Friday, June 02, 2017


Uncle Larry NOT
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Uncle Larry is not my uncle. Nevertheless, although I never even met him, I am calling him Uncle Larry. There is a tradition in our family that virtually all relations in the parents' generation, however distant, are known as uncles or aunts, and he is Mai Medlar's, my mother's cousin's, uncle.

But it's only after reading about and actually listening to his stories that you will really understand why I call him Uncle Larry. He is an open and warm person, has a keen sense of observation and an even keener sense of fun. And he does not take himself too seriously, unlike many of his contemporaries.

You will also understand why I refer to him in the present tense, though has been dead since 1986. He was exactly 90 years of age on the 12th of March 1978 when his son-in-law Dave recorded these stories.


I have had Larry's stories up on my website for a good while, but I thought I might bring them to a new audience in this blog post. My format is to give a commentary on the story and then let you listen to Larry himself tell it. These are all first hand stories, straight from the horse's mouth, and they are now part of history.

Larry was one of two children born to John Medlar and his wife Ellen (née Brennan). John was a blacksmith from Paulstown, Co. Kilkenny, and Ellen was from nearby Ballyellen, Co. Carlow. She had been in domestic service in Belvedere Place in Dublin when she married John and they were living in Fenian St. when the children were born, Patrick in 1885 and Larry in 1888.

John then went to America (USA) to his sister and was to send for the family when he found work. Unfortunately he died and Ellen was stranded in Dublin with two young children. So she farmed them out to their grandparents and went back into domestic service, this time in Merrion Square.

Patrick went to the Medlars in Paulstown where he became imbued with the cause of Irish independence, but that is another story.

This is the story, or part of it, of Larry, who was farmed out to the other grandparents on the upper Ballyellen lock on the Barrow River, which was part of the Grand Canal system.

Ellen subsequently remarried and settled in James's Street and the two lads came back to town where they remained and made their careers.

So Larry's stories are located initially in Ballyellen and then in Dublin.


A Kilkenny Hanging

Larry's granny went to see the last public hanging in Kilkenny. I don't know what year this was but it could well have been a Fenian hanging, or even this one.

Lock, Cot and Barrow

If there's water, kids will fall in. I don't know how many times I fell into the Dodder myself but this sounds a little more serious. I wasn't fished out. I had to find my own way to the bank but fortunately I wasn't spanked when I got home.


We used to need an election or a freeze up or a bout of flu to get off school. Country life was much simpler. An excess of the gargle the night before and the teacher's hang over meant the day reduced to morning prayers, led by the teacher's sister. And off the pupils scooted home.

Larry's 1st Communion and Confirmation

There are not many people have the wheels come off just after they make their first holy communion. And then there's confirmation where Larry, anything but dressed for the occasion, joined his older brother in church and made a premature confirmation. I don't know if he ratified it two years later.

Locks & Barges

The canal was apparently used for more than just transporting cargo and Larry mentions the party boats with their canopies and well dressed ladies on their way to a day out at St. Mullins.

The lock where Larry was brought up was part of the canalisation of the Barrow river to make it navigable. It was part of the Grand Canal network which actually linked the Ballyellen Lock and the Harbour in Jame's St. where Larry was later to live and where his brother Patrick was to have a thriving undertaker business.

Locks, Eels & Salmon

The size of the lock-keeper's fee clearly necessitated a supplementary source of income. While Larry's grandfather and grandmother were supplying (legal) eels to Billingsgate, his uncle Pat was extending his activities into some slightly trickier areas.


It's easy to forget the difficulties posed for families by the 1916 Rising when parts of the city were under lockdown. James's St. which Larry refers to was the location of the South Dublin Union, one of the flashpoints of the rising. Mrs. Mortimer was my granny. Larry also refers to Seán Connolly who led the abortive attack on Dublin Castle, killed a policeman and was himself shot by a sniper shortly afterwards.

Andy Duffy's Revolver

It was not good to be caught in possession of a revolver during the War of Independence. Andy Duffy was a pawnbroker married to my great aunt Lil. He was nervous about a revolver on the premises and asked Larry to get rid of it. On his way back home Larry nearly got caught by a Tans patrol. He eventually hid the revolver up the chimney in his place of work, the Dispensary. He subsequently passed it on in a pub to another man who promptly shot it off accidentally. Everyone was very nervous as the city was on high alert that day. Nothing came of it though.

Bloody Sunday

Larry was in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday and saw the shooting. On his way out he went to help a man on the ground and gave him some whiskey he had on him - only to find out that the reason the man was on the ground was that he was already drunk and couldn't hold his balance in the surging crowd. Larry was disgusted. But it is probably one of the few, if not the only funny story to come out of Croke Park on that day.

Civil War & The Four Courts

Larry was working in the Tivoli Theatre on Burgh Quay and after a few beers and a nosh up was asleep in his brother's house on Usher's Island when he was woken up, in the early hours of 28 June 1922, by the shelling of the Four Courts which effectively started the Civil War.

Alfie Byrne & Big Jim Larkin

The family had a fair amount of contact with Alfie Byrne. Partly because Larry's brother Patrick was on the Corporation (City Council) with him. They were effectively non-competing because Alfie's base was northside of the Liffey. They used to go to conferences of the Royal Liver Assurance, for whom Patrick was an agent. This story is probably from one such conference.

Alfie Byrne tells Larry that he sold his pub in Talbot St. to fight Jim Larkin in an election, which Alfie won.

God Save the King!

Larry and Alfie Byrne were clearly discommoded when they found themselves standing for "God Save The King",

Russell the Counsellor

Dr. Russel worked in the Dispensary (in Castle St.) and subsequently became the CMO of the Corporation. Larry clearly thought him quite a character.

A neighbour of Larry's got a dose from a woman but didn't want to go to the doctor with it. So Larry brought him in to Russell who inspected the damage and made a most impolite suggestion.

Russell the Dentist

Larry decided that the cure for his toothache was an extraction. Dr. Russell brought him over to the window, got him in a head hold, told him to open his mouth and yanked the tooth out with the "forceps". Larry was left for a week with an abscess which Russell then had to lance.

Russell the Prankster

Russell almost unhorsed a passing officer.

Prices & Shopping

The price of a pint or a packet of Woodbines. Thomas Street good for shops and street traders at Christmas.

Medlar & Claffey, Undertakers

Medlar and Claffey was a significant undertaking business in Dublin with branches in various parts of the city over time. The Medlar/Claffey partnership broke up in 1927.

Larry used to give a hand with the brother's business betimes and here tells of a trip from Clonliffe Rd. to Valentia Island, when the funeral went astray and the hotel had no "food" available.


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