Monday, November 16, 2015

Ode to an Ice Cream

The regular ice cream treat we all remember as part of our growing up was a luxury during the war years and into the early 1950s. And then, overnight almost, it became as common and everyday as the shake of confetti at a wedding. Three shops in Boyle stocked the precious commodity in those days – Wynne’s, McDonagh’s and Miss Martin’s Grocery shop on Main Street. The main ice cream manufacturers of the time were Lucan Dairies and H.B. (Hughes Brothers) in Dublin, and some years later a company named Kevinsfort Limited in Sligo. There was also the enigmatic Miss Josie Callaghan (Bridge Street) who had a homemade brand of ice cream with its flaky crispy texture and the colour of country butter. It had its own unique taste and was in close contention for best-selling ice cream in town. Going to a film in the Abbey Cinema one had to pass Miss Callaghan’s shop on the way so there was a healthy temptation to spend a few of the hard-earned extra pennies on one of Miss Callaghan’s homemade specials. Known as Josie, she had a fringe hairstyle similar to ‘Mo’ of The Three Stooges (no offence intended); the serious one who dished out the orders, made the rules and delivered the punishment. Like ‘Mo’ she commanded respect, bordered a little on the eccentric and was happy to be addressed as Miss Callaghan. Her antecedents were the owners of property, seven houses in Greatmeadow and land enough to build a shopping centre the size of Liffey Valley. A large field occupied today by Cooney’s Filling Station belonged to them as well and was the annual venue for John Duffy’s circus and McMahon’s Carnival. What young person could ever forget Callaghan’s field, what it stood for and the memories attached to it? 

With Halloween memories still in the air, a short digression including an anecdote with a touch of humour comes to mind from those halcyon days. On that special night kids went out knocking on hall doors and running away helter-skelter. Miss Callaghan’s door was no exception. On one particular Halloween, Josie, having been harassed to the point of distraction, stood quietly inside her hall door awaiting the next knock. At the first tap she opened in a flash and pursued her gang of young persecutors all the way to the Pleasure Grounds, 500 yards away, in a replay of the retreat from Moscow. About the same time, small amounts of carbide were being set alight in empty bean cans and exploding in different locations around the town. Caught between darkness and mayhem, Josie lost track of her prey and returned home with her fury undiminished. A while later, another group of street urchins passing by hit the John Player tobacco sign outside her shop with a small cudgel. The sound of ash and aluminium colliding brought Josie’s fury to the boil and she retreated upstairs with a pail of water. Opening the window, and without any hesitation, she emptied the pail on a group passing underneath exclaiming “now hit my sign again…let that be a lesson to you!” Epilogue to the story was the innocent victim passing by got the contents of the pail and gave vent to his rage. Josie’s sign was attacked for the second time and John Player & Sons were left debased and unlikely to sway ever again in the autumn breeze. 

Back to the topic of ‘Ode to an Ice cream’! The long journey west began at Westmoreland Street Station, Dublin. The precious commodity was transported by passenger train to ensure it reached its destination in the shortest possible time. Thirty-six bricks of ice cream, frozen solid and consisting of three assorted flavours (vanilla, strawberry and banana), were packed into a canvas container lined on the inside with lead. Delivery took place each week on a Saturday to ensure it arrived in good shape for the following week’s trade. At that time, the shops didn’t open on Sundays. Joe Williams, a boy who delivered the morning newspapers for my mother on his way to school, had the job of bringing the container of ice cream from the railway station. On that morning Joe must have felt like a young superman as he pushed his precious cargo of ice cream hurriedly down The Crescent on a two-wheeled truck. God protect anyone who might cross his path on the way to Main Street. The dogs on the street barked and ran for cover from the sound of the truck and the determined look on Joe’s face. A deadly race was on between countdown and meltdown. The little blocks of gold were immediately transferred to the ice cream fridge and got ready for the Monday morning trade. 

Some years later Peter Phelan (a well-known ambulance driver) bought Miss O’Donnell’s shoe shop on Bridge Street, just a few doors away from Miss Callaghan’s, and opened the first ice cream parlour. To see two or three people sitting at a table wallowing in dishes of ice cream, topped up with fruit and a dash of raspberry, was a thing of beauty. Ice cream was no longer the quick fix or the takeaway. It had become the equivalent of today’s morning coffee with a chat. 

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