Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gerry Coleman, Stories of Kilcullen

Gerry Coleman is one of those local heritage treasures, somebody who recalls and can tell well stories of people and events which have left most local memory.

In a working life which has taken him through the pub business, horses and Kildare County Council, he is a trove of recollections of people such as the Barker brothers, Bill and Henry, who had a cobblers’ shop on the Chapel Road in the 1940s.

Or Bill Martin, who had a fish shop down the Main Street, where there is now coincidentally a fish & chip emporium. And there were, of course, the two sisters who operated Lawlors sweet shop, beside where the Kilcullen Family Practice is today. Also Mary Hayes, who ran a similar shop further up the hill, in a property now owned by Nolans Butchers.

Also part of today’s Nolans was the Post Office, operated in Gerry’s memory by this writer’s great-aunt Maggie Byrne, before it was taken over by the Misses Gordon from Dunlavin, and subsequently by the late Miss Buckley.

He can tell you the intricate family linkages of the ‘old’ Kilcullen, and unravel kinked chains of generations succession. And also the small stories that are key ingredients in the recipe of a rich local past.

If you meet him—he likes a drink of a Thursday in The Spout pub—ask about, for instance, Sean Shortt and the ball of malt. Or the donkey derby in 1943 in Dr Dan O’Connell’s field, where Gerry was the ‘trainer’ of Flood’s Ass, which was ‘robbed’ of a win with Gerry’s brother Peter Paul up.

About himself? Well, Gerry originally wanted to work with horses, but his mother persuaded local publican Joe McTernan to give her 15-year-old a job in the bar after a neighbour saw him fall off a horse while working at New Abbey Stud. “She was sure I’d be killed if I stayed with them,” he grins.

Four years later, when famous Red Cow owner Tommy Vaughan wanted a barman to replace Ned O’Rourke, who had moved to O’Connells Bar in Kilcullen, Joe McTernan put Gerry in for the job ‘whether I liked it or not, that’s where I ended up’.

But the Red Cow was a good stand, most popular with country people heading south back out of Dublin to Waterford, Carlow, Portlaoise and other key points. Included in them was the regular Friday night Kilcullen contingent from the Boxing Club, who would ‘erupt’ into the pub at about a quarter to eleven, after a night at the National Stadium.

“I was also well known by all the lorry drivers, so I never had any difficulty in getting a lift home after my shifts were over.”

After 15 years at the Red Cow, Gerry came back down to work in Co Kildare and spent the next decade in the Derby House Hotel, at a time when it was growing rapidly. “They were making a fortune at weekends in the ballroom, at 6 shillings a head entry,” he remembers.

After taking a year off, and disliking being on the dole even though it was giving him more money than his barman’s wages, he answered an ad in the paper for a job with horses at Sallymount Stud, then owned by the late Bert Firestone. A recommendation from Andy Connors, then head man at neighbouring Gilltown Stud, got him the position. But two years later he secured a sewerage system caretaker’s job with Kildare County Council, where he stayed until he retired.

Browsing back through memories, Gerry also recalled the An Tostal Dan Donnelly Pageant in the early 50s. “I especially remember the big crowds who came, and Mallick’s Bar being open then just up the road.”

At his 80th party in Fallons Cafe Bar last year there were several generations of family present, among them his wife Mary—a Burke from Naas whom he married 45 years ago—and their children Niall, John, Elaine and Colette.

“It was a great night, and I’ve had a great life,” he said to this writer, extracting a promise that we’d have another pint together soon.

And pull out some more memories for the collection.

Niamh Murray, Musician

When Niamh Murray sets about organising the annual 'Trad for Trocaire' local event in The Stray Inn, she's combining a personal interest with doing something to help others in the world less fortunate.

Because music, especially traditional Irish music, is in her heart. She admits to it being a 'passion', inherited from both her parents being lovers of traditional music. Probably because they both came originally from east Galway, which has produced some of the great traditional musicians. The uileann piper Patsy Tuohey, celebrated in America through the early 1900s. One of the original ceidhli bands, The Aughrim Slopes of the late 1920s with Jack Mulkere and Paddy Kelly of Aughrim both on fiddles, and Joe Mills of Ballinasloe on accordion. More recently, the legendary accordion player Joe Burke. So it probably wasn't surprising that Niamh's mum Mary took to playing music, in her case the fiddle.

"She was always playing it while I was growing up, and though my dad Colm doesn't play anything, he loves traditional music. So it was always part of my life. I got my piano lessons from Dorly O'Sullivan, and when I went to Cross & Passion College, Music was my favourite subject." But when it came to filling out the CAO forms for the next stage of her education, it was a tossup between Music and Science. Science won.

Today Niamh works in administration in Tallaght Hospital, but she hasn't neglected the music. "I've always continued with it. I teach piano sometimes, and I'm doing a course in Irish traditional music at the moment as well. I go to sessions when I can find them, mostly as a listener." But she will join in too, with a tin whistle which she and some friends learned to play some years ago under the tutelage of Tom Horan of Brannockstown. "You can't take a piano to sessions," she smiles.

Niamh's other passion is hill-walking, an activity which she can often combine with her love of music, because the locations of many music festivals are sometimes in very scenic parts of Ireland. "There's the Frankie Kennedy Winter School near Mt Errigal in Donegal, for instance, between Christmas and New Year. It's run by Altan and is always great. And quite often the people going for the music also love the outdoors, so I get to go walking through gorgeous scenery with some lovely people."

Anyone who goes to Sunday mass in Gormanstown Church will be familiar with Niamh's music. She is one of the organists there along with the Gormanstown Choir.

She travelled after she left school. The almost obligatory year in Australia, some time in America, trips through Europe. But you have the feeling that Niamh is very much most at home in Ireland. Where there's just as much beauty as anywhere else, especially to walk through. "I'm a member of a couple of walking groups in this area, so I walk a lot through Wicklow and there are favourite places like Glendalough and Lugnaquilla. And I have found lovely places in the west, in Kerry, and on the islands."

You get from her a strong sense of a person not rushing anywhere. She says she has no major ambitions, but there are lots of things she still wants to do. "I'd like to learn more instruments, new pieces. There are different kinds of music I want to explore, jazz and other world music."

And you know that, quietly and in her own time, she will. It's in the heart.