Tullamore a magical place? It was for a nine-year-old on holiday for the first time
I helped myself to some treats from the sweet counter, hiding the evidence under my bed
Aunt Ann from Tullamore, taken in the 1950s
To a nine-year-old, on holiday for the first time, Tullamore was a magical place. Coming as I did from the far west - a place in sight of the sea, forever windy and lacking in shelter – to this midlands town with its shops, spires and smoky trains, was an exciting adventure.
My abiding memory is of a distinctive heavy smell that I still associate with inland towns in summer. I was staying with my Aunt Ann, the owner of St Ann’s Café on High Street. A hard worker herself, she supplemented her limited staff by harnessing any passing manpower or womanpower and was not averse to using child labour, which is where I came in.
There were compensations. I was allowed go to the cinema on my own but afterwards Guard Hanahoe would be on duty to ensure my safe return in time to serve chips and lemonade to hungry cinema goers.
As I was paid well below the minimum wage, I helped myself to some treats from the sweet counter to be savoured later on, hiding the evidence under my bed.
Lemons Pure Sweets were my favourites - that burst of citrus at the back of the tongue - so different from what I was used to, sticky, slab toffee in squares. Occasionally, I stole across the street to Lumleys Bakery. Other bakeries I knew sold bread; Lumleys sold pastries: pink iced slices, cream horns and other mouthwatering delights, all of which were a big drain on my meagre resources.
The upstairs rooms served as guest accommodation. Showbiz people – the celebrities of their day – stayed. Jack Cruise was Aunt Ann’s favourite, not least because he joined in the recital of the Rosary, said religiously in the dining room before bedtime. And she had a soft spot for the handsome singer Connie Foley, possibly because Moonlight in Mayo was part of his repertoire.
Salts Factory, a major employer in Tullamore, held an annual staff dinner dance. Never one to miss an opportunity to make an extra pound, Aunt Ann catered for this glamorous event. All hands were on deck on the night. Wearing the blue dress she bought me, I managed to sneak a peep at the swirling couples in the dance area, risking admonishment later.
I haven’t been to Tullamore since those childhood days of the 1950s – to revisit might break the spell. Yet, if Lumleys is still there ... Anyway, thanks Tullamore for the magical memories.