Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sisters Mary Maguire and Helen Vereker told Ronan Morrissey of the Waterford News & Star about their childhood fishing at Skibbereen Road, working in the city and an acquired passion for gardening.

SISTERS Mary Maguire and Helen Vereker may have both moved from the city, but their visits to it are plentiful. The pair meet up every Wednesday for a catch up, a browse and a bite to eat, with the Hypermarket their destination of choice last week after a stroll along the shops downtown. Mary spins in from Tramore whereas Helen has to cross the contentious border on her way to and from town.

“I’m gone over to the dark side,” the Mullinavat resident smilingly laments.

The sisters grew up off the main road at the Cleaboy and enjoyed a lovely and peaceful rural childhood where they had to make their own enjoyment.

“We’d go fishing down Skibbereen (Road),” Helen begins as they go back and forth reminiscing, “and go down the new line picking blackberries when in season. We’d head out looking at birds’ nests on other days.”

“We used to feed them as well,” her sister adds.

“There was a stream down Skibbereen (Road) and we’d catch, well we used to call them Sprats and little Red Gills.”

“They were names made up by the kids,” Mary laughs, “White Throats too, whatever they were! They were white on the underside so we called them that.”

“We used to collect the tadpoles as well and watch them turn into frogs. You’d put them in a jar, bring them home and you’d see their little legs coming along.”

“You’d have the water from the stream in there and change it after so many days.”

Helen states: “You’d leave them off down by the stream when they were grown.”

A relatively small family of that time with two girls and two boys, they have no problem finding positive memories from their childhood and even the ones they were sometimes less keen about back then are now looked upon with laughter.

Mary remembers: “Our mother used to read to us and we’d go to bed scared out of our lives! She’d tell us ghost stories – Kitty the Hare! We’d hear old stories about banshees and all that. They were real Irish stories. She’d be going through fields and hear this screeching and it ended up being the banshee. Something terrible would happen as she was going along like someone would get murdered. We’d be pulling the bedclothes over our head terrified!”

Both girls hated school, Helen less so than her sister who would go on the duck with one of her brothers.

Helen’s first job was in Hearne’s on the Quay, a huge department store like Shaws where she can remember going to get her school uniforms as a young child.

“When you’d buy things you’d give what you owe and they’d tie it up, pull a lever and it would whirl off around the shop and up into the office. Then a few minutes later it’d come back with your change and a receipt. I used to be intrigued when I was small watching this.”

Mary left school as quick as she could at 15 and her mother helped her pick up a job in White’s, a small grocery shop on Keane’s Road.

“Tommy White was a gentleman. A very easy family to work for. I was happy having left school, now I look back thinking I could’ve done a lot better but after a while we bought our own shop in Ballybricken next to the doctors – Maguire’s. I loved not the hours because we only had Christmas Day off and you have to be prepared to give up a lot, but the interaction with people. In the end I was serving three generations of families – the grandmother, mother and child.”

Before the days of Maguire’s, no amount of work could prevent Mary from socialising. Even when there was no alcohol involved, she would still be willing to meet friends, as long as the day ended in ‘y’.

“I wouldn’t stay in at all – if I had the chance I’d be out every night. I was only recalling this with my friend last week, people tend not to go out when they’re working now but we used to still go! We ended up in Dublin missing the train and came down on the goods train once! It got in at six in the morning and we were in work for half-eight. They wouldn’t do that now!”

“We used to go during the week to the Wimpy for something to eat. What was the little one up there?” she asks her sister.

“Lido,” Helen answers.

“It was kind of a little restaurant and you’d go in and have maybe a glass of orange and something with it if you had enough money. It was up around Argos. You’d go for a walk around town which was as safe as anything back then.”

Pubs weren’t particularly in vogue at the time, with Mary continuing: “Until I was about 20 a woman wouldn’t go into a pub. If you did you’d have an awful name – ‘she’s after fellas in there’. We’d just go to the pictures in the Regina, Regal or Savoy.”

Over time, however, this attitude changed and they would head there with friends. There was a noticeable difference between those who frequented the pubs in the city and those from less urban areas.

Helen says: “I used to love T&H Doolan’s where they had all the great folk singers. I’d often go there. In the heyday it was brilliant. We used to go out to the Royal Oak for the bands and kind of cabaret acts. I went to a few dances out in Mooncoin and there would be all farmers at it. It wouldn’t be like town where you’d get a little tap on the shoulder. Someone would just catch and grab you!”

They both live quieter lives nowadays and take pleasure in more tranquil tasks than dancing, especially gardening, a hereditary passion they assume they acquired from their parents.

Before heading towards the Top of the Town, Helen explains: “Our mother loved gardening and we all do now too. We go to Bloom every year. You just lose yourself in it. You could go out for five minutes and three hours later you’d come back in. I love it. We’ve spent an awful lot of money on it but it’s lovely to have it. The summer has been good for gardening. Last year it was terrible because you couldn’t water anything and the grass was brown and everything. Now we can’t keep things from growing!”

In conversation with Ronan Morrissey

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