomb crater that was there but we looked at it in awe several days later. This location was less than five minutes from our road. We decided to see how close we could get to the North Strand, so we went across Russell Street to the canal, and headed down towards Ballybough Bridge, but got no further. Charleville Mall was cordoned from Ballybough Bridge to the North Strand Road and there was great activity mostly with uniformed people from the Charleville Mall library up to the North Strand Road. We later learned that the library had been established as the operational headquarters. Later that day we listened to Radio Eireann solemn series of announcements regarding the bombings. We learned that it was a land mine that fell on the North Strand causing deaths and destruction. It was much too early to closely estimate the number of casualties and injured. These statistics would take weeks to accurately tally. It was about a week later when we were able to get closer to the bombed location. We stood by the trees along Charleville Mall, and the canal beside the Newcomen Bridge, and we could see the terrible destruction along the North Strand Road where there were mounds of rubble and debris heaped along the roadside. I also noticed a huge hole in the roof of the Strand Cinema on the other side of Newcomen bridge, obviously where a large piece of shrapnel or masonry had burst through. The cinema was closed for several years and when it reopened with a larger audience capacity it was years later, and every time I walked along or passed the cinema, I would notice the gaping hole in the roof that had been patched up by a different kind of material and I always thought it was a fitting reminder of that terrible weekend in 1941.
MR: What did your parents do?
RB: Okay my father was, he was about that time close to 65, I was the youngest of 8 children, 7 sons and 1 sister and he was out of work. He had been a baker and his stomach, I don’t know, he got stomach trouble and the last job that I remember that he had was like in a garage of some kind, and that closed down, no petrol, no cars. So he was unemployed. My mother didn’t work she just took care of the family but he had been in the British army, he was posted in Dublin, that’s where he met my mother, and the bad thing is being a Scottish Presbyterian, his family cut him off totally, because he married a Catholic girl in Ireland. So we had loads of relatives in Edinburgh that we never knew and to this day, we’ve no idea of who, or where they are.
MR: And you mentioned that there were friends who were pro German, and the fact that you were pro British how prevalent was that?
RB: That was very prevalent Marc, that was. It seemed to me to be almost … you see we were … there’s an Irish writer called Hugo Munroe and he wrote a book called the Speckled Band [Note: Interviewee may be referring to The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton], and he grew up in a kind of a similar situation to me. His parents came from Germany and they were protestant or Lutheran and it was very similar. You see everyone he knew and everyone that I seemed to know was pro German during the war and my two best pals Joe Leahy and Tommy Flood, we had terrible, terrible arguments. They used to berate me because I was pro British and they were very definitely pro German. They either got it from their family, from the school, I don’t know. Frank Cluskey who later became the Lord Mayor and one of the ministers in the Parliament, the Cluskey family were not like that, they were one family that were more or less neutral or maybe even slightly pro British but there was terrible, terrible arguments with me and my friends about the war and Joe Leahy and Tommy, they wouldn’t believe for ages that the Germans had bombed us.
MR: And did you have any experience of listening to things like Lord Haw Haw on the radio?
RB: Absolutely, absolutely my father would not [miss it]; I almost said would religiously listen but he listened every night to Lord Haw Haw and I can still clearly remember he’d come across with his almost upper school English, British accent although he was born in America by Irish parents and I can hear his voice saying [mimics posh accent] “Germany calling Germany calling, this is the Reich centre Hamburg something, something millimetre band, here is the news in English” and then he’d go in to all of the things. It was even rumoured I think that he had mentioned that Amiens Street station was in jeopardy because Eire at that time before it was a republic assisted in helping refugees coming from Belfast after it had the terrible bombings just the previous month in April and also because of the port situation, where the De Valera government, I think quite rightly, didn’t release the ports in the south and the west to the British and the Americans who wanted to use them for supplies and probably for ammunition and so on and Lord Haw Haw also mentioned something about that, that it could put Ireland, Eire, in jeopardy and that kind of thing. But I remember clearly my father listening to him all the time.
MR: Can you remember before the actual North Strand incident, was there any mention of any air raid precautions or gas mask drills?
RB: Very little, we were brought down, at the end of our road just where Dorset Street ends is the St. Francis Xavier church, my mother went there as a child. She was brought up in the same house that I was born in, my grandparents the Roches owned it, we were brought down to St. Francis Xaxier church and we all had to line up, and wait and be instructed about how to use, how to put the gas masks on, and what to do with them and all that kind of thing, and we came up and put them away and once in a while we’d play with them. We never used them, but we did get instructions about them but they were never used, they were put away. But that night / morning of the bombing my father did open the boxes in case we had to put them on and use them, but we didn’t have to do that.
MR: Did that change afterwards, was there more of an awareness or feeling of maybe there could be another raid?
RB: Absolutely, absolutely you know it’s funny Marc, that prior to the North Strand bombing, I didn’t realise, I don’t think anyone that I know of realised, that there had been about twelve previous bombings by German planes, isolated around the country, and that was never brought home to us that this could be a reality to us, and after the North Strand it was a totally different feeling. We never knew if it was going to happen again, when it might happen, how bad it could be for us. So that changed it, that was like a turning point in the war for us at that time. It gave us a great recognition and cognisance of what was going on in the world you know? In the school that I went to, as it say it was a very small Protestant mission school way down in Lurgan Street, passed Bolton Street, on down there. They were very instructive after that about what we should do, how we should take care of ourselves in case -they brought people in to talk to us as a matter of fact about it and they showed us, they gave us greater knowledge of what was going on in the war in Europe. They showed us the maps, what was happening and that kind of thing, you know. Yes there was a much greater awareness from that time, a greater fear of what could happen to us.
MR: Was there any talk of a possible invasion?
RB: Oh yes absolutely, absolutely we thought that the Germans could come any time. As a matter of fact I think I recall from the school that I went to some talk about German U-Boats being sighted off Galway at that time or shortly after that. So yes we were very conscious of the possibility of an attack.
MR: In terms of the fact that you were 11 years of age. Was it an unusual thing, or an adventurous thing to see soldiers on the street or was there any increase in that type of military activity?
RB: It was up to that time, we had a local ARP a local LDF local LSF people that we knew they were all older than me, but at that time we used to, actually some of the kids used to laugh at them, jeer at them, “Mister win the war” and all this kind of stuff. But after that no, we had a lot more respect for them, a lot more respect. As a matter of fact one of the pals I mentioned Tommy Flood when he was, he was about two years older than I was, when he got into his later teens he joined the LDF right away when he was the proper age to do that. Joe Leahy my other pal, he would have too. His eyesight was prohibitive; he couldn’t do it but Tommy and his brothers. I mean many, many people on the streets joined up after that.
MR: Did kids play out war games on the streets?
RB: Not so much I don’t think we played out war games. We were very fortunate as kids on St. Ignatius Road. We were the only road that I know of, maybe still today, where the canal banks were right behind us which gave great access for playing, running up the hills up to the locks where the barges used to come down and we played cowboys and Indians, that kind of games. We played football in the back lane, that kind of thing with a tennis ball or whatever you could kick, whatever you could get in those days. No I don’t think we played war games, I think the kids in England did that, I had cousins in England, I think they did that more, I can’t recall us doing that.
MR: Was there any damage caused to your own house?
RB: No just vibration and some little pieces of plaster from the ceiling fell down. It actually shook. We could feel the vibration on the road, especially at the North circular Road bombing, that was just minutes away from us.
MR: Did you know anybody school friends, or anyone who had to be evacuated?
RB: No I can’t recall that Marc, I can’t recall that. We did have friends down on the North Strand but I don’t recall my parents telling me anything about them, they obviously weren’t killed because I would have heard it then.
MR: Other general things about the war, what experience would you have had of things like rationing and the glimmerman?
RB: Well I tell you, I can tell you about that, I have a couple of odds and ends here. The glimmerman, I’m sure most of the other interviewees have talked about the glimmerman, that was a real as could be, it was almost like door to door the housewives would say “he’s in the area, he’s in the area” and the glimmer. I can still remember my mother heating up the kettle to make a cup of tea at ten o’clock in the morning or something like that, and word would come around that the glimmerman was in the area and so she’d obviously take it off right away. But there was a good joke that was going around at the time about the glimmerman. About the glimmerman knocks at the door and a blonde opened it and he said “I’m the glimmerman” and she said “Ah come on in we’ll have a bit of gas” (laughs) That joke went round all over the city, round ‘41, ‘42 all during that time “we’ll have a bit of gas”. The other thing that was, Dublin was, and I’m sure still, is marvellous at parodies and turning words around to make them suitable to the Dublin conditions, and that. There was a popular song in England at the time called “Bless them All”, it had to do with the British armed services, “bless them all, bless them all, the long and the short and the tall, bless all the sergeants and so on and so on” So the very clever wags in Dublin turned it into
(Sings) “Bless them all in the Dáil, the long and the short and the tall, bless De Valera and Sean McEntee for giving us brown bread and a half ounce of tea” (laughs)
MR: (laughs) I can recall my mother singing that song!
RB: The other thing I mentioned some of the popular songs at the time just to get the flavour of 1941, “I’ll be with you in Apple Blossom Time” was very big with the Andrews Sisters and “The last Time I saw Paris” was a very popular song, oh I’ve forgotten the singer’s name, oh yes, Dinah Shaw. So easily related to the time was, there was an American group called the Ink Spots they were four black lovely singers, I think they were brothers, and their big hit of 1941 was (sings) “I don’t want to set the world on fire” (laughs) and at the time when London was in flames and we had just got bombed and they whole thing, so they were some of the things that were going around at the time.
MR: I suppose Glen Miller as well?
RB: Oh Glen Miller was a big band at the time absolutely. My sister was in between, I’d four older brothers and my sister and then I was the youngest of the three younger brothers. But she used to listen to the dance band music from the BBC every night and Joe Loss’s band and Geraldo and she sang, we all sang all the songs, the war songs and the Glen Miller songs and all that kind of thing. I remember it so clearly.
MR: You said your father had served in the British Army. Did you have any other friends or relatives who were in the services?
RB: Well my brother was in the RAF. He joined up in 1939 when the war began in Europe, and we didn’t see him until 1945 when it was just about over. He was in the North African campaign, and then also in Italy, and then I had my brother, Harry, was a second engineer on a very big oil tanker, and he was torpedoed in 1942 and went down by the Japs so we were close to it.
MR: And what long-term impact did that have on your family?
RB: Total, total because my father died in 1941 just five months after the bombing, sorry four months, in September he died and then my brother, Harry, who had been allotting my mother a certain amount of money from his income, he was torpedoed in May of 42, so we had no income, we were really badly off. Like there was my mother, my sister Jessie, Angy, Jimmy and I and my sister, Jess was about 17 by that time. She got a job, she was very lucky, she got a job as a machinist in a clothing factory over by Thomas Street somewhere, the far side of the city, and my brother Aengus he would have been close to 15, so he had to go to work too. He got a job in the Phoenix Laundry, that’s gone now. The Phoenix Laundry was right off Russell Street down by the canal across from where Croke Park is now. So he got a job going around on the deliveries, horse and cart, everything was horse drawn in those days. The only cars in Dublin at the time were the ones with the big gas bags and there weren’t too many of those. Frank Cluskey’s father had one because he was the Secretary of the Butcher’s Union. He was permitted to have one but everything was horse drawn vehicles and my brother Aengus sat on the big laundry cart going around delivering and picking up laundry. That was it. When my brother Jim became 14 he got a job as a mechanic and when I was 14 it was 1944 and the war was winding down. It was looking very much like; I mean there was still some great resurgency by the Germans like the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and stuff like that. There was still some major battles going on but it still looked like the Americans behind the war effort, coming, you know, bombing all over Europe. In 1944, I have to interject, I have to say that in 1942 my mother asked us if we would like to join the Catholic Church at that time, and my brother Jimmy and I said we would so we took instructions. Our parish was St Joseph’s parish Berkeley Road, I don’t know if you know where that is? And the local school was St. Joseph’s in Dorset St. So that’s where I went before when I was 12. After that I went and did the exam for Bolton St tech, for the day courses, and I passed into that. So I was going to school, I was going to Secondary School in Bolton Street, and I was only there for about four or five months when the School Teacher from St. Joseph’s, Fionnan Breathnach who was the brother of one of the future Lord Mayors and Parliament people in the Dáil, he sent for me saying there was a very good job going with a company called “Morgan Mooneys” down in Sir John Rogerson’s quay. They were part of the Gouldings, you probably heard of Lady Goulding. The Gouldings had a huge fertilizer factory, two in Dublin and big one in Cork and Morgan Mooneys down of St. John Rogerson’s quay was a division of Gouldings and they were looking for what was called a “junior clerk” (laughs). So I went down there, and I got the job, sitting on a stool (laughs) with pen and ink making, getting all the post out every day. I stayed with them; I did very well with them. I stayed with them until 1956 and then decided to go to America.
MR: At the time in 1941, you’d just lost your father and then later the following year, you lost your brother, who was torpedoed, that must have had a tremendous effect on your mother.
RB: Right, absolutely
MR: And how was she notified about that?
RB: Oh telegram, and it so happened at that time, to make it even worse, I was going to St Josephs school at the time and I was having some little problems in the lower portions, it turned out I’d a little tumour at the back there, or some kind of a blockage I’m not sure what it was, so my mother took me to the Mater Hospital, and they said I’d have to go into the Mater Hospital and have it removed. So I had just undergone an operation, and I saw my mother coming to visit me and I could tell right away by her face, that something had happened.
MR: Did she receive any kind of support?
RB: Yes she got, it took a little while, it took several months, and then she got a small pension from the British Government, from the War Department I guess, I forget now. That saved us. It worked out to about, maybe about 25 to 30 shillings a week, that kind of thing. And that was what, and that and my aunt May, and my sister Jessie was making, we got by. It wasn’t a lot but we got by. I have signposts, mental signposts, all through the period, the songs, the movies, the pictures, you know, we were not unhappy, we were a close family, and united and that kind of thing you know?
MR: What recollections do you have of the end of the war?
RB: The end of the war, I was working in Morgan Mooneys at the time and there was still a feeling there, even though it was obvious that the Germans were going to eventually have to give in, and surrender or stop fighting or whatever. I remember so closely, most of the people, I was the youngest on the office staff at that time, and most of the older people, the elderly people, most of them were still kind of anti British, and there was one man named Fitzpatrick, and I will always remember, I think he had been born in England and that day, I think it was VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, which came of course before, now wait a moment, and I’m getting it.
MR: That’s right it was in May.
RB: Right it was in May, he came in and into the general office where I was working and he stood up on a chair and with a big piece of chalk he wrote a big ‘V’ on the wall. As soon as he went out someone got up and rubbed it off, but there was great jubilation. I remember so well around Trinity College they were celebrating, they put up Union Jacks and all that kind of stuff, and a lot of people outside were protesting. They didn’t like that, they didn’t want to see a Union Jack flying in Ireland at the time, in Dublin right.
MR: In terms of the military activity, apart from the ARP was there much more regular army activity?
RB: Absolutely, absolutely, as a matter of fact I was a great soccer supporter. I used to support Drumcondra. Drumcondra was our little village kind of thing. We went to Drumcondra Cinema all the time. We called it the “Drummer” and if we didn’t like the picture in the “Drummer” we went to the North Strand. That was our second place. So I used to go to Tolka Park to see Drumcondra playing, and so many of the players of that time were in the army, and so the teams were depleted. So after that was great reactivity coming back and getting into the games again. What I remember an awful lot about the end of the war, during the war someone coming home, say like, if one of my brothers, my brother Douglas in the RAF, if he was coming home he’d have to take his uniform off. He couldn’t use the British uniform or the RAF uniform at the time during the war. But after the war we started getting, first a trickle and then a whole flow of American soldiers coming in. They were stationed in England and they had been through the battles in Europe and they came to Ireland and loved it because the food was a lot more plentiful that it was in England and so on you know? I remember that more I think, and then you started seeing the English, Irish who were in the English forces coming back again in their uniform, that was okay, I remember it well. What I remember most about that time 1945 / 46 was the number of Americans and GIs and sailors all around town enjoying themselves.
MR: You mentioned the fact that the food was better, I know it was particularly bad in the UK but do you have any memories of the rationing?
RB: Oh absolutely, my mother had ration books, and the little song they sang just touched on a couple of things, but we had dishes with printed around it was “Go easy with the butter” (laughs). Oh yes, my mother making all kinds of, baking all kinds of things. We lived on apple tarts and anything she could get to put together. She’d get some fruit and make a cake, that kind of thing, but Marc it seemed to me we weren’t hungry. There was no … like we had eggs, there was plenty of eggs, there was no shortage of that, when we could afford them. We lived on porridge in the morning. We had to go easy on the milk, that was something that was a little bit scarce. I remember the rationing very well but it wasn’t hardship, I don’t recall it as being a hardship.
MR: It must have been very exciting when you other brother arrived back in 1945 after having been away for so long.
RB: Oh absolutely
MR: Did he speak much about the war?
RB: Not at first. When Douglas came back in the end of ‘45 or early ‘46, he was jubilant, and my mother was jubilant. He had a girlfriend before he left, Maureen, and she became almost part of our family. She came over every week to visit us and that kind of thing. I think he was particularly taken with me, because when he last saw me I was just about 9, and now I was close to 16, so it was a big difference. All of our family read a lot, there were always some books around, I don’t know where they came from. We had records, the old gramophone with the big horn you would wind up and put the old platters on, the old 78 wax platters on there. So we always had music and books in the family somehow. When Douglas came back from the war, he brought some books with him, they were more of an educational thing, dictionaries and thesaurus and that kind of thing, and he gave them all to me. When he’d go back to England, to wherever he was being stationed, he would be back at least once a month he was coming back, and he used to ask me what I’d read and all that kind of stuff. That’s what I remember about Douglas when I was sixteen, he was very conscious of trying to bring me up and help me, you know.
MR: How much contact would you have had with him in terms of letters during the war?
RB: During the war they had what you might describe as a ‘Lettergram’, well it wasn’t a gram, it was one sheet of paper, very thin it was almost like a tissue paper and he’d write his letter on hear (demonstrates) and then that would fold up into kind of an envelope.
MR: Like ‘field post’?
RB: Yes I’m not sure how you would describe it but we got those probably about two a month and of course an awful lot of it was blue-pencilled.
MR: Right, censored?
RB: Censored. And maybe it might be a whole line, sometimes half the thing, you know they used to have a saying “Loose Lips Sink Ships” so even the slightest mention of where maybe he’d been on leave in Alexandria in Egypt and that kind of stuff, that’d be taken out. So we heard from him probably about twice a month. Then a long period would go by, and my mother would be worried and that’d be maybe when he was being moved from one place to another, that kind of thing. Then my brother Harry who was at sea, who was torpedoed in 1942, we were getting, it wasn’t a weekly notification about every two weeks my mother would get a notification from the British Government and it was just a printed form saying “I am well do not worry”. That’s all we got from him. We got one letter from him, shortly, my mother kept it for a long time, shortly before he was killed, and he said that the oil tanker, it was called the “British Loyalty”, he had been in India some place near Colombo, I think it was, and that he had met a very nice lady and he was very taken up with this lady. My mother was getting very worried, she didn’t want him marrying someone on the far side of the world (laughs) and anyway after we had got the word that he had been killed sometime later she got a very nice letter from this lady. Yes, very nice.
MR: Is that anything from that time, from growing up at that time, is there anything you could say you brought with you through the rest of your life, in terms of how you view things?
RB: I know what you’re saying. I think, well I think I took away the very, very close feeling of family with me if nothing else. It was, just that year, ‘41/’42, are kind of etched in to my mind, you know?
RB: There was nothing like it in my background that can compare with from ‘41 on, from the bombing on, the realism of the war hit us all, really seriously hit us.
MR: You must have had to grow up very quickly after that.
RB: Oh once I started working and bringing a pound a week home to my mother I became a big shot in the family (laughs)
MR: It must have been a great achievement, you must have felt great going to secondary school, a lot of people at that time didn’t get a chance to go to secondary school back then and actually getting a job.
RB: Absolutely, actually I transferred from day school in Bolton School to night School in Parnell Street and started doing instead of the general curriculum of courses like English, Irish, Science, all that kind of stuff. I started doing business courses in Parnell Square in the tech, I think it’s still there. So I did that for a couple of years, got a few certificates and that was that.
MR: How would you remember things like Christmas or are there any funny incidents you can remember as kids, pranks or jokes? You were saying the kids used to joke with the ARP guys.
RB: Oh yes, yes they used to make fun of them. One of the things that will never leave me … I tell my nieces and nephews, I have loads of them, they love to hear me talk about the days when their father, when we were all growing up, and one of the things that I tell them and they get a great kick out of it, when we were going to school to the Protestant School we used to have kids shouting after us “Proddy Woddy on the wall, half a loaf will do yiz all” (laughs) and we never forgot that and they get the greatest kick out of that. Because we went through some poor areas, you see it was a long walk to go to school from St. Ignatius Road way down North King Street and down to Lurgan Street, and all the way along we had kids shouting after us “Proddy Woddy on the wall” and I dreaded, and my brothers and sister Jessie, we dreaded passing St Joseph’s school in Dorset Street because by the time we’d get there, that was about half way home, those kids would be coming charging. And they were tough kids and I tell you. I didn’t realise then I’d be going to that school and when I went there some of the kids knew me, some of the kids that used to call me the “Proddy Woddy on the wall”. So I started going to school there and I was kind of a mild kid coming from a nice quiet little Protestant school, and one kid named Barney Jackson, and I knew he was a tough kid, he came over and poked me in the chest and he said “You’re not tough enough for this school”. (laughs) We became good friends later on so I did last (laughs). As a matter of fact I met some great guys some great kids there and we stayed in touch for years and years.
MR: I was going to ask you that, did you stay in touch with many people years after when you went to America yourself?
RB: I went in 56. Before I went, after, a number of years after I left St Joseph’s and I was working, there was one fellow, one schoolmate named James Fitzgerald. James Fitzgerald became an actor and a director and actually became Director of Drama for RTE, and in the early 50s he started a theatre group called “Mercury Theatre Group” and I joined it. We had met each other around, I love the theatre, and we used to meet sometimes at the Gate Theatre and the Abbey, so I joined the Mercury Theatre Group and we won the top awards in Ireland at the time. One of our men was Donal Donnelly who became an actor, a very well known Irish actor on stage and movies and Meg Cluskey who eventually opened her own school of acting and that kind of thing, and was in several movies too. So we’d a great group going there you know. Fitzgerald was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He had the same schooling and educational background that I had but he was an avid reader, he just had a great mind and he formed Mercury and we did very well and then he went to England to live. The 50s were very, very difficult times here for employment.
MR: Do you have any final thoughts and comments?
RB: Final comments? Number one I’m delighted to have had the opportunity Marc, to do this, It’s, as I say, it is a period in my life that has always been with me and always will be. I’m getting to be an old boy now I’m nearly 80 (laughs) in a couple of months. No I’m just delighted to have been here, and I hope that some of what I said is relevant
MR: An awful lot of it is very relevant; it’s a great pleasure to have had the interview, thank you for coming in.
See Also: Ronald Black’s Story