IT didn’t take city native Chris Hoare long to realise he would be happy back in Waterford after almost 50 years in Australia. Shortly after moving into his new home off the Yellow Road at Ard na Greine during the spring, Storm Emma gifted him an unrelenting snow-shower, essentially locking him indoors.
“The snow was up to the wall,” he remembers, “and the woman across the road trenched over with a bag in her hand. At the door I said ‘can I help you’ and she said ‘you’re my new neighbour, pleased to meet you, there’s a present’. When she left I looked into it – there was a loaf of bread, two litres of milk, a few different things.”
Amazed by her goodwill, he purchased a gift voucher and thank you card, writing on it that he thought people going out of their way to help others in such ways were a thing of the past, thanking her for her selflessness.
Chris’ father, a Roscommon man, met his wife in Waterford on a trip down from the Curragh where he was in the army and the pair would rear their family on Blake’s Lane having lived on Connolly’s Place. His mother carried 19 children, including five sets of twins, but unfortunately seven were lost.
Speaking of his childhood, he remembers: “Streets had boundaries back then, areas, and you would have one area against another area. There was a bit of devilment. We’d be chucking stones at one another to keep people off our patch. We (him and his siblings) didn’t need anybody else because there was so many of us at home. I was third from the top so I had to do my bit when it came to changing the nappies, washing the children – that was the done thing.”
Chris describes his upbringing as harsh rather than difficult. Much of what was done was simply ordinary for that era – for example at the age of 12 he began working as a messenger boy for Dr Cullinane across from where Geoff’s sits today and Prescott’s drycleaners at John Robert’s Square. His education, he says, only began when he started doing crosswords and reading in Australia.
“I didn’t give it a thought, it was just something you done. I was in for six days a week and I don’t know whether my mother knew it or not but I used to get Thursdays off. I used to get two and sixpence for working. I would give the money to my mother and she would give me back the sixpence.
“The first film that I ever cried at was on a Thursday and it was called The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Ingrid Bergman was in it – it was about an English woman going out to China with her own money helping the poor Chinese out there.”
As he grew older he moved on to Waterford Crystal where he was initiated by falling for the old ‘bucket of steam’ and ‘left-handed’ spanner tricks before passing them on to newbies who followed him later. The memory that stands out from his time there wasn’t the banter but the slog working on regular glasses day-in and day-out.
“I was getting more money than my father who worked in the foundry – we got paid piece-work so we were paid for what we did. We would go in with grey pants on and at the end of the day they’d have little white marks all over it – salt off your sweat which had dried.”
Eventually, he followed his brother and sister to London working for Heinz before a stint on the railways. Young and full of life with hot feet, he didn’t dwell enough on missing home to get homesick so he didn’t baulk at seeing an advertisement in a broadsheet newspaper attempting to lure people to Australia.
“At the time I was courting a girl from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, nice lady, who tried to talk me out of it. She said ‘look Chris, it’s going to be a big change, it’s hot, this and that,’ anyway I decided to go along with it and she came to say goodbye Paddington Station when I got the train to Southampton to catch the boat.”
For four weeks and five days, Chris was one of 1,000 people aboard the Sea Sky, with eight-hour stops giving him the brief chance to wander around Las Palmas, Cape Town, Perth and Melbourne before landing in Sydney.
“To me we were like Kings and Queens on it. All we had to do was drink, dance and eat! It was a rough crossing – a lot of people were falling out of beds and that – but I loved it. I made friends going over there because there were so many people the same as me on it. The worst part was getting off it, I wanted to stay on it and go around the world again!”
Having arrived down-under, he changed his surname to Condon, his mother’s maiden name, for official purposes as Hoare sounded a bit offensive. Working in the steelworks offered him a chance to save before moving to Sydney where he picked up a job drilling new routes for the Eastern Suburbs Railway. He stayed working on the railways for 43 years.
Chris warmed to the Australian people, never feeling the urge to seek out the Irish, and even acclimatised to the sizzling sun. On the 14 occasions he returned for holidays, he arrived into Waterford with a couple of bob but went back with my pockets full.
“I used to go fishing with a school-teacher friend. We went out at 4am when it was still dark using gang hooks to catch pilchards. You bleed them and then we used to smoke them. One morning, they have teeth like razors, one latched onto me and the blood went everywhere. I used to love pool and snooker as well – I took home two trophies I won over there when I came back.”
In recent months, he returned to a Waterford and Ireland which he says are in a much better place economically and socially to the ones he left. In the morning he can wander down to Lisduggan for a few messengers and the odd night he can go for a few pints on Barrack Street.
Stating he wears his heart on his sleeve, he admits that he shed tears at his brother Pat’s rendition of Mickey MacConnell’s Only Our Rivers Run Free during a night of traditional music on Barrack Street recently and since returning to Waterford, he has enjoyed several nights at the dogs with his family.
Last Tuesday, he was making the most of home comforts by sitting out his front garden reading Ian Rankin’s Even Dogs in the Wild. The book, he adds, was one of several in a bag given to him by the same neighbour who braved the elements to check on him during the March blizzard which greeted him to Ard na Greine.
“I’m working through the books. You can’t buy neighbours like that.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey