Breda Reid: Some Roseberry Memories.

Some Roseberry Memories.

Newbridge, is a just little over 200 years old.   A relatively young town, its origin lies in the establishment of Cavalry Barracks (1815-1819) on land purchased from 3 local landlords: Eyre Powell of Great Connell, Ponsonby Moore of Moorefield, and William Hannon of Kilbelin. From 1819 various Cavalry Regiments were stationed in Newbridge and it became a thriving business town.   

I am a hybrid, half bog woman, and half townie.  Born in 1953, I was reared in Roseberry in a little two room cottage built by my great grandad James Cash, circa 1905.  I was an only child and most of the time happy to be so. The area was known as The Commons. A little cul de sac of cottages, to the rear of theDominicanCollege, forming an almost perfect U around Armstrongs field. Ours was a draughty little house with no indoor plumbing and an occasionally leaky roof.  Our outdoor loo was across the yard beside the shed.  Built of sheet tin you could roast in there in summer or freeze in winter.  We got water from the pump up the road beside Maisie Byrne’s house. It was fetched in an aluminium bucket once or twice a day while our unpasteurised milk supply came from Tom Sullivan, who lived near Old Connell Weir, also collected in a bucket.  My friends were Betty and Ann Cox, Dolores Meehan and Joanie Dunne.  Armstrong’s Field, Morrison’s field and Da Morrison’s Shed were the boundaries of our world, safe spaces where we played “babby house”, rounders, and hide and seek. We borrowed our mothers’ best scarves or old curtains to have May processions or prepared “shows” for the delectation of the local kids. It was all about the planning, I don’t ever remember having an audience, I don’t think we ever got that far.  We never ventured too far from the sanctuary of our homes.  My father, Tom Dillon, worked in the Rope Factory and my mother Lizzy, a stay-at-home mam as most were in those days, was the youngest daughter of Tom and Margaret Maguire of Tankardsgarden.  They had first lived in the house when it was built and reared six girls and two boys there.  Granny Maguire was a matriarch in the true sense of the word.  A formidable woman, she upholstered chairs and mended mattresses of horse hair for theDominicanCollege.  She lost two children to the Big Flu in 1918 but carried on tending to her family and the priests in the Dominican Priory nearby.   Grandad Tom died following a fall from his bike at Carroll’s Corner returning from a funeral in 1949.  He was a member of the large Maguire clan from Hawkfield.   Granny Margaret died in 1963 at the age of 82.  

My mother Lizzy suffered from asthma, a condition aggravated by her love of cats and budgies. Feather pillows and a damp house also ensured she hardly ever went a year without being hospitalised.   She died in 1969 at the age of 44. I was 15.  My Da cycled home from Naas hospital to tell me she was gone.  Then there was just him and me.  Da was a very quiet man.  His father, Michael, hailed from Suncroft. In the 1911 census his occupation was identified as a labourer. I believe he worked on the railway. He joined the British army and fought in WW1 at the battle of theSomme.    Michael’s wife Brigid, whose name I inherited, was born inEyre St.  Her family had a shop which tended to the needs of the British Army situated in Newbridge.  Michael and Brigid lived inTae Lane, i.e.,Anne St.  They had seven children. She died at the age of thirty in 1926 following the birth of a child. The eldest, Jane aged only thirteen, became the children’s carer. My Da was four at that time.  Grandad Michael (Dado) died in 1966.

After the departure of the British army in 1922, Newbridge, whose economy depended on the Barracks, was in economic crisis. The advent of Irish Ropes and Newbridge Cutlery brought much needed employment to the town in the 1930s. My Da and many others were employed by them.  A siren heard throughout the town heralded tea breaks and shift endings in the Irish Ropes. This was followed by a long convoy of men on bicycles heading home. 

On the days Da was on early shift he would carry me home from school on the crossbar of his bike, his breath in my ear and the oily smell of the rope factory on his clothes. It was a familiar and comforting smell. Parents, especially fathers, were not as demonstrative in those days but you knew you were loved by the small things they did for you. Like Da carving a tennis bat out of an old piece of wood or bringing rope home from the factory to make a swing at the shed door. A man of few words, he sat quietly with his own thoughts peopled with images no one else could share.  He had joined the RAF in 1943 and was shipped toIndiavia theSuez Canalwith the 344 Squadron. He, like many others never spoke about his wartime experiences. The effect of the war remained with him throughout his life. Irish Ropes, which had ensured their workers unbroken service if they fought in the war, kept his job open for him.  I often wondered what it was like for him at the age of twenty one leavingIrelandfor the first time to travel so far. He was a rear gunner, a sitting duck in the fuselage of the hugeLancasterplanes carrying out sorties over ammunition docks or railways. Then, to return to his job in the Ropes and remain there till his retirement must have been a huge change. 

Looking back my own childhood experiences seems world’s apart from the childhood my grandchildren are experiencing and yet again from the childhood my ancestors experienced.  Newbridge today would be unrecognisable to my own parents and both sets of grandparents. The town has grown so much even in my own lifetime. I am proud of where and who I came from. They were hardworking and proud people who overcame poverty and hardship with their heads held high. I can only hope I have lived up to the example they set. None of them helped split the atom or rocked the world with novel inventions nevertheless I still feel I am standing on the shoulders of giants. 

© Breda Reid. 2022.