Next up in the follow up of our Heritage Week event “Sharing Memories” is Gerald Brooks. You can read more about the background to these oral history recordings, first made in 1992, here.
Gerald was born in 1913 in Youghalarra near Portroe, moved to Killaloe and lived in Killaloe until his death in 1994, aged 81. He worked as a baker and spent most of his working life in McKeogh’s Bakery in Ballina.
Gerald: My father was English and he was in the Army. He met my mother in Birr and they were married in St. Brendan’s in Birr. I was born in Youghalarra, and my brother was born in Youghalarra, and then they moved back to England, when we were only babies.
I got Communion and Confirmation in Coalchester, in England. We eventually came back to Ireland again, when my father left the army and got a cottage in Portroe, and then they stayed in Ireland for a good few years.
They moved out of the cottage they had and went up to the Slate Quarries, they had a canteen there. They were there for a good while. I had another brother then that worked in the Quarries, and he went to England, there was only two of us in it, he got married to an English woman, and he made his home there. So then my parents decided that they would go back to live in England as well. I was married here in Ireland, and there was no way I would go to live in England, because I didn’t like it, there was no social life there. .
My father then worked in a factory as a Commissionaire for a good number of years, and eventually he died. They both died and they are both buried over in England, in Wolverhampton. My brother is over there all the time and I go to visit him regular.
So what did you do for work; where did you go to school?
Gerald: I went to school in Nenagh, in the Christian Brothers. I came in here to Killaloe to a sports and the man that owned it that was Foreman of the Bakery was at the sports, Jim Sheehan, and the same day I won seven prizes; and my father got talking to him, and eventually over the talking they did, I wound up as an apprentice baker in McKeogh’s Bakery. I worked there then for the best part of thirty four years I’d say. Then I left it and moved into Limerick, and worked in the Dainty Dairy for the final thirteen years.
When you first started working in McKeogh’s, what hours would you have been working and how much would you have been earning?
Gerald: When I first started working in McKeoghs as an apprentice, I came in the 18th November. We started at six o’clock in the morning. I was only sixteen years of age We were started at six o’clock in the morning and we used to work up until one o’clock in the night, and we would be back in again at six the next morning, and that was from November to Christmas, because at that time barm bracks were the in thing, you couldn’t make enough of them. I used to go home out on the bus then to Portroe where we were living. I was going home then that Christmas Eve, I got ten shillings; that is what I got for working all that length of time.
Do you think that was good?
Gerald: At that time I mean to say, you could go down that time and buy a pint below in the pub for ten pence. And we had to come back to work on St. Stephen’s day. So that will tell you what is was like that time.
How many of you were working there?
Gerald:In McKeogh’s at that time there were about twelve I’d say, there were from everywhere.
Did you enjoy it?
Gerald: I liked it working there ya, it was very good. After that then, the conditions improved, all along the way they did.
You’d have had no trade union or anything then?
Gerald: They never had a union, you see that was the part about it, I worked there for that length of time and there was never a union in it. Eventually I had a bit of a row there, well the way it worked was that Jimmy Keogh, now he’s down in Kerry or somewhere, he was only 18 years of age there and he came in one day and I was doing a birthday cake and he went to go telling me how to do it and he hadn’t a clue so I let him have it and I walked out (laughing).
And that was that?
Gerald: And that was that. At the time I went out of there they had no union you see and I couldn’t get a union card in Limerick while there was a confectioner idle. So in the meantime, I went to work in the Chipboard and I worked there for a year and a half, until there was no confectioner idle in the city and then I got a union card and I went in straight and got a job in the Dainty Dairy, and I worked there for thirteen years.
That was a long time to be going in and out to Limerick?
Gerald: And I never missed a day!
Were you ever involved in fishing?
Gerald: Never! One thing I could tell you about this place, in all the years I have been here, it’s down its gone. When I came here first, there was a great boxing club here, they used to go all over the place, to Kilkee and Kilrush, and all those places, a great team you know. They had badminton, they had two picture halls, two dance halls, and two Billiard Clubs, and now, there is nothing here for anybody.
And it’s now it’s needed more than ever.
Gerald: Now it’s needed more than ever, I always said that. When I came here first, you had all those things, badminton, boxing, and all that.
Were you ever involved in any of the clubs yourself?
Gerald: I was in the A.O.H, down the street there, do you know the Ancient Order of Hibernia do you know, where Mrs. Byrnes lived, where Fr. Byrne’s used to live, in there.
Where our office is now…..What was that about now?
Gerald: It was a billiards and snooker club. They used to go there.
Did you have to be a member?
Gerald: You had to be, ya.
How much was membership then?
Gerald: Oh don’t ask me now, I couldn’t go back and think of all those things now!
And would there be a lot of members?
Gerald: Oh there was quite a good few that time, all the crowd around.
And how often did ye play?
Gerald: Every night, we used to go there every night. There was no bar or anything in that though.
I see and ye were quite content?
Gerald: We were content without it.
So you also had a table tennis club? Where was that, where were the premises?
Gerald: We used to play the table tennis club there, in the front part of that building, in the big room.
And that was a private house, was it? And they allowed that to go on.
Gerald:It was. They had a room taken there in it. I don’t really know who owned it that time, it must have been Byrnes’s owned it all the time.
What other clubs did you say there were?
Gerald: There was a boxing club.
Were you ever involved in the boxing at all?
Gerald: No not since I came to Killaloe, but when I was going to Nenagh to the school, when I was younger, we used to box alright.
Did you ever take part in competitions?
Gerald: I did in Nenagh.
Were you any good?
Gerald: Middlin’…… (laughing)
So what about the dancehalls and the cinemas, what films did you ever see? Everybody saw Cowboys and Indians – is that all they ever showed here?
Gerald: Do you know now where there is a list of them now…is below in the Anchor.I’ll tell you know, inside in the Anchor now, they have a big bill inside and all the list of pictures that was shown in the cinema that time down along, there’s a bill head belonging to the cinema that they used to put out, you know.
They used to have dances then where Andy McGrath has the store now? Do you know where Josie Lucas’s is? Do you know the big place there before you come to it with the iron gates, that was a picture hall now and it used to be packed always and it was in there the boxing used to be too, downstairs and the badminton used to be there at that time. I can’t remember who ran the Boxing club.
How often were the pictures on?
Gerald: The pictures were on two or three times a week, and you could go to the badminton every night if you liked, the boxing was on. You had everything that time, you have nothing now, if you go out now ‘tis into a pub you have to go. It’s a shame. I love playing pool now myself, and I mean you’ve to go down to the Anchor now to play pool. And billiards, I used to play a lot of billiards. I won an old trophy playing billiards one time.
Looking back now on your earliest recollections of Killaloe/Ballina area, how would you describe it in those days….looking back what would your memories be?
Gerald:Well I thought it was very good at that time, you know you were never short of something to do, anytime you went out. Take for instance now here, I love dancing like, every kind of dancing and there isn’t one place here in Killaloe now that you can go in, you know ‘tis monotonous going into a bar and drinking and talking, well that’s the way I look at it anyway.
If you want to go to a dance now, fora bit of old sport or anything, you have to go to Ogonnelloe, you’ve to go to Scariff, you’ve to go to Bridgetown and there’s the social part of that then. I mean out there in Ogonnelloe of a Sunday night, it’s unbelievable like that you can go out there and there’s dancing going on and everyone knows each other they’re all talking to each other and I think that’s what makes life!
Do they have an older generation out there? There is a younger generation of people in Killaloe and I suppose they wouldn’t be interested.
Gerald: They wouldn’t but still and all it’d surprise you now the number of people that when that man on the street there opposite the Post Office built that place, t’would surprise you the amount of people that asked him why he didn’t put in a dance floor in it.
Who was that now?
Gerald: That man of the Richardson’s that built that. And any amount of people asked him. And then somebody else asked him why not put in a billiard table or a snooker table and there was talks that he was going to put one upstairs, I hope he does.
It will be some entertainment.
T’would be! I mean there’s really nothing here for anyone, only to go in to the pub, that’s all.
There’s nowhere you can say like you can go in, I don’t know about this bridge thing, I was going to go down to that but I didn’t, eventually didn’t go. But I like cards, I like everything. I suppose it’s the only way isn’t it.
Yes, it keeps the mind active.