Sr Felicitas brought the war to us as infants in Limerick

Our enlightened principal let us follow developments in the second World War

A ration book used in Ireland during the second World War, or the Emergency, as it was known there

A ration book used in Ireland during the second World War, or the Emergency, as it was known there

 

We were children of the second World War, or the Emergency as it was known in Ireland. Ensconced as we were in the safety of our country’s neutrality during those terrible years, we had little idea of the carnage taking place in the theatre of horror that was Europe. Yet, despite our tender age, we were able to follow the advances of Allied troops, following the landings at Normandy, thanks to Sr Felicitas, the enlightened principal of our infant school in St Mary’s.

The Gilligans, living next to the school, used to pass on the Irish Press to her. Gathering us together, she would point out the white and black arrows denoting the latest positions of the German and Allied troops. We were probably the only infants in the country au fait with the advances and otherwise of the combating armies.

I can recall the ration books: tea was like gold dust, the leaves recycled to such an extent that the water in your cup was barely coloured; dripping used as a substitute for butter, desperate pipe smokers reduced to adding turf dust and herbs to their tobacco to make it last longer; queues everywhere, especially outside bakeries; “black bread” (more brown, really), substitute for the real thing, baked from coarse flour, that looked terrible and tasted likewise.

Towards the end of the war, my mother was left a legacy of £100 (big money then) by an uncle in Australia, and she blew it on an extended summer holiday in Youghal. Dad wanted her to use the legacy towards the purchase of a house (priced £300) in the select Corbally area, to get away from our cramped house (two bedrooms between nine of us) in the Sandmall. Mother said £200 was too much to borrow, so off to Youghal we went.

Mother being from Cork city, there was a regular flow of friends and relations to the holiday home, made especially welcome if they brought scarce commodities. Among them was my Aunt Nora, whose husband, English man Harold Spinks, was a prisoner of war in Germany: he was first on the list in the trimmings of our nightly rosary. Walking with her one evening on the headland, a ship passed us in the distance, and we recited a decade of the rosary for its safe passage.

I can recall the reinforced concrete bomb shelter erected in the Abbey area, not far from our house, unlit, thankfully unused, except for rubbish of all kinds dumped into it; being fitted for the gas masks in the boat club, to be used as playthings later on; rehearsal of air-raid sirens. There are a few reminders intact of those far-off eventful days in the form of concrete pill boxes, two guarding the Shannon at Corbally, and one on the approach to Ardnacrusha power station.

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