Creggan man, Eamonn Baker recalls the halcyon days of his youth filled with the memories of football and ice cream
Meanwhile, my father Joe was sweating in the Castle Laundry in William Street. I didn’t really know then that he had already worked there for almost twenty years. Some days I wandered from the Brow of the Hill along the Lecky Road, past Mc Cafferty’s Shop, past the stink of the gasyard, beyond the foot of Stanley’s Walk, past wee Annie’s- if I hadn’t a penny- on and on, maybe lingering in Meenan’s Field for a swoosh down the big banana slide and then across past the police barracks, past Morgan’s ragstore, past Dinny Harley’s fish shop and hardware store, on past Sonny Fleming’s, on to Thomas Street where my grandfather, Eddie lived at number 6, and in the corner of the wee living room sat the black and white TV set. Around five, I would watch Blue Peter or the Range Rider played by Jock O’Mahoney, this actor’s name somehow glued into my memory. I loved Wells Fargo and Bronco Layne.....
On Monday 31st March 2014, in Altnagelvin Hospital, Mr Mulholland had removed my cancered right kidney. And the physio was there beside me a day later to ‘mobilise’ me. Within two days she had me walking unsupported up and down the corridor of the urology ward. Late Friday morning of that momentous week, I was let go home but exhorted to keep exercising. Thus began a routine of walking around Creggan.- creating my own street directory… down Demesne Avenue, down along Marlborough Road( we know that is not Creggan!) up Creggan Hill(still not Creggan) left along Westway- (that’s Creggan) around by the Crobie, across Central Drive, up Cromore Gardens, down Lislane Drive, then back down Iniscarn to get to the roundabout, back down Eastway, then along Demesne, home. Over the weeks during April, May and June 2014, the initial forty minutes it took me became thirty five. Then I got it down to thirty. Even so Creggan Hill would still catch me. Westway, half way up was tough enough too. It was a cakewalk after that and Creggan memories spilled over as my legs did ‘this walk of life’.
Westway’s Martin McCay and me used to play together at the Holy Child and after school too. As five year olds, we both went there in late August 1956 when it first opened. In the 1970s. Martin was a young husband and father of two children, working in Du Pont and playing and singing in Cricklewood Green when cancer rampaged him, only twenty seven years of age.
Classmate Paddy Mc Crudden lived up at the Crobie end of Central Drive. As far as we knew, his big brother Mickey was one of the first to get from Creggan to university. That story trickled down to us though we didn’t quite know what it all meant… ‘to get to university’. There were ‘porthole windows’ in Central Drive. As a child it was easy to think of those houses with the circular windows as ‘ships’, then easy, years later, to think I had dreamt the ‘porthole windows’ but there they were again as I would turn left from Westway into Central Drive.
Saoirse Doherty’s house was across the street from McCrudden’s. Saoirse helped bring me round after I was knocked out playing football on the Bishop’s Field- our Field of Dreams. Then came the ‘Creggan shops’ . Mc Cool’s or was it Mc Keever’s - my daddy would head there nearly every Sunday after Mass to buy the ‘Sunday Press’. For him, the ‘Independent’ was a Free State paper, a Blueshirt paper. For me, the ‘Sunday Press’ was first of all a ‘comic cut’- cartoon figures “Dagwood’ and ‘The Phantom’ had to be read as soon as ever my father was finished reading ‘the news’. Brian McKeever and my father would share a few words. I would want to go. Better though to wait and maybe leave with a packet of Rowntree’s Fruit Gums.
On over Central Drive was ‘Mickey Fish’s shop selling fruit and vegetables and fresh fish, then Harry ‘Treacle’s’ and then Coyle’s and I remember a halcyon summer or two of Palm Grove ice cream and Patsy Splits - 2d each. Liam Jackson was the other Central Drive grocer and the dairy run by Paddy Harley was beside that, then the bakery, then Hegarty’s butchers and then O Hare’s chemist which also housed a post office. These were ‘our’ shops - A dash across the Bishops Field for a pound of Doherty’s mince from Hegarty’s, penny daintees from the dairy, German buns from the bakery.
Tucked in behind the shops is Rinmore Drive, then home to the mystical Dan Doherty. I don’t remember how I got to be playing (just for a while) for Dan but I did. With United Starlets. Maybe it was because his son Eamonn was in our class at the Christian Brothers. I was a United Starlet with Brian Kearney and Eddie Mc Cauley and Busty O’Donnell (later to play for Derry City) and Eamonn himself of course.
I don’t remember shutters then in Central Drive. I don’t remember graffiti. The Troubles were yet to invade our street. Only TV’s Bronco Layne or Wells Fargo’s Jim Hardy fired shots.
As I walked up Cromore Gardens I remembered Paul Ramsay. His birthday came just three days before mine, February 5. I don’t know how I have always remembered that date. And I recalled Ben Scampton, God bless him, in the corner house between Cromore Gardens and Linsfort Drive. The present Speaker of the House, Mitchel McLaughlin, lived next door in Linsfort. Many’s a match we all thrashed out on the Bishop’s Field in that green corner between Linsfort and Iniscarn. Joe Moreland lived just round from Mitchel. Joe played in nets for a Jim O’ Hea team I later featured in briefly! He joined the RAF after school and maybe never could come back to Creggan as the Troubles took their terrible toll.
Up Cromore I would walk and then down Lislane Drive, past number 6 where Liam Ball grew up to become an Olympic swimmer and, deservedly, a local hero. Bless him. He died too young. I remembered a few hectic football games with Liam, James McFarland, Raymond Houston and so many others on ‘the compound’, as it was known, that’s before that monstrous handball alley was erected.
Then I would head down Iniscarn, past McGarrigles at whose doorstep I used to swap Superman and Batman comics with Pat, down past number 75 where we all lived in an upstairs flat before we got allocated the house down at the bottom of the street in April 1954. Down past Harkins. Michael walked me down to the Christian Brothers on my first day there back in early September 1958. After that I was on my own. Seven years of age and footing it from Iniscarn to the Brow of the Hill. Were we children more fearless then? With eight weans my mother could hardly have walked me down to the Lecky Road.
Down past Eddie Bell’s I would walk, past Harry Magee’s, the Peerless Valet man, past Mister Carton’s who ran Trojans before Raymond, past Jimmy “China Doll” Liddy’s, past the Baker’s in number 7 and past Irvine’s in number 5, remembering Josie who died suddenly from a heart attack last autumn, bless him too, death once again taking its grip, unsparingly. Past John Peppard’s, in number 3, who years later was to co-write the platinum selling record “In Another’s Eyes” with Garth Brooks.
I remembered horses gathered grazing on the roundabout grass one night, me traipsing back drunk up the “New” Road from the Gweedore Bar. In the morning my mother wanted to know “whether I was sure they weren’t pink elephants?”
From the same roundabout I would gaze over at St Mary’s from where my father was buried back in May 1992. Life and death bubble-wrapped together again as I hit Eastway, down past Ferguson’s, Bradley’s, Dunn’s. Back to Demesne and home again.
Another’s day’s walking done, I would boil a kettle or maybe just sit, memories simmering.