Friday, August 7, 2015

Update 7th August


“The wind is old and still at play, and I must hurry upon my way,
For I am running to Paradise”  W.B. Yeats

In a few words W.B. sums up his feelings as he hurries to the haunts of his youth at Rosses Point, Drumcliffe, Lisadell, Glencar, Lough Gill, Ben Bulben and such places. Whenever I read them they conjure up humble memories of my own to such places as The Wooden Bridge, Doon Shore, The Abbey, The Military Barracks (King House), The Plantation (the Sligo Road), The Abbey Cinema and many more. Poor comparisons no doubt to the mystic beauty of the Yeats countryside, but the mind being its own place and all things being relative I too felt like I was running to Paradise!
The meandering Boyle River flows into beautiful Lough Key at The Wooden Bridge, a point from where a cabin cruiser can navigate the full length of the River Shannon to Killaloe and back, though it might require the skills and experience of a Dick Warner at the helm. If the same old bridge could speak it would have many an interesting tale to tell. The mile long stretch of quiet country lane that leads to it was once called the Boathouse Road (now Wooden Bridge Road) but it also had the more parochial name of ‘Lover’s Lane’ since it was frequented by many a courting couple. The same winding road boasted a solitary house from beginning to end; a quiet place, a tranquil setting with an old oak tree at its end that served a dual purpose, a shelter from the elements and a secluded bower beyond the ken of a man of the cloth who could just happen to pass that way.

A little further back the same lane another love nest sat snugly behind a hedgerow of small trees suitably intertwined; a gift of nature unspoiled until a modern path and wall, installed courtesy of FÀS, demolished it. The cosy nest that had served generations of lovers was left in tatters, all in the name of progress. Moving to the 1950s, the then Swimming Club organised lessons in swimming and life-saving for new and older member alike in the vicinity of the Wooden Bridge. Harry McEvoy, a first class swimming instructor and a native of nearby Castlerea, was engaged to teach us the finer skills of life-saving. He booked into the historic old Princess Hotel, Green Street for the two weeks of the course. If Harry had booked his room a while earlier he would have found himself in the finest of company and rubbing shoulders with such notables as Eamonn De Valera, Count Noble Plunkett and other prominent members of Sinn Fein.

Those towering figures of history stayed within the hallowed walls of the grand old hotel in the build up to the Sinn Fein by-election of 1918. History is never more than a breath away when in Boyle. Harry taught us the way to “approach and carry” a drowning person and how to bring him or her safely ashore, a task I might add was not very simple if the victim happened to weigh 14 stone and the life-saver was a 17-year-old weighing nine. The exercise demanded a rare mix of inspiration and perspiration! Later, a Director of the Water Safety Association of Ireland travelled from Dublin to present us with swimming certificates, also first second and third class certificates in life-saving, all in the presence of a group of well-wishers gathered along the bank. Kingpins like Brendan Coleman and Cecil Tiernan jump to mind, ably abetted by younger members Bob Flaherty, Christy Wynne, John Kelly, John Malone, Paddy McCarron, Eamonn Lynagh and several others forgotten in the mists of time.

Not many years later at the Doon Shore, the life-saving skills of Brendan (Coleman) were called upon to save a number of lives when a boat capsized; the course in life-saving had proven its worth. The wooden beams that protruded from beneath the old bridge also worked as a launch pad to hone our diving skills. A great film idol of the time was Johnny Weismueller, who played the part of Tarzan. His partner Jane was played by Maureen O’Sullivan, a native of Boyle who was born on Main Street; she added that little extra dimension to our lives. We were obsessed with this Lord of the Jungle who could fight lions and crocodiles with his bare hands, dive from the dizzy heights of Brooklyn Bridge and swim extraordinary distances underwater. On leaving the Abbey Cinema after watching a Tarzan film we competed with one another on the way home to see who could best mimic his famous jungle cry as he swung from tree to tree; lucky for us a law covering noise pollution had not yet been enacted. In that innocent uncomplicated world of our time we played out our fantasies hoping maybe one day we could be like him.

Another hidden haunt, The Plantation on the Sligo Road (opposite The Glen), still hovers like a giant bodyguard with its own little waterfall we named Shangri- La. God was its architect and the young workers at the vineyard finished it. Like a family of beavers we shored up the flow of water above the waterfall to reduce the level and to clear the river bed of stones and what have you. Mission accomplished the beavers removed the dam and restored the flow of water to its former level and to complete the project we built a diving board of clay and stones that could have been mistaken for a megalithic tomb. Boyle town finally had her own swimming pool (the only one we ever had) and it hadn’t cost the taxpayer a penny. A wonder to behold (in our own eyes) it made the pages of the Roscommon Herald through the good offices of its editor the late Micheal O’Callaghan; we were hailed as budding entrepreneurs! Summer holidays way back in those times were all about games, outdoor sports, swimming, football, fishing, picking blackberries, walking the fields at daybreak searching for mushrooms, and to end the perfect week a matinee in the Abbey Cinema on Sunday afternoon. Going in search of a summer job was something a million miles away. A concept for the future! Running to Paradise one might say!

The Army Fourth Motor Squad was based in the Military Barracks (The King House today) for the duration of the Second World War. Soon afterwards some rooms in the building were used as offices for the semi-state body Bord na Mona and that continued for a number of years. A large area of the massive building still remained unused and in the course of time it became dilapidated and run down. Bord na Mona subsequently moved their offices to the midlands and the old building became a haven and a playground for young lads to play ‘Cowboys and Indians’. Blessed with an outdoor handball alley from its army days, this was a wonderful bonus for a playground to have. Empty rooms were to be found at every level from the ground up.

There were old prison cells in the bowels of the old building with bars on their windows and also a huge meandering basement shrouded in semi-darkness. A sentry box with a guard room still intact stood inside the main gate and a line of look-out posts with peep holes ranged all along the perimeter walls. Then there was the empty gymnasium (The Great Hall today) that carried memories of boxing tournaments held among the soldiers themselves.

The writer had the pleasure of being brought to one of these boxing tournaments as an eight-year-old and it was an unforgettable experience. The Military Barracks was in a sense the jewel in the crown of the different playgrounds we were lucky to have around Boyle. Like many of the great houses of the time there was a caretaker in residence who supervised the comings and the goings. Mr. Murray, a very nice man, had two sons of similar age to ourselves with whom we were friendly with. He had his work cut out to keep watch on the street urchins who invaded his space daily, but as long we obeyed the rules and not lose the run of ourselves there would be no banishment to Siberia. No one was ever banished and nothing untoward ever happened during Mr. Murray’s watch. Not only were we acquainted with every nook and cranny of this eight-story building but a few among us harboured the secret hope that one day we would get a glimpse of the mysterious Green Lady who had haunted the place for centuries and whom we had heard so much about.

One particular Halloween night with spirits running high and flash lamps working overtime we believed we had seen the lady dressed in a long green garment enter an attic room that had no window; sadly when we entered she had disappeared into thin air like Lady Madrigora of Fry’s Chocolate Cream fame. In latter years the building and grounds were taken over by M/S Harrington and McNamara and used for storing dismantled dance marquees and as a fuel yard. Mr. Michael Harrington, still happily with us, was the last registered owner of the building before it was acquired by the State and it has since been transformed into one of the great heritage houses of Ireland with a history stretching back more than 200 years. 

Our youthful journeys brought us to Paradise one might say.

Christy Wynne

1 comment:

  1. Christie, We went to Convent School together..leaving there for higher education in 1943.. classmates were, Hal Cawley, Clement Hardiman (RIP), Sean Colgan, Junior Murray,Michael Biesty, Donard McGee(RIP), Paddy Feeley, Colette Dodd there were others but their names elude me. I enjoy your prose and recollections.
    Keep well.. Donal