Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Paddy Flynn told Ronan Morrissey of the Waterford News & Star about growing up in a city “slum”, his time with the Royal Air Force and how he met his loving wife Lena.

PADDY Flynn will never allow himself to succumb to idleness. He is part of the Cathedral Choir, having initially joined at the age of seven when his teachers at St Stephen’s realised he could sing. He volunteers at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Ferrybank on Sundays and meets up with the local Stroke Support Group for a couple of hours each week, while every second Friday night follows a particular pattern.

“We have a ritual. My friend picks my eldest brother up. Picks me up. Then we go to McDonald’s before the Waterford FC match. I have a season ticket in the New Stand and I can’t wait to go out there Friday night – it’s been like Lent since we last had a game.”

The 75-year-old was born on Wheelbarrow Lane (between Barker and Wellington Streets) and while he only lived there for a handful of years, he still possesses vivid memories of an area of the city he calls “a slum” – including the local men trying to dig the lane clear after heavy snowfall in 1947.

“I remember when I was very young my father shouting through a hole in the wall, ‘Christy have you got a fag in hand’ and a hand would come out! On our side there was maybe 10 or 12 houses maybe but at the end of it there were apartments as well. There was a lady who used to look after the one and only toilet we had up there. She kept it spotless and had the key but if she was gone shopping and you needed to go you couldn’t get in.”

The second eldest of what would become a family of 12, Paddy moved to Ozanam Street when he was around five and he would spend a lot of time on Jail Street, which is now St Patrick’s Terrace, where his grandparents lived.

“We used to play in the dungeons of the jail. There were people hanged and shot in there. It was a fine building – they should never have gotten rid of it but there’s no foresight in this town. I don’t remember the jail wall when it fell down because I was too young. We hurled in our gangs. We’d play Cowboys and Indians.”

Having spent time at Stephen’s Street NS he moved on to the Tech at around 14 while working for Wallace’s shoe shop on John’s Street in the afternoons.

“In those days people in Newtown would never come in to the shop. They used to ring Mr. Wallace and say ‘could you send out six pairs of shoes’. They’d chose them in the house and I’d go back the next day and collect the ones they didn’t want. I was a little rebel. I remember his son, Tom, I was supposed to call him Mr. Tom but I wouldn’t. I thought I’d be sacked but I wasn’t!”

Following a stint in the glass factory which he didn’t enjoy, he turned his attention to the Royal Air Force (RAF), a career path which was introduced to him by a friend.

“A friend of mine, Roy Daniels, had spent 22 years in the RAF before they came back here to John’s Park. Roy had been all over the world with his father in different schools – Singapore, Hong Kong – he couldn’t learn Irish. In those days they used to beat it into you. His grandfather used to stick up for him and I remember him coming across and bawling a teacher out of it one day. ‘You touch him once more and I’ll do such and such’.

“Anyway, Roy ended up joining the RAF, they took boys in from 15 and a half. He went to Hereford and I tried to join but I was just too old [to join as a boy] so they told me to come back a year later.”

Come back he did as a man and after successfully applying in Belfast he was sent to Wolverhampton where much of his time was spent completing exercises in arming airplanes before a two-year deployment in Cyprus.

“The first six months especially were great. We would be skiing. There was so much to do and we had plenty of time because we only worked until 1pm because it was too hot after that. You’d spend a lot of time lying off because of the heat. I was there when President Kennedy was shot – I was lying on my bed reading the Daily Express. We had an American who used to come to mass who was from the President Kennedy Peace Corps. He cried his eyes out – he used to see them personally before they went off on missions.”

He eventually moved into an office job in the English Midlands and made the most of his Irish heritage in the face of intolerant behaviour from his colleagues.

“They were very insulting, they still are to this day. Me and a Dublin guy worked at two different ends of the office and we used to talk in Irish just to get up their noses! ‘Them Paddies are off again, what are ye saying?’ ‘Mind your own business, we’re talking our language’.”

Paddy moved on to join British Airways at Heathrow, a city in itself he says to emphasise the airport’s size, and completed 35 years of service having become a manager of the cargo division. As a result of this, he is entitled to two free flights every year, with his favourite destination being Italy where he used to travel to with his beloved wife Lena who passed away five years ago today.

Paddy, great company and an entirely pleasant man, jokingly mumbles “where else” when he states they met at the Olympia Ballroom on one of his trips home during his time with the RAF, and they lived a happy life together in England and later Waterford. While her loss naturally continues to sting him each day, he has no shortage of happy memories of their shared love.

“It was New Year’s Eve and me and my best friend went down there. The craic in them days was ‘you go that way and I’ll go this way. If you pull I’ll see you afterwards’. And I met my wife, that was it. I walked her home – she lived in Roanmore so it wasn’t too far. We done the courting mainly by letter and then she came over to England and stayed with me before getting a job with Israeli Airlines. We came back to get married in Ballybricken Church where I was Christened, made my First Communion and was Confirmed.

“She wanted to retire here and I promised her that we would.”

In conversation with Ronan Morrissey

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