“I HATE going into town,” city woman Noeleen Giles states affirmatively after entering Lisduggan Shopping Centre for her daily visit. “I don’t do it unless I have to”, she continues, before saying she makes the journey to the heart of the town once a week to pick up her fish from Jimmy Doherty.
The short walk from her Larchville home up Paddy Browne’s Road however, is one she makes every morning not just for practical reasons, but for social ones too.
The 74-year-old was reared on Convent Hill in the shadow of the Presbytery and while she didn’t know anyone beyond Barrack Street, she remains friends for life with the girls she grew up with on the street.
“We used to play kissing chase,” she says when remembering how they would pass the time.
“Was that a good game or a bad game to play?”
“Well, it all depends on who caught you! I lived up on the terrace there and we would play House all day. Our mothers would all be standing at the door watching us. We would just build our houses with chairs and we’d pretend the smaller children were our own children. We’d be the Mammies and Daddies, well not Daddies because the fellas didn’t bother with House. We used to have a procession in May. We lived in the last house so there was a gable end and you’d have a stand with one of us dressed up as Our Lady.”
An only child which was rare for the times, she says she felt like was part of several families due to the fact everyone’s door was always open. Her mother Maggie worked as a cleaner while her Dad Michael Meaney played in the Yellow Road Band.
“I remember John Keane’s pub at the top of the hill, that was Barry’s originally when two old women owned it. There was a little hatch where you would go in to get served if you were a woman. I remember my father worked in the Jute Factory and he would finish at maybe 10 in the night. The worst thing I ever had to do was my mother used send me up to get him a bottle when I was around 13. I used to hate anyone seeing me go into the pub, although I wouldn’t mind it now!”
Barrack Street was thriving at the time and nicknamed the Golden Mile due to the wealth of pubs on each side of the road. John Keane, the great hurler, had one while Fad Browne’s was opposite Newport’s Lane in addition to Doyle’s, Norris’, Mullane’s and Kirwan’s which was on the corner to Shortcourse.
“My grandmother had a shop on the street going back. She was a widow at 29 or 30 and she used to sell beans and that’s how she bought her house. It was called Molly Noonan’s at the end of Barrack Street. I wasn’t even born back then, this was 100 years ago.”
When she grew older, like most in the town, she loved nothing more than nights in the Olympia where she might catch her favourites including Johnny Quigley’s Band, the Blue Aces and the Capital Showband.
“All of us on Convent Hill would go to the one house and put in our rollers, there would be four of us or five sometimes, and we’d start our underskirts and get ready to go off to the dance that night. Often when we were younger Frankie King would be playing on Tuesday nights. When we’d come out two of our mothers would be outside waiting for us to bring us home! It would be after 11pm but you couldn’t dream of coming out with a fella because they’d be across the road standing by the Little Sisters of Charity. You’d be done for!”
“You’d be delighted to get a dance, it wouldn’t matter what state the fella was in! We wouldn’t even drink, a bottle of orange was what we’d have. If a fella bought you one of them and asked you into the mineral bar you knew he would be walking you home, if your mother wasn’t outside!”
The city was also blessed with picture houses, with Noeleen visiting the Coliseum every Saturday to catch the follow up of Flash Gordon or even cowboy films.
“You weren’t interested in the cowboy films but you were interested in following the fellas! If they liked the cowboys you went. You could sneak into the Regal – there was an upstairs and a downstairs. I never tried to sneak in, I was very honest! As an only child I would get the money.”
After leaving the Mercy at 14, having hated every minute of school, she moved into the world of work although she found out the hard way that many employers were less generous than herself when it came to the coin.
“I went to work in O’Neill’s Bakery at the end of Patrick Street where Dealz is today. I was left go after a week because I left a woman off for a penny! The poor woman was short and I said ‘forget about it’ – the boss said to me ‘you can forget the job’ so that was the end of that.
“You’d move from one job to another back then though so I moved on to Bell’s on Exchange Street, they had a chemist on the Quay and I was developing photos for them. One of my friends came with me there – the two of us were born on the one day, went around all our life together and went to work down there together two.”
She later worked in the Glass Factory, where her husband also worked, although he was unknown to her when he arrived at a friend’s 18th birthday in her house on Convent Hill when he first asked her for a date.
“He arrived, he wasn’t asked, but he came along! I knew his friends but not him and he asked if I’d like to go to the pictures the next night. We didn’t go though, my father wouldn’t let me – ‘you don’t know him that well’. Sure I started meeting him then behind their back for a while and it all went well in the end. We’re 52 years married – you wouldn’t get it for murdering someone! I’ve had a very happy life with him. Two lovely children, two lovely grandchildren.”
Noeleen, who peculiarly enjoys the ironing, finds the people of Waterford friendly and never takes from granted the fact that her neighbours in Larchville have mostly remained the same over the last 43 years. Even if they’re not there, she never has to venture too far for a chat – Lisduggan Shopping Centre is only around the corner.
“I like to get a bit of bread and meat up here but also to get talking to people. I’d know everyone here. My granddaughter used to say when she was small ‘Nanny, please don’t stop and talk to everyone sure you won’t?’”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey