THANKFULLY for city native Theresa Brophy, she has never had to worry about rural living. Affectionately known as Tess to those closest to her, she was reared just off Ballybricken at Trinity Square and fortunately, she continues to live in a busy part of the city surrounded by not only neighbours, but friends, at Belvedere Drive. Two lovely areas to live, she says happily, although her current home isn’t as hectic as the neighbourhood she grew up in.
Speaking of her childhood, she recalls young boys trying to evade the attention of the Gardai who would cycle around the city on the lookout for pop-up football matches on the streets. Thankfully, she recalls, they knew the lay of the land and had the leniency of the locals to help them stay out of trouble.
“All of the doors would be left open for the young fellas, including my own two brothers, to run through the house and hop in over the walls to get away from the guards.
The girls, she states, also had to create their own sources of enjoyment and despite their limited resources, they were never left bored.
“We would have little shoeboxes and play with our dolls in it. We’d pull it along behind us on a string. We used to play Shop. After the market in Ballybricken on the weekends there would be cabbage leaves thrown around – we used to take them, cut them up and I’d say we eat more of them than we sold playing Shop! We’d have other little bits we’d pretend to sell like coloured glass.”
Ballybricken at the time, was a thriving corner of the city, none more so than when the fair rolled into town, which inadvertently led to Theresa’s first job, of sorts.
“I remember standing outside of Quinlan’s Pub, my father used to drink there, when a farmer asked me to mind his calf one day. My father came along and said ‘what are you doing there’, I said I was minding the calf for the farmer. Out came the farmer anyway after his drink and he gave me a shilling for doing the job. Sure I was thrilled to bits with that!”
“Ballybricken was full of pubs at the time. I can remember Walsh’s, Quinlan’s, a place across the road called Peavoy’s. I remember my father used to send me over there because they sold matches, which they would sell to a child back then. He’d always say to me to say thanks and please because Mr. Peavoy himself was like an old English Major out of the army – nicely dressed up.”
One of six children, she was the youngest with her nearest sister five years older than her. Her parents got married in Ballybricken Church but unusually, wouldn’t see each other for the next four years, although it could have become an eternity. Theresa’s Dad, a member of the British Army, would become a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during World War Two.
“At the wedding the priest asked my father where he was going on honeymoon and he said ‘on the continent, Father’. He went to France when he was called up. My mother’s father was 50 at the time and they met each other while in France. Later, my father was captured but my Grandfather was killed. We went over there a couple of years ago to Lille and visited the little graveyard – no bodies, just the names up on the wall.”
Thankfully, following a period of recovery in England, her Dad returned to Ireland after the war’s conclusion, and their family would be created and grow in the coming years.
Theresa was educated at the Mercy Convent and describing her time there she says “it was grand, sure I didn’t learn an awful lot up there to be honest!”
While Irish and maths were never her cup of tea, she did love reading, although this was instilled in her by her father as opposed to her teachers.
“My father used to always bring us home books. All the old classics like the Three Muskateers, the Black Tulip and The Man in the Iron Mask. We’d all read them. Of course there was nothing else for us to do at the time – there was no radio, television. We had to make our own. Nowadays I like the horror and murder books! I read a lot of James Patterson and the Norweigan writer Jo Nesbo. Young people aren’t as interested in reading nowadays I don’t think.”
At around 16, she left to work in Lilly White’s on High Street where they made tennis rackets and hurleys. After a couple of years however she set off to join her two sisters in London, hopping aboard the Great Western on the Quay near where the Tower Hotel stands today.
“I loved it over there although I think I always was going to come back. I went over to my older sisters in Kilburn and Acton, London. I didn’t feel lonely because I had them and I loved the freedom more than anything. You could go out where you want, I went to the Galtymore a couple of times which was a dance hall – you won’t know it but people my age who were in London will know what I’m speaking about! I loved going down around the West End and the castle, the palaces, just having a look at all the high class places!”
In 1960, she returned to her beloved city after her marriage and the thought has never crossed her to leave again. Walking up Paddy Browns Road last Tuesday afternoon having picked up a few bits and pieces in the shops, she ponders why she feels she belongs in Waterford and the residents of the homes we pass are a large part of that.
“I know everywhere and I love where I’m living. The neighbours are very good. We have everything near us like the church and the school. It’s quiet as well. I couldn’t imagine living out in the country, I wouldn’t be happy out there. I like to have people around me and the people around me are very kind.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey