ANNIE Croke is as distinctly Waterford as the blaa. She has lived exclusively in homes off the Yellow Road, Ard na Greine and Griffith Place. She spent much of her adult life in the Jute Factory. She used duck onto the Tramore train when her mother couldn’t afford it. Each of these facts are worn, she readily accepts, as a medal of honour.
The 88-year-old spent her early years on May Lane between Newport’s Lane, now Newport’s Terrace, and New Lane, now Andrew Street, before the O’Loughlin family made the short move to Ard na Greine when she was 7. One of six kids split evenly between genders, her earliest memories include the May Processions where the girls of the Mercy Convent would march around the grounds, and the simple simplicity of life ensured they never felt they were missing out on anything.
“We weren’t spoilt so none of us could say ‘oh he or she got more than me’. My mother was a great woman and we had a great childhood. When we were skipping across the road we’d have to watch out for the men coming up after having a few pints. We’d have to stop and leave them pass – your mother would have told you to watch out for Mr. So-and-so. The boys and girls both played hurling on the street as well.”
Her father left to work in England as World War 2 broke and throughout the year her mother would declare “sure I know he’s alright, he’s sending me the few bob”. He would return on the Great Western each Christmas Eve, a brief stint home which came to an end on St. Stephen’s Day.
Snobbery was an alien concept to the residents of Ard na Greine and nobody ever needed to say “mind yourself” to the kids on the street as their safety was never in doubt.
“A woman across the road called Ms. O’Brien, her sons Fred and Fintan played hurling for Waterford, had a little shop and there was another woman further up the road, Ms Doyle, who had one as well. They sold sugar, tea, bread but no butter because there was no fridge.
“We had no radio at the time, very few had but there was a woman next-door who had. Her husband was deaf, same as myself now, and she would put the radio on at one o’clock when he came home from work. Wattie Butler was his name, a lovely man, lovely family. When he’d go in the radio was turned up really loud so he could hear it but that meant we could hear it as well. Vera Lynn became famous and all her lovely songs were gorgeous, we would sing them out on the street together.”
As they grew older and sought more excitement they would pay one and thruppence to get into the Ceili at the Olympia on Sunday nights as well as venturing out to Slieverue or Ballymacaw for platform dances.
“One or two people in our group would have a bike and they would give somebody else a lift. The platform was a big square wooden thing that would be taken away afterwards – I don’t know where they’d keep it.
“What was it like going out to place like this because ye would’ve been townies,” I ask.
“Oh yeah, they wouldn’t want you there because we’d be taking their fellas! If you were any kind of a good auld dancer you were gone. I wasn’t too bad. I had an uncle Phillip Carroll who was a champion Irish Step Dancer, so I got a small bit off him. My mother would go down to a matinee with a neighbour Mrs. Shanahan and when they’d be gone we’d be practicing doing our steps at home with a brush.”
After entering the world of work with a brief stint minding children for a local family, she picked up, unsurprisingly given her place in its shadow, a job in the Jute Factory. She enjoyed her time there so much she continued to work there after marriage and, when pregnant with her nine children, would try to hide on the jubilee nurse who could sniff out a pregnant woman like a shark detects blood.
“My mother knew a couple of the women who would pass down outside the house after they had been at work. She asked one if I could mention her when I went over to try to get a job there. The following week I heard I had got it and from there I worked in the weaving shed. I loved it. On my first day I went in and learned how to make the weavers knot which was very important. Most of my neighbours worked there a lot of us were the same age. We were going to dances so we’d all get a lend of each other’s dresses.”
While she loved the work, her love of those alongside her was greater, none more so than the man she would marry. Michael, or Mickey, played soccer for Tycor and Hibernians and they got married on November 7, 1948, four days before her 18th birthday.
“I was there for quite a while before I took any notice of him. We used to go for walks out the countryside – out Paddy Browne’s Long Road or past Kilbarry to the Sixcross Roads. Neither of us had money to go some place. I earned a pound, two shillings and six pence. I gave the pound to my mother and six pence to the Union.
“We got married out in Butlerstown Church. My mother hired two cars, one for my family and one for Mickey’s – she got them through the undertaker she knew, Mr Whittle down in Ballybricken. We went back to the house and had corned beef and cabbage for dinner with custard and jelly for after. Then a man named Tommy Collins came along to play the box and that was it – each one of us tried to out-do the other singing! I probably sang Once I had a Secret Love even though it wasn’t appropriate since I had just got married!”
A night of simple pleasures at the top of the town. She wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey