A day at Tullamore Pool in the 1960s and the old shops of the town recalled. By Terry Adams

Terry Adams was born in Cormac Street, Tullamore, to parents Terry and Kathleen Adams. He has spent all but two of the last 34 years living abroad. Living four years, 1984 to 1987, in the United States and, since 1990 in Luxembourg. He began writing after the death of his father in 1976 and has penned novels, collections of short stories and books of poetry. His true passion is poetry, a passion passed on to him by his father. In this essay he recalls the town of Tullamore in the 1960s – a town that has now greatly changed. The conviviality of the old pool and the leisure to spend the entire day at the pool side has vanished. Terry’s uncle, P.F.(Paddy) Adams, it was who proposed in the mid-1930s that the town council build an outdoor pool. It was completed in 1938 and opened on the same day as the new houses in O’Molloy Street.

There was never any need to rush the breakfast, the pool did not open until ten o’clock. Sometimes it opened later depending on the caretaker. The first man I remember in charge was called Tom Dooley, a quiet man. We took great delight in singing about him, ‘Hang down your head Tom Dooley, hang down your head and cry’. His successor was not as punctual, often we would have to wait outside the locked gates, impatiently, as ten o’clock came and went. He often sported a red rosy face, redder indeed than his ginger hair. I suspect his colouring was not all the work of the sun.

After my cornflakes it was up the twelve steps from the kitchen to the back door. Stretching the length of the yard, between the tall grey limestone wall on the left and the smaller wall and two sheds on the right, was the clothes line with up to five swimming togs awaiting retrieval, pegged on it. Once the togs and, hopefully, dry towel were reclaimed it was time to get the bike. Sometimes this took some effort, especially if my older sisters and brother had piled their bikes on top of my smaller one.

Once the bike was retrieved, I slid my togs onto their usual perch on the handlebars, pushing one of the leg openings along the left handlebar taking care to avoid the brake mechanism. My towel I draped around my neck. Only the big solid wooden garage gate blocked my freedom. The big iron bolt was sometimes stiff, and difficult to open for a puny youngster like me, but I usually managed it. If my friends, Ray and Jim MacCann, from next door were ready I’d have company on my cycle, if not I’d set off on my own. One thing for sure my older siblings would not be accompanying me. They were never out to the pool until much nearer to midday.

Wheel my bike around the corner to O’Moore Street, check the traffic, swing my leg over the saddle and off. It was an enjoyable ride out, a bit more tiring on the return, partly due to swim fatigue but mostly due to the climbs up the New Road or High Street. O’Moore St. sloped gently towards the New Road. Past Hurst’s Garage on the left and Furlong’s on the corner opposite. Talented beyond belief. Martin, the youngest boy, won three All-Ireland medals with Offaly. His older brother, Tom, was within a whisker of playing professional American football for the New York Giants. Unfortunately, he badly injured his foot in pre-season camp. Right at Mahon’s large house, set in off the road, and onto the New Road.

The best part of the trip, with wheels gathering momentum, I sped, down the steep downhill slant. Freewheeling bliss from Cloonan’s, at the corner to the next house on the right, Brady’s. A future editor of the Irish Times, Conor, lived in there. The road levelled out but you could certainly get to Brady’s, marked by the two blue topped white pillars out front, without peddling.

On the left the grey surrounding wall of the Brother’s field kept me company until it turned at a right angle to enclose the football pitch and the pond. At least in spring it was a pond and we spent many hours collecting frogs spawn there. I doubt any sign of the pond remained in the heat of summer and I certainly was not about to tempt faith and climb over the back gate into the field to check. Once summer arrived we steered well clear of the Brothers.

At the end of the New Road, after a careful sweep of the Tanyard and Church Roads which converged there, I would turn left. A slight climb to pass beneath Hop Hill Church and then peddle like mad down the other side. Only a couple hundred yards now to my destination. In earlier years there were no inhabited buildings from the Rectory on Hop Hill to the pool. Tracey, the butcher’s, had a shed on the left as you neared the pool entrance but it held little attraction for me.

Hanly 17193 Swimming Pool, Tullamore c. 1940
Tullamore Pool, c. 1940

The pool lane entrance itself was quite small, driving by in a car you could easily miss it. Once through the metal barrier the lane sloped gently one hundred yards to the pool gates. A sign proclaimed ‘Slow Children’ to passing motorists but I never took offence. On my bike I felt I went plenty fast enough.

There never was that many waiting at ten. It was always a great thrill to be first in, not just into the pool premises but into the pool itself. To jump or dive and disturb the placid water, watch the ripples spread from your entry point until they reversed themselves against the pool walls and eventually disappear in a whirl of water confusion. The pumps were usually off in the mornings, the water got noticeably colder when the pumps were on and the fountain in the little round pool, off the shallow end, spewed forth its water jet into the air.

We usually had the pool pretty much to ourselves for an hour and more before the big lads and girls arrived. As the sun gained height they gained consciousness and dragged themselves out of bed. Around noon when enough of these night owls had gathered, a game of tig would begin. This was the highlight of the day.

Tig is tig but in a pool some extra rules were needed. You still had to touch someone to pass on the onerous duties of being ‘on’, you also had to ‘corner’ for if you did not you were automatically ‘on’. To ‘corner’ you had to either dive in one side of a corner and exit the other or wet your togs by grasping the hand rails and lowering your backside into the water. The whole derrière had to be covered and disputes often arose over exactly how much derrière was covered. I’m sure some derrières would have looked much better half covered but being only eight that did not occur to me at that time.

The game of tig would continue until boredom, closing for lunch or tiredness intervened. Most days it was a spectacle with bodies running, diving, swimming, no one ever seemed to get hurt despite slippery surroundings. In later years when I was engaged in a game I slipped on the yellow painted eight-foot sign and went straight down on one knee. Not a pleasant sensation but I never recall any of those ‘big’ lads or lassies getting hurt.

After the tig we all got dressed and headed for our bikes. The older lads never used the dressing rooms but made a show of changing with a towel around their waist. This was usually a waste of time as the girls, whom they wanted to impress with their manly figures, would have disappeared around the back to the girls changing rooms. As the pool gates closed for lunch we all rode for home.

 

The cycle back was very different. One of the joys of the ‘out’ journey was the solitude, on the way in there was plenty of company, lots of laughter and slagging. We cycled as a bunch, paying heed to the traffic even though there was not much to pay heed to. The peloton drifted towards the Tanyard and the bakeries, O’Reilly’s and O’Shea’s. The former was the favourite for the simple reason that they did not mind taking the time to sell individual buns to a starving mob of youngsters. The ‘Cut’ was 2d, those lucky enough to afford it watched, mouth-watering, as Mr. O’Reilly cut a large rectangle from the enormous cake and exchanged the pink, brown and white concoction for the two pennies. They were big pennies back then and they felt substantial nestling in your pocket. Our mothers never could understand how we could spend a morning out cavorting in the fresh air and not want to finish our dinner at one o’clock.

We rode on up the Tanyard, past all the tall grey walls enclosing the old malt houses, all sadly vacant and in disrepair. Limestone hulks from a whiskey past. On into O’Connor Square, past the Post Office, glance across longingly at Morris’ Fish and Chip shop, round the corner at Ginnellly’s Clothes’ shop and up onto the footpath.

We preferred to walk up High St. It was steep enough and after eating a big bun we needed the walk. It was the busiest street in the town, mid-sixties busy. With one elbow leaning on the saddle, a hand guiding the bike, a wet towel around the neck and the sodden togs swaying on the handle bars, we made our way up the street towards home.

Hanly 17187 Swimming Pool, Tullamore 1940
Tullamore Pool, c. 1940

Galloping home from the Ritz

Old Colton’s Hotel, long converted to flats and offices, lay to our left. The Ritz Cinema, which we frequented in winter on Sunday afternoons was next door. We’d burst forth on wet cold afternoons, suitably roused and charge up High St. galloping home, lashing our arses with imaginary whips, goading our steeds to greater speed, in the pursuit of some Indian or baddie, no need for our bikes then.

More sedate now, legs and arms tired, we wheeled placidly towards home and dinner. The big inviting windows of Kilroy’s, unusually they had a big shop on either side of the street, past the Brothers’ house, Lawless’s Pub, J.J Horan’s sweet shop, the Marian Hostel, Lawless’s Chemist and only the top of O’Moore Street to cross to home. We had a soft spot for O’Moore St. as it was named after one of the few people we knew who had beaten the English in battle. Rory Óg O’Moore and the Pass of the Plumes, so named after the number of plumes chopped off, along with the heads, of the English soldiers in Tyrrellspass long before.

After hanging the swimming gear, not out of tidiness but necessity. I would need a dry togs and towel after dinner for my return to the pool. In through the back door and down the stairs to the kitchen. We always had dinner at one o’clock, lunch was a word that did not feature in our family lexicon. My Dad descended from his office and dinner was served around the large wooden kitchen table. Eating only commenced after grace before meals. The news sounded the hour and Dad always said ‘Sch’ even if no one was talking. The news was sacrosanct, after was the time for chitchat.

Dinner over the clean-up began. A motion of ‘No Confidence’ in the Dáil would not have occasioned such argument and debate over who was responsible for what duty. If you were lucky you would walk up the two wooden steps to the big white Armitage sink and begin the washing up. The benefit of doing the washing-up was you were finished first.

On rare occasions I managed to sneak out of the kitchen without being spotted and leave my older brother and sisters to do the washing, drying, putting away and whatever else my mother could think up for them to do.

With the admission money safely secured in my pocket it was time to repeat the morning’s preparations, up on the bike and off. Sometimes I had a ‘monthly’. This little red ticket entitled me to enter the pool as many times as I wished for one month. No laminated plastic cards with smiling pictures back then just a small red paper ticket. How these tickets were not lost, or did not disintegrate from exposure to water, I don’t know.

The afternoon trip

The roads were generally busier in the afternoons and, subsequently, the bike journey was not so enjoyable. With luck I would be lying on my back on the grass by the side of the pool in fifteen minutes. ‘Beside’ was the important word because I had to swear on every saint I knew that I would not swim for an hour after dinner. Usually ten minutes after re-entering the confines of the pool I would, literally, be in it up to my neck.

Being the afternoon, the men’s lockers, as the dressing rooms were called, were quickly occupied, as no doubt were the women’s equivalents situated directly behind the men’s and overlooking a neglected field which led down to the Tullamore River. On pain of ejection boys were barred from entering the girls’ changing areas. At that age I could not understand why such a rule existed. Why would anyone want to sneak back there and look at the cows looking at the sluggish river when they could be sitting out in front of the boys lockers watching all the carry on in the pool, the real centre of attraction.

The pool often was crowded in the afternoons and, being used to the quiet mornings, my friends and I would often decide to head back into town to find amusement there. Suitably clothed but this time with our dry togs and towels neatly folded, rolled and secured onto our carriers, we’d cycle into the metropolis.

Our cycle path would invariably take us up Church Street, our destination the Market Square, the old square, one look told you it was old but it was more a rectangle than a square.We turned right off Church St. at the County Library, on to Henry St. and left onto the Market Square, passing the weighing machinery for malted barley. Egan Tarleton’s large malting store was behind us and ahead, beyond the Grand Central Cinema and on the other side of the Square lay our prey.

Some stood upright, some lay on their sides, looking like a giant had carelessly deposited them so. Large barrels everywhere. I’m not sure what they originally contained but they made an excellent, if dangerous, playground. The Hop Step and Leap took on a new meaning as we bounded from one cask to the next. In late August there were always plenty of wasps for company to heighten the danger. One misjudged jump or a slip on the side of a barrel could have ended in bruises, or worse, broken bones.

004 Swimming Pool, Tullamore

Egan’s Christmas bell

With tea time approaching we’d leave the square for our homes. The Cormac Street gang would head up the town, back onto Church St. past Morris’ Drapery, past the two stores owned by the Champ brothers, first the Small Profit Stores, followed by the Tullamore Drapery, left at Hayes’ Hotel, across the bridge, past P. & H. Egan’s general store on the right, with its strange metal devise jutting out over the entrance.

This was used only once a year. In the weeks proceeding Christmas a large electrical bell decoration would hang there. The bell simulated tolling by different coloured lights lightening up at different times. I loved that bell and looked forward to it every year once December arrived. Further along, was Hoey and Denning’s large solicitors building. It always seemed gloomy to me, maybe solicitor’s offices were meant to be gloomy. My father was one and his office was not that bright either. Past G. N. Walsh’s garage show rooms, a show room either side of the Brewery Tap pub, next was Conway and Kearney’s another solicitors’ firm and on into High Street.

I used to deliver Dad’s local post to earn a few of those big brown pennies. I knew all the solicitor’s premises. It always baffled me why there was two names on the windows. In addition to the previous mentioned there was also Goodbody and Kennedy up near our house. The odd thing that, outside of Mr. Ken Kennedy, none of the people listed on the name plates existed!! No Hoey, no Denning, no Conway, no Kearney, no Goodbody either. Confusing to a young post boy.

Home for tea, my favourite meal, enough swimming for one day, enough cycling too. Maybe a walk with Dad after tea up Charleville Road and pester him with questions. He had the answer to every question I could think up. Maybe he could explain why each solicitor’s office has two names, neither of which existed.

Tullamore, like all Irish towns, has changed since my swimming days. Of the shops and business premises mentioned during my little cycle the following have disappeared or have new uses since the mid-sixties:

Furlongs, Hurst Garage, O’Reilly Bakery

O’Shea Bakery,  Morris’ Chip Shop,  Guinnley Dry Cleaning

Egan Tarleton, Grand Central Cinema, Morris’ Drapery

Small Profit Stores, Tullamore Drapery, Hayes Hotel

P & H Egan, Hoey & Denning, G. N. Walsh Garage

Ritz Cinema, Christian Brother House

Lawless’ Pub, Lawless’ Chemist

The Library has moved to O’Connor’s Square, Hoey and Denning’s to High Street. The big barrels have long since vanished.

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