I lived in Smokey Hollow but I didn't know Bob Quinn.
He lived on the other side of The Circle and he was older than me. So our two worlds never met. But we were both living in the same world and his book is replete with the resonances of my youth.
The description of Orwell Gardens on the book's dust jacket is accurate, though I had never heard it referred to as Smokey Hollow.
Smokey Hollow was the nickname given to a settlement of 'utility' houses plonked in the otherwise demure neighbourhood of Rathgar, Dublin.However, it goes on to say:
In this ghetto on the banks of the river Dodder Bob Quinn spent his formative years from 1939 to 1953.While contact between the Gardens' inhabitants and the surrounding poshies was indeed virtually non-existent in my day, I think the word ghetto, with all its modern connotations, is a bit strong.
The book is billed to contain much fiction and fantasy. I suspect that is just the author covering himself. The whole thing rang very true to me and the only bit of fantasy I could identify was the siting of Killiney Beach and the Dalkey tunnel on the Harcourt Street line.
Today's Orwell Gardens, while it might fall well short of the property values on nearby Orwell Park, has poshed up somewhat, or as I would put it gentrified. No doubt its favourable location has contributed in no small measure to this.
I should probably start with what was for me the scariest place in the whole Gardens - Lynch's garage/shed. Bob has an account of the plays David Lynch used to put on there for, and by, the local kids. Lots of sheets and ghosts and external childish pranks.
By the time I was going there David, or one of the family, had acquired an epidiascope, with which you could project paper drawings straight onto the screen. So drawings were done and stories told. The one I remember is The Hand, about a corpse's amputated hand that went around choking people. Scared me for weeks it did.
Bob gives us a fair idea of the spread of occupations represented by the families living in the Gardens. I wouldn't remember these except for our immediate next door neighbours on either side, who between them represented the teaching profession, the insurance sector and the Irish language movement.
I only lived there from age six to ten, and would have been less aware than Bob of people's occupations. One thing I was aware of was religion and there was a fair sprinkling of Protestants among the Gardens' Catholics. It didn't follow though that I was fully aware of the implications of the religious divide.
I remember one day in particular, 6 February 1952, when our nun told the class the great news. The King of England was dead. She announced it like it was a blow struck for Irish freedom.
I couldn't wait to share the good news and when I was walking down home from the No.15 bus stop with Eileen Harrington, I shared with her the joy in my heart.
"Have you heard the great news", says I, "the King of England is dead".
I'll never forget till the day I die her downcast reply, "Oh, he's the head of our church". Ouch.
Then there was the river. The Dodder was the defining geographical feature of the Gardens, besides, of course, them being down in a hollow. The combination meant occasional flooding and the bottom of the Gardens was the worst hit. Bob recounts a flooding in his time, but I don't remember one in mine. I have been told, though, that there have been a few since I left.
The river meant fish. I'm sure it was trout and eels for the older ones, but for my age group it was pinkeens. We trapped them with the conventional lobster pot design, but in our case it was a broken off neck of a milk bottle, inserted upside down into a jam jar, and held in place with a piece of string. A few small pieces of white bread made it look inviting. You just left it in the water and when you came back you had a crop of pinkeens.
The river had the potential to cut us off from a choice of buses, or at least force us to go round the long way to reach the No.14 at the Dartry Dye Works. This led to the creation of stepping stones for crossing the river. These had to be regularly maintained with rocks and sods of earth, and you had to sort of jump from one to the other. Needless to say "falling in" became unpassremarkable and part of the local culture. In the case of the younger generation it was often a case of being pushed in.
When I went back in 2006 it was to see a spanking new bridge across the river and a wall along the bank to stop the flooding.
In our time The Circle was an open space where you could play rounders or cricket or anything else that took your fancy. Now it is more like Sherwood Forest.
Bob's book is replete with items and expressions that bring me back.
Swopping comics, nancyballs, handkerchief parachutes. Homemade carts - these were made of wood and had ballbearing wheels and the slope down into the hollow gave them the required momentum. If you were really lucky you could substitute pram or go-car wheels and some even managed to fit a real car steering wheel instead of just the bit of string on its own.
Boxing the Fox, which I only took up at a later stage in another place. Mickey Dazzler to describe a lad with a corpo haircut. I remember being very shocked the first time I heard my mother use the term. I think the mickey bit must have passed her by. SAG on the back of an envelope to ensure its safe delivery. The host at communion sticking to the roof of your mouth and you not allowed to touch it with your fingers.
Toilet paper - small squares of cut newspaper punched and held together with a piece of string. Turkey's or chicken's legs which moved when you pulled a sinew. Party cars driving people to the polls.
Horse dung for manure for the back garden. Bob's family had the dustman with his horse and cart collect it and bring it into the back. We used to be out with bucket and spade collecting it ourselves when the horse drawn milk or coal carts were in the area. I remember when, much to our disappointment, Merville Dairies introduced electric carts or the first time.
There were at least two Jews in the Gardens. Nick Harris was from Little Jerusalem and then lived along the river bank, which was then just part of the Gardens but has now been elevated to Orwell Walk. And there was the lady who got beaten up by the atheist, and whose son's birthday party Bob and his siblings subsequently attended on the South Circular Road.
I never got as far as baptising Jews in the school lavatory. I went to a convent and, as far as I know, there were no Jews in my school.
I was tickled, though, by the references to non-sexual gender curiosity.
When Maisie McGee offered to swop a glimpse of her bum for a look at Damo Scully's weewee man, it caused a sensation. The story spread like wildfire but she wouldn't repeat the offer to the many other potential takers. Who cares, they said. She's only a big lump anyway.Now, that I can believe. But don't ask me any more or I'll have to plead the fifth.
Although it's not actually in the Gardens, many of us spent a lot of time at the Kiosk. It is beside the 47A bus stop and at the entrance to the park. It is still operational though it was shuttered on the day I took the photo. My abiding memory is of anxiously waiting one afternoon for the arrival of the first edition of the Evening Press with the colour comic strip of Ivanhoe on the back page.
I thought I should show you Bob's house seeing as how I took the liberty of putting my granny's house, which is mentioned in the book, on my version of the cover at the head of this post.
My thanks to Hilary McDonagh (No.25) for drawing my attention to Bob's book.
The book is published by O'Brien press and you can order a copy from there. I have just received mine in the post.
You might also be interested in a slide show recording a visit to the Gardens in 2006.