Friday, April 07, 2017


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.

My photos from 2006 unless otherwise stated
Click on any photo for a larger image

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.

Lynch's garage/shed, No.4

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.

The bottom of the Gardens
Harrington's, No.56, is fourth from left

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.

The Dodder "waterfall"

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.

The Circle

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 for the first time.

Orwell Walk

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.

The Kiosk

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.

Bob's house, No. 67
Photo: Google Street View 2014

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.


  1. Bob sent the slide show of my 2006 visit to the Gardens to his brother Patrick in New York. I then sent Patrick a link to my post and all of this provoked some memories and a few stories from Patrick which I am reproducing below as a series of comments to the blog post.

    The Stepping Stones and other matters

    Patrick comments that the stepping stones I show are the ones we built where the bridge is now.

    The better ones were built by Mr. Coughlan just outside his place at the end of the shallows. They were big stones you jumped across but they were partly washed away in the 50s or removed, I think.

    There was a lovely overhanging tree there where a kingfisher used to perch in order to spot minnows below.

    Just beyond it was a recess in the blackberry brambles where, at twilight, couples could be seen copulating... from the window at the top of our stairs.

    Homemade truck: The accident

    Patrick was delighted with the photos for reviving some great memories including the shot from the triangular green at the top of the Gardens where Jackie Norton almost crashed our little truck into Mr. Luke's sidewall because he could not operate either the steering or the brake that Da had so cleverly installed. It was a pram handle lever operating a cable under the cart that pulled a double bent lead pipe with rubber on the tips that (when pulled by the driver) engaged the rubber rimmed back wheels and stopped the yoke.

    I tried to prevent the crash by putting my sneaked foot between the lead pipe and the wheel at the last second, the pipe end dug deeply into my foot. I managed to stop the truck before anyone was killed. Ma of course poulticed it (bread poultice sucked out the pus) for days as I sat with it up on a second chair for the whole Christmas holidays. The scar is still there and the big toe never recovered properly.

    I should make a drawing of the truck from memory. I think there were three of us on the truck at the time, maybe four, so it had gathered high speed enough for a serious crash.

    It was a beautiful truck and could have won the American soap box derby I feel sure.

  2. [More from Patrick]

    Fish on Dry Land

    Yes it was trout and eels we caught but my personal vivid memory is of catching a trout on the street. It was the flood of Black '47 when, as you know we used our pontoon raft to bring milk to people in the lower cul de sac including Mr. Moore, who always seemed to be reading the Bible or holy office when we were climbing on his back wall to steal his delicious Loganberries.

    As the firemen pumped the water back down the lane beside our house, the concrete path was eventually exposed around the circle (you call it the Jungle).

    I was coming home when just outside our gate I saw a fin move along at the path's edge (in what would have been the gutter). I immediately knelt down and scooped out a nice half-pound trout which flopped all over the path. I had it for breakfast next morning. Delicious.

    I only caught two trout that year. The other was on a hot summer's day just outside the "bridge" orchard (which belonged to a family on Orwell Park). I got bored and left the rod propped up on a couple of twigs while I climbed the nice tree that overhung the water. I was preoccupied watching some girls on the other bank until I looked down and saw only the butt of the rod sticking out of the water.

    Now it was a very long and heavy greenheart rod from my grandfather so I rushed down to rescue it and reel in the line. No resistance on the end at all and then I saw this absolutely exhausted fish following the line...I thought, until I realized that the hook was in its mouth. Poor thing must had had a terrible battle, unwitnessed, for its life. What a disappointment not to have to act like a real fisherman and work it gradually in to the bank. Instead, I might as well have bought the poor thing in McCabes of Rathgar.

    The Mill Race

    Your photo showed the waterfall without the lovely white cottage from which the occupants had to be rescued by the army from the tall trees above during that awful winter's flood.

    My father's oil painting showed it beautifully. The cottage was there so that the occupant could open the sluice gates if the mill-run over flowed....the mill run that ran through Dr. Lombard Murphy's property (now the park) and turned the great waterwheel at Dartry Dye Works, just beyond Jimmy Flood's shop and behind the high wall across the little hill from the Dye Works.

  3. Patrick also remembered names, which, while they may not constitute stories as such, might be of interest to those who remember anything of the Gardens in those days.

    I remember Mrs Mortimer quite well. I remember a man who always seems impeccably dressed, often in a brown suit and a nice felt hat and polished shoes. He seemed to be very punctual and you could set a watch by his arrival and departures.

    [Mrs Mortimer was my granny and we think the man might have been my father. My grandfather drowned in 1918]

    I also remember the Aherns (especially Eddie)

    Interesting that you should have been walking with Eileen Harrington whose father collected the rates/rents every Friday evening.

    The ones that we were closer to were the Talbots, Kathleen (small and blonde) and Joan (tall and brunette).

    We were friends with the Vards who lived up the slope on Churchtown Rd. Hetty Vard used to organize plays in their basement and she was the first I ever heard sing "My Yiddisheh Momma". We knew her brothers, Leslie, Jackie and Julie . Now I have a record of her three nieces/grandnieces? singing Irish songs.

    I note that they no longer call the bridge Quinn's Bridge.

    I see what ugly walls replaced Kelly's high hedge and our wallflowers along the railing.

    I too got a shock when I first saw the “Jungle”.

  4. A big thank you to Bob Quinn for alerting his brother Patrick to my material on Orwell Gardens and to Patrick for sending me his own recollections, above.

    Happy Easter all.