Since my blog about my Da my family been asking me to write one about my Ma. The fact that I wrote about my father first was not deliberate, as usual, something I happened to read put a lot of memories into my head, that just happened to be about Da.
My mother Julia Nolan nee Kelly was born and bred here in Bray. Anyone who has ever lived in Bray will know that it is basically two sections, on the Dublin side of the Dargle river there is the little Bray side and on the Wicklow side is big Bray. Well my Ma couldn’t have been born nearer the river unless she was born in it LOL Woodbine was just barely on the big Bray side, and that is where she was born.
My maternal grandmother died when Mammy was about nine or ten, leaving my granda to raise seven children, six girls and one boy alone. My Ma had always been the tomboy of the family and brought her parents much grief. For instance, on her first communion day she was dared to roll down the river bank in a barrel by her comrades in mischief ( mostly boys ) and came home covered in tar from the barrel, to her poor mother, who had scraped and scrounged to buy the dress that had to go straight into the bin.
My granda was constantly hounded by the Ravenswell convent sisters of charity who ran the Little bray primary school. The Mother superior would drive up in a horse and buggy when he was at work in Bray railway station. She would sail in and search the house for dirty books or other reasons to take the children. Luckily, the good neighbours were always on the look-out for her and one of them would cycle down to the station and give him the bike so he could rush home before she took the kids. All my Mam’s siblings had their underwear and hair examined everyday in class, can you imagine? it’s no wonder my granda used spit on the ground passing the convent.
Although my mother’s Mam had a lot of sisters they were not allowed to help her as my great gran was a bit of a tyrant and did not forgive her daughter for marrying a Catholic. This was to change later on, but most of the childrens childhood it was only him. My mother always had great time for the people of Woodbine, because if it wasn’t for them the family would have been split up and put in institunions.
Well anyway, the poor man evenually managed to rear them into adulthood without any major calamities. And they all moved to the Baths beside Bray harbour, my Granda and the six girls, as the eldest, my uncle Tony had already taken the mail boat to England. Well, as you may know from my Da’s story, the irish army moved into the International Hotel, just up the road from the Kelly household, and my Da and Ma met up and got married.
I was the first of ten children, and the first few of us, mainly me and my next sister had an idyllic childhood with five doting aunts and a grandfather who regularily took us with him in the guard’s van of the train. To this day, I love trains. Well, as this is not about me, back to Ma. After the fourth child my parents got a council house near the town hall, and my Mam was on her own, Da being out all day working. We were always happy and a few of the friends we made became virtually a part of the family ( stand up Connie LOL) and our friends were always welcomed.
On Summer days Ma would pack the pram with enough provisions for an army, and off we, and half the terrace kids would go, down the strand for the day , we loved messing about in the sea in our knickers and vests, none of us had swimming costumes, not even our friends. By this time, grandad and the aunts had moved over the river, so as we spent half of our childhood down there we became comfortable either side of the river. I can remember going up to Windgates to visit Great granny Gresham and the great aunts. Mammy would meet us after school and we would take turns wheeling the pram full of babies, there always seemed to be two in the pram at any one time. One of my great aunts was a cook in Killruddery house and baked wonderful cakes. You can imagine a crowd of kids, unused to treats, seeing a spread of decorated cakes and flans and our favourite, butterfly buns. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, we were very well-mannered children, and we managed to control ourselves until they were offered. Alas, we were always first offered a slice of caraway seed cake first, and instructed to eat it all or we would get no more. I have no idea what caraway seed cake tastes like as an adult, but to us kids it was poisonous, and as the fairy cake we had next tasted the same with the taste still in our mouths, as you can imagine, the spread was still there when we left. My mother always swore that this was a deliberate tactic to stop us eating everything before us LOL and I would say she was right.
One event in our childhood has often made me question Mammy’s brains LOL. The man next door used keep hens, and when he died he left the little red hen to the nolan family. Although it was still in next door’s run, we all used race home from school to feed it the scraps we had saved from our school lunches. Well, one day when we came home, he was gone, and we ran in to Mammy crying “Mammy, Mammy, the little red hen is gone” and she says ” no it’s not, it’s in the oven”. Well I’ll leave it to you’re imagination, the scene at the dinner table that evening. It was years before we could eat chicken again. And you know, if she had not told us, we would never have associated the lovely dinner with our hen LOL
When all us girls grew up, it was even more of an open house, as Mammy welcomed everyone we invited. When my father’s mother was no longer safe living on her own, Mammy welcomed her into our home.
Now granny was a completely different kettle of fish to Mammy, she did not like visitors, not at all. When Mammy used bring in beggars who knocked at our door for a cup of tea, she’d hide in her room sulking. When a regular visitor to our house Bridie ( a real snob ) said to Granny one day ” Granny, you really should cut the bread on a bread board not the table” she was very lucky not to be sliced up herself, sure we hadn’t a clue what a bread board was anyway.
Our house was always full. When we were first in the terrace to gety a telly, Mammy lined up chairs like a cinema in front of it and all the kids in the terrace used sit there for hours waiting for the programs to start. In those days of BBC1 and UTV the programs would only be on certain hours and they would play music behind a test card in the intervals, I always remember the UTV one was a girl on a high stool holding a rag doll. When I see how easily kids get bored today, despite all their electronic games etc. I think of all us kids sitting there for hours looking at this test card. Later on, it was the lodgers in the terrace ( neighbours used cram their house with Scottish or English visitors, mostly young fellows, for the Summer) and of course they all wanted to watch the football results on Saturday. We girls didn’t mind a bit, we all usually had our eye on one or the other of them, and Ma of course could not turn anyone away.
Starting this blog I was sure it would be a short one, but of couse, when I started, the memories came flooding back. Even today, and Mammy has been dead since the year 2000, a lot of our friends won’t let us say a bad word about her, they say they used to dream about being part of our family. And one day when I was in a pub, a girl we grew up with introduced me to a friend with the words “Margaret’s family used to throw the best parties” and I suddenly realised, that looking back, our childhood HAD mostly been a party, thanks to Mammy and I think we have Mam and Dad to thank for being such a united family today, we are always happy to see one another, and like Mammy we all love nothing more than family gatherings. Julia Nolan, (Mammy) RIP we all miss you.