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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Bob Young

A Carlow Man Remembers

WHEN I paid a visit to the Heritage Centre in Carlow, Lilian Moran of Carlow County Heritage Society, gave me a copy of the Centenary Issue of the "Nationalist and Leihster Times." As I read through the pages I was transported back to the early thirties when as a child I lived in Carlow. I was born in No. 4 Potato Market on a cold March morning. I was told later by our neighbours that I was a very noisy child and that they could not get a wink of sleep for several days after the event of my birth. My mother claimed that she was tempted to swap me for a dozen clothes pegs from an old gypsy woman who called around from time to time.

I was a loud mouthed brat to be sure hence the humorous way I have started this story. I had so much fun and happiness when I was growing up in Carlow that I could not start to tell you in a serious manner about some of my experiences as a youngster. Memories like mitching from school to rob apples from Slococks orchard, dodging the school "mitching man", Mr. Yarnell. He would tour the most unexpected places on a very big bike, with a carrier the size of a railway float, on which he would tie any culprit he caught. He would then transport them with severe dignity back to school. The usual chastisement was in the shape of a big thick leather strap. Ah yes, dear readers, in them days we learned the hard way to keep on the right side of the law.

Most of my friends came from Bridewell Lane, one of the most friendly areas in Carlow. There was not much money about then — , if anyone was lucky enough to own a wireless they were well off indeed. There were no snobs in Bridewell Lane, there was a closeness and neighbourness that was found nowhere else, and certainly would not be found today. The characters that the town produced were marvellous. Each one had a nickname and no harm meant. One such gentleman was persuaded to buy a bike which he painted post-office red, saddle and all. He had never learned to ride a bike so some of the local boys decided to teach him this master art. They took him to the hill which runs adjacent to the old Fever Hospital.

There they tied his feet to the pedals. The bike was a fixed wheel, so the inevitable happened — 200 yards down the road was the town cemetery surrounded by a low wall. The learner had to keep going until he hit the wall. He was somersaulted, still tied to the bike, into the graveyard where he was discovered having landed on his back, wedged securely between two tombstones, still peddling frantically. His cries of anguish could be heard in the middle of the town. Such was the harmless fun we used to enjoy.

Bob Young with his wife Debby at the wedding of his son Peter. Bob is wearing the McRea kilt.


Bob Young now living in Somerset, England, visited Carlow in March, 1988. He agreed to jot down a few recollections of his early years spent in Carlow. During his visit he presented Carlow County Heritage Society with a video of the life and times of General Myles Kehoe, 7th U.S. Cavalry.

Perhaps Carlow is not as wild these days but neither is it as mischievously happy. The Garda had a great way about them, they were treated with respect. Everyone knew them by name and sight. There were Guards Wren, Flynn, McGrath, Kelly, McHugh and if you misbehaved you could be sure of a clip on the ear and sent home, hoping your mother would not hear about it.

When I last visited Carlow I was surprised to see approaching me a very pretty young lady attired in Garda uniform. I just had to stop her and comment on her smartness. She smiled and explained that she was part of a new force helping to enforce law and order. Such are the changes in the place of the "Fort on the Lake".

Well to get back to my early years. I got a primary education and many a hiding from the Principal in Barrack Street School. By the time I left I had learned if I may quote an old Gaelic proverb "Abair ach beag is abair go maith e", meaning, "say little but say it well."

May I remind you reader that in the thirties we had very little pocket money. Lucky we were to get to the fourpenny rush in the Palace Picture House to see Tom Mix defeat the baddies. But we did not worry, for one thing we had the Barrow. We all loved that old river. The adventures of cooking sausages and drinking smokey tea at Nixon's Lock near Knockbeg College. My introduction to the river and all its delights had to be when I first learned to swim up the Burrin at a spot called "The Horseshoe". Then the big moment when I plucked up the courage to take the plunge in the Barrow. There was an old disused Guinness store on the Barrow track near Cox's Lane. It was at this spot that all the young blades from Carlow-Graigue, Montgomery Street, and on any other points of the Carlow compass used to swim. One gentleman we all respected was a butcher named Firk. He worked for Brennans. He had a great personality and the ability to float in the Barrow without the slightest movement of his arms or legs. We wondered in amazement at how he could float from Cox's s Lane to near Graigue Bridge. One day I decided to ask him how he was able to accomplish such a feat without moving. His answer came as a great surprise, "It's the corks under my arms."

One day Firk called us all together and asked what we would think of starting a swimming club. He decided that he would create public interest by releasing some ducks on the river at Cox's lane. Sure enough when the day came for this event to take place a fair crowd gathered to see what was in store for them. As soon as the ducks were set free, a dozen young lads with great inspiration took the plunge. A duck on ones Sunday table was a treat not to be missed. One of the boys was from Carlow-Graigue called Farrell, Ned I think. Both of us spotted one of the ducks diving under a turf boat which was moored about one hundred yards away. I raced, neck and neck, but Ned beat me to it, under the boat he went and emerged within a minute with the duck. Such were the beginnings of the "Carlow Half Moon Swimming Club".

At the old age of 14, 1 tried to improve my knowledge by enrolling in the Technical School. There I was under the scholarly eyes of Mr, O'Neill and Mr. Merne. Two of the finest gentlemen I have ever met or had the honour to confuse. After about 18 months of learning in Bernard Shaw's old structure I got a chance to work, doing store work and general dogsbody in Stathams garage earning the large sum of 5 shillings (25 pence in today's currency) per week. There were many working there, some of whom have now passed on. All good, honest people like Mr. Brady who manned the petrol pumps for many years and Sam Moore, later to own his own garage.

I decided to immigrate to Britain where I joined the army. I served in India, Burma, China, France, Belgium and Germany. Recently I was talking to a friend who like myself spent most of his life as a soldier. He had been a Hussar and as I had been a Horse Gunner we had a lot in common. He was interested in his regiment’s history and had kept a record of all the battles the 4th Hussars were involved in. One such battle was the famous "Charge of the Light Brigade". Six hundred men charged the Russian artillery in the Crimea on that fateful morning in 1842 in the attempt to capture Russian guns. Captain Nolan, an Irishman, led the charge. With him was a Carlow man, Trooper Patrick Horan, born in Carlow about 1820. He joined the 8th Hussars on the 4th of June 1841. Horan was captured and taken prisoner directly after the charge. I have searched for information about this brave Carlow man. Did he return to Carlow following his release? Can any reader help with information? If so would they please contact Carlow County Heritage Society. I would be delighted to learn what became of him.

At this point may I take the opportunity of congratulating Carlow County Heritage Society. I am proud to know they are doing so much to establish an interest in the peoples' minds about the history, ancient and recent, concerning our beloved County Carlow.

One last Carlow connection from my army days. When we were in India taking a well earned rest after a close encounter in Burma with the Japanese Imperial Guard, we were invited by the Loreto nuns to visit their convent in Darjeeling. Many of the Sisters were Irish and I was greatly honoured to be singled out for special attention. Some of them had been there for years and were delighted to meet someone from Ireland. One of them told me that there was a Brother Brennan from Milford, Carlow in North Point College about 12 miles away. I could not wait to get out to the gate in order to hitch a lift and meet a fellow Carlow man. I can clearly recall my first meeting with him. He smoked charoots incessantly, a very tall, lean man with a hooked nose, you could smell his presence as he was always surrounded by a benign cloud of cigar smoke. We had great chats exchanging news of Carlow and Ireland. He had been attached to this Jesuit College for about 15 years. I heard many years after that he was ordained to the Priesthood and moved to Calcutta. Does any reader know what became of him?

When I eventually left to return to the Arakan, a never ending jungle, to face the Japanese, I knew that I went with the prayers of the good Sisters and Brothers who had been so kind to our party.

Some years ago I decided that after 35 years enough was enough, so now in retirement I approach my late sixties. I am inclined to look back and recall my many memories. Remembering friends passed on, may I ask you dear reader to remember them and me in your prayers.

Previously published in Carlow Past & Present Vol. 1. No. 3. 1990 p. 104 & 105


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