Miriam Mulligan was aged 3 in 1941, living on North Strand Road. Her family home was destroyed by the bombing, and she herself was pulled from the rubble by the emergency services. Her mother suffered a miscarriage on the night of the bombing. Her family were re-housed in Cabra. She speaks about her parents memories of the bombing, and also of community life in the North Strand in the late 1930’s.
Listen to Miriam’s story here:
Name of the Interviewee: Miriam Mulligan
Name of Interviewers: Ellen Murphy, Andrew O’ Brien
Place of Interview: The Lab, Foley Street, Dublin 2
Date of Interview: 9 April 2009
Name of Transcriber: Ellen Murphy
Length of Track: 00:29:39
EM: Interview with Mrs. Miriam Mulligan on 9th of April 2009.
Also present is Ellen Murphy, Andrew O’Brien and Ulrika Nilsson of Dublin City Archives.
So you are here to talk about the North Strand Bombing. What age were you in 1941?
MM: I was about three. I was born in 1938. I’m delighted to be here I’d like to say and meeting you, and thank you for your courtesy to me. Because it has very cherished memories for me, and emotional memories
EM: And where were you living exactly in 1941?
MM: I was living directly on the North Strand road and it was quite a small road. But in those times it was like a little village-which is hard to visualise now- because you had the train and then the old tram to Howth, and Dr. Cusack was the local doctor, and Nurse Healy- she was the district nurse round that vicinity. So it was all like a little village. And I remember my parents usually describing people from there, kind of decent people, or to use, to coin it in a very Dublin way dacent people, that were there. I think they meant in the sense, they were just getting on with their life and the struggles, war period-though we were in name neutral. And that type of thing. So they got on, they were getting on with their life, and as I say the big thing was the park there in Clontarf, the baths were there if you were into, we were into swimming, and the baths, and then Dollymount, and they were the highlights. And the Cinema, I laugh now when I think of it now because one gets such false ideas really (laughs) but to be in the New Electric in those days if you had the money to go into it. As a child I can remember that was all in that vicinity and I wouldn’t find my way hardly there now but it seemed to be all within a nucleus, a small area
EM: So there was a real village atmosphere?
MM: Well there was a village in the sense that, that’s all was there the same as in various parts of the West of Ireland. There were shops along there. We lived over a shop and it was Gormelys. It was there, and then as I say and the other side, if you’re walking on the left hand side, is it apartments that’s built there [now], and on the other side of the apartments Dr. Cusack’s house, and he was extremely popular person. And years later I met this Nurse Healy, many years later, in Baggot street hospital, and she was telling me about she remembered me from when I was a baby in the North Strand. So that was the way I was brought up to perceive the situation. And I found it a bit harsh then [the photographs displayed as part of the North Strand Bombing Exhibition]. I found them very good the lovely shots that they showed- lovely but horrific of course, because it was a bombing situation- but I found them very good, but at the same time I was wishing that it was brought a bit into what it was about. I would have liked some kind of little introduction into.
EM: Do you mean to explain what the North Strand was like before the bombing?
MM: Or even after it, to kind of give an image, just because I felt like it didn’t, well they did what they wanted to -sort of a surgical thing down straight from the bombing-but there was so more into it then that. Then when we moved to Cabra, we always, in my house (laughs)- it was like I suppose it’s like that road at Donnybrook church, if you come from one end of it, its Ballsbridge, and the other end of it your Donnybrook- we were always referred to Cabra, there was really Cabra west so, and people on the road, and McLaughlin’s,- my mother would tell me how she lost her husband. Mr. McLaughlin went out with his son or one of the children anyway, and he was never seen again, both of them. I knew them and her daughter in passing and there was a couple of other people on the road who were when I looked up the names, they were people nearby, but that was it really.
EM: So you were living over the butchers Gormleys. How many people were in the house on the night of the North Strand bombing?
MM: I would have thought there would have been in the morning time, there would have been anyone then except us.
EM: So it would have been your parents, did you have siblings?
MM: No, I was the eldest, and my mama was pregnant.
EM: So it was your mam, and your dad, and yourself. What do you remember about the night or what have you been told about it.
MM: I tell you the only thing about it as I can remember at the clearest, is later on, as some kind of a little toddler, and looking at my parents. They seemed to be always pulling down blinds, so that no light could be seen. Now I don’t know exactly what that period was but I know even as a very young child I wanted to know. I thought this is very [strange]. The light had to be completely blocked out and it was a kitchen area that I remember. I remember that scene, and that was about it. My mother then had to be taken onto the hospital where she lost her pregnancy and so that was as much as, and then the just different stories I met, that was the more tragic one, and the other people got on with their lives.
EM: So when the bombs hit you were asleep in your cot?
MM: I was asleep in this and it was directly at the window because they were very fussy about me getting this fresh air, you know, so that’s how the glass blew in and then my father had no there wasn’t any consequence about him as far as I know, and my mother apart from that [losing the pregnancy]. But there was no big deal about it My mother was so delighted that I was alive because I even asked my little niece yesterday- she was home on her holidays from teaching-and I said to her did grandma ever mention to you anything about the bombing. So she said yes -she said about glass everywhere and that you got some glass. In hindsight now I regret that I didn’t speak a lot more –you know that way. We always grew up and we’d be passing there and it would be discussed again and again over the years, and when I am passed by I am always conscious of it.
EM: You were actually rescued? Had the house collapsed in completely?
MM: Oh yes
EM: Was it the Red Cross or St. Johns?
MM: Well there was the LDF [Local Defence Force] and then I didn’t know until Paul Cullen [an acquaintance of Mrs. Mulligan] said to me that he was in voluntary – something like the ambulance brigade or whatever- and he was putting the name tags. It would have been a very responsible thing putting the name tags on people so he must have been very organised whoever he was with. They were the groups there. You know? I don’t know whether it was the fire brigade or whoever it was, you know.
EM: And your mother was brought to the hospital, and were you brought somewhere to spend the night?
MM: I haven’t got the details, I must have been brought, my father would have brought, I don’t know exactly the details. I had an Aunt, she was, Aunt Brida Fenton my mother’s sister. She would have- I never asked where I went that space- but I know my Aunt Brida, like all my life I was accustomed to her visiting. She went to America for few years- so whether it was her or not I don’t know. That is something I would have to ask, my mother isn’t dead long. She lived to be 98, and my father lived to an extraordinary age, and he wasn’t fanatical about health or diet big time altogether. He did what he wanted to do his way. So unfortunately I didn’t ask him and he was away in his eighties, more details, just about the people and about the Howth road-where my mother came from originally-and just in passing about the people-like that one was a dancing teacher, and the different people. They had so much respect for those people, though it wasn’t that they would be in and out of each other’s house, it wasn’t that. There was an old lady who used to come up to our house alright, Mrs Greevy. She was a tremendous age all together, they were very conscious of them [older neighbours]. If there was something nice that they could do, or whatever but that was the way the situation was.
EM: You were rehoused in Cabra?
MM: That’s right yes, yes
EM: And did you ever get any compensation or do you remember?
MM: My mother said that there was something about compensation but they hadn’t cleared it. But – my mother had so much to occupy her now as time went on. And of course we had all these recessions before, as I tell my young son that all these were here, and he’s right, he says, it will come around again. And I had to say that to someone today before I came out, it will come around again, because all those were here, and that’s the kind of thing about the bombing [North Strand Exhibition] that I felt that I’d have like to see more of the, from a kind of social aspects of it, more about the people I found it a bit naked kind of having the bare thing or maybe that’s my feel about but I appreciate it immensely. I was delighted to be up there, I brought my nephew who’s in Cabra. He’s not doing history in college but he likes history, and I said do you like history- so you come up and look at this.
EM: The oral history will bring us the personal stories as well as the official records. (pause) How did you think the North Bombing affected your parents? Your mother very obviously tragically lost her child. Do you think it stayed with them a long time?
MM: That’s a good question. You see in my generation- if you check on this you’ll find it-parents kept a lot to themselves. Even as a child you weren’t allowed listen to different conversations. You were told to run along. So it never stopped my mother from encouraging us to get on and make the most of life in anyway. She was a Trojan, in very difficult circumstances. She was a Trojan-so if didn’t stop her in that way whether it had and she lived till 98, and she was compos mentis all the time. We visited her -unfortunately she didn’t die at home because of a health problem of someone in the house they would find it too stressful- but she was compos mentis all the way. Now she mentioned from time to time, she said about her bag being lost. Her handbag, that she left with someone, that was lost anyway, but she didn’t make any further [comment]. Occasionally when I did speak to people as a youngster about anything like that, I never heard it being mentioned, that it was anyway you know the way now days people are so, if they slip on a floor, or anything suing and all of this kind of thing, I didn’t ever hear anything that kind of talk of all about the bombing, though of course it was very unfortunate incidence, very unfortunate for some people those who lost their life.
EM: Do you ever remember hearing anything negative about the Germans or about the war?
MM: That’s another good question (laughs) Well you see, my father, whom we were brought up to, and which is a joke now of course Papa, and Papa enjoyed his Guinness, and he had great respect for the Germans- in the sense that, in the sense of course, I didn’t know about camps, as a little child- he had great respect for the engineering of the German people and the positive sides of them. And when I was, later on, when I was going to Austria and that, I could see what he was talking about, you know, the positive sides, and sort of the ethos they had, which okay it went mighty astray, but the ethos they had for he liked to see, he always telling about, say my parents had a great appreciation for outdoor life and health, and he would talk about, as I say we didn’t know about the other side, about the Germans, how they were doing the drill and the music. They had a great interest in classical music and culture generally, apart from them.
EM: In a way his respect for the Germans didn’t change after the North Strand Bombing?
MM: I never met many people that were like that about that, and I met people that were Jewish people, and in the sense that we knew that these fanatics took over. And we know that- as the more older you get, I think, we can see at any stage,-that a fanatical, fanatical type of people, either in vandalism or crime or any situation, only need to get a hold further and more power, in any situation, here or any other country, Russia now and Nigeria, and if they get that power. The more I think one travels, the more one sees about the different situations, and the number of camps all over the world, was shocking. When I was Yugoslavia, I never realised about those camps till I returned, I thought of Tito, I thought it was lovely socialism that he had, and it was to a point someone told me, to a point. But all these, you see them in more perspective. I think it was horrendous what happened in the camps, and I loved Anna Franc and the Little Boy with the Striped Pyjamas, and my son loved that story too, just recently when he did it in Blackrock College. I see, there is no answer to Man’s inhumanity to man.
EM: In relation to the North Strand then did your parents ever talk about funerals of neighbours?
MM: No they didn’t speak about funerals of neighbours, (pause) I don’t know why. I can’t explain, I can’t recall just now where that family who lost her husband, where they exactly lived. I don’t have it in front of me now, that was my mother would say over the years, and she would mention other people that were living there, but she didn’t mention the funerals, at all that’s an interesting point.
EM: You mentioned you knew other people in Cabra who had come from the North Strand, and did you have a sense of community yourselves in Cabra with those people?
MM: Well you see that’s going back a long time ago. I’m out of Cabra now 34 years you know, and not a sense, but you had a kinda of- that’s for instance- that’s Tolly’s the dancing teacher, then there would be Kelly’s opposite our house-, so no more where I’m living now- in that time I don’t think there were communities the way there is now, and even now in several areas, if one is a younger person like you here, people are so busy going to work, now, you know, you go to funerals. I go to a couple of extra ones now that I’m retired- I’m a few years retired now, and I did part time for years after full time- so it’s very different then the lovely idea we can of community.
EM: Did you ever return to North Strand as an adult?
MM: I would go for years later, because I was working in the Rotunda, and for years this was their district around here.
EM: Were you a nurse or doctor in the Rotunda?
MM: Student nurse/mid-wife, general nurse, so that was the North Strand for me. That was a big time visit, but I would have been round before that, but most of the time I was looking out going up to the airport or something likes that. You know that way. As I say it was like a village in those times, its completely now apartments. I couldn’t believe my eyes, when I see these lovely buildings. So going back to archives, my great grandfather is mentioned in the archives for having lairages for cattle, for stocking for the East Wall for shipping cattle. It’s a different completely. And we had recessions [before], and that’s how I know we are going to get over this. Like my young son, thank God, he knows. Is feidir linn. And we have more opportunities now I feel that there were I’ll say this; it has nothing to do with the North Strand. I thought when I went to all Irish School up to intermediate, as they said in those times-and then I went and did the Leaving in English, through English in the Holy Faith- but you see it was different times completely. I told this to my husband I think, because I was reading up afterwards about Alfie Byrne coming around to the funerals, and I remember seeing Alfie Byrne for the first time as a youngster, in Henrietta street, because I went to the All-Irish School there, in Scoil Naomh Iosaf, in Mountjoy street. I remember Alfie coming along and he was throwing coins about, and my mother said if we’re starving, you’re not to pick up one of those coins, and I know you can buy bulls-eyes, and the different lovely little sweets in Mr. Mahers on Mountjoy Street. So he was throwing out the money, and I was wishing something would drop just at my foot, because I dared move- but I was saying that to my husband who is a Fermanagh man and I didn’t realise that till this morning. Imagine that codology instead of proper social services. That’s the way I see it now. And when I was in the Legion I brought children who hadn’t clothes some days for mass so all different children- children who had and hadn’t, we’ll say- when I was in the Holy Faith school. And looking back on those times, it’s just kind of so different, and I said it years later, when I was going for an interview in the Health board, I said about, how short of money people were, and one of the people on the interview, he seemed to be scoffing at what I was saying. I was kind of, I felt very silly for saying it but that was the truth of the times that were in it. He said, “Oh shoe allowances are whatever had come out or something like that” – he had different neck of the woods where he came, so he had not broadened his horizons.
EM: Andrew do you have any questions?
MM: Andrew I hope I haven’t annoyed you getting off the subject (laughs)
Andrew O’ Brien (AOB): I was enthralled to listen. Your mother’s name was?
MM: My mother was Ethel Fenton, McCrann, Ethel Fenton, McCrann,
AOB: I just want to clarify, the weekend of the bombing she was taken to the hospital with the miscarriage?
MM: She was taken straight on from the bombing as far as I know, she was taken straight on, and she gave someone her bag, you see and whatever things she had. She just said this in passing.
AOB: She was taken to the Rotunda?
MM: I don’t know which hospital she was taken to; I never asked that at the time. But I was born in the Rotunda, and the rest were born in the Rotunda. So it was most likely there, but at the same time, I never thought, because I had other ideas about what I was going to do in life besides [midwifery].
AOB: And your mother told you later on that she had miscarried?
MM: Oh she told me all the time about that. That would be in any notes that were ever taken. I don’t know were they, but that would be in the notes at the time
AOB: I am just thinking in terms of the victims and just in relation to that wider, did you know any other of the victims’ families, you mentioned the McLaughlin’s
MM: Yes well they were a few doors down, the youngest was a blonde girl, and she had hair like, why I think of her particular, of the three bears and goldilocks. As a child growing up I wished I had hair like that, came out real bushy and blonde locks, and her mother always had pork screw kind of little ringlets
AOB: And her name was?
MM: They were the McLaughlin family, and one of them was in-my father said that was a grand career- he was doing something for the horses in the army. I don’t know what exactly, but attached in someway to that, and my father always …
AOB: And this young blonde girl, she was your pal?
MM: No she wasn’t my pal. I went on down, no she wasn’t, and they moved, I don’t know at what stage, but no she wasn’t.
AOB: And did you know other families then immediately around you?
MM: I just knew of the Kelly’s. He was a bus inspector. He was kind of -especially in those times, we called people who were about 26- I remember the Delaney family, I think they were from around that neck of the woods- we called them Miss and Mister growing up because that’s what my parents told me to have respect for people. And it must have been, it sounds weird now, you know that way. You consider Mr. Kelly; like he’d be Mr. Kelly and wouldn’t be thinking his mother and all would be a good age that was the way it was.
AOB: I want to come back to the childhood thing in a second?
MM: Do you ever remember hearing about that yourself?
AOB: The mister and misses? Yes sure
MM: Even the young, I thinking about it, they must have been quite young there were two ladies from Eason’s the daughters were, and I always called them, my father would say, that’s Miss Delaney. They were very young people.
AOB: Talking about your Mam, Dad, family and uncles and aunts,
MM: I was the eldest, and my brother was a few years younger, so he wasn’t in the bombing and my sisters came much later as my mother had various pregnancies that she lost after that
AOB: Were any of your uncles or aunts or any of the family involved in the rescue or emergency services at that time? Like the ARP [Air Raid Precaution] or the LDF [Local Defence Force] or the ambulances
MM: I don’t know. My aunt was, you see she was doing medicine first of all when her parents were alive, but the she couldn’t continue because the two brothers [___] were left the house, in the Coombe, the old Coombe, so whether she was. I think that time, it would have taken all her time to get on with the midwifery, you know that way.
AOB: You are not aware of uncles or aunts being involved in the Emergency Services?
MM: I wasn’t told about it no. I am not aware of it as a significant thing. I’ve just got speaking about different things I did now, they might have gone out to help or whatever, you do plenty of things through life and you wouldn’t always [speak about it] – like Paul Cullen- you wouldn’t know whether he would want to then, We tried to contact him yesterday, but he isn’t in the phonebook, you know.
AOB: Mr. Cullen, and Mr. Cullen is?
MM: He was telling me, that when I met him, I was doing the shrines of France, and he was telling me by chance that he was voluntary with- he didn’t say, my husband says it was the St. John’s ambulance- but I can’t recall him saying per say what it was and he was voluntary as a young fellow for group and putting the name tags on the people, that’s how I got speaking to him, I said you must have put a name tag on me.
AOB: Now obviously you must have had your own pals growing up and things, playing in the summer. And as you grew up, looking back down the years, did it play a big part in your childhood growing up, in terms of games or psychologically, the curtain in the background?
MM: Oh I didn’t like the curtain. I don’t like the blinds still
AOB: Were you aware of this thing called the North Strand Bombing as you grew up?
MM: Yes because we would go to Dollymount. We would cycle out to Dollymount and Sutton, and so it would be mentioned from time to time, in passing, as I say there was never condemnation of the German people or except that we were friendly with Jewish people, when we knew Jewish people.
AOB: And later then as a nurse in the area, attached with the Rotunda and so on, out in the North Strand from time to time…
MM: That was for briefly in the beginning. That had to be cut out down because different rules came out then about having people like us on district.
AOB: But you would have known the girls as teenagers, and so on again as young women, growing up, becoming young mothers.
MM: I didn’t know, that particular family, the Kelly’s, his sisters were all grown up. Let me see all I remember was a little white haired lady, and he was a mature man, and the family were grown up. The other people were grown up kind of do you know that way. The only one I remember as a little girl, was the younger McLaughlin’s
AOB: I would be interested to know if there was any kind of commemoration in years later?
MM: There was but I remember ringing up because there was some kind of little plaque put on the strand, and I rang up about that and said I’d like to be told
AOB: Who did you ring?
MM: I rang (pause). It’s too long ago now. It was before the plaque. That plaque was put up on the North Strand and I said to my husband coming out here. I rang up about the plaque and because, and I didn’t hear when it was put up, and I said well maybe it’s only for people, who had people died on the Strand but I thought that it a bit short sighted not to include the rest. I was in contact with the Library on the North Strand -that’s who I was in contact with.
AOB: In the 1950’s if you were there, were there anniversary commemorations or masses
MM: Not at all, I wouldn’t say and we always read the paper. Avid readers of the paper
AOB: There was no special mass for the victims?
MM: I certainly (don’t remember). Maybe when they got the plaque there was and then I didn’t hear and I thought maybe I missed the phone call, but I gave particulars in to the North Strand Library- so I was kind of very busy, time, so I didn’t follow it up, to that extent. Now you’re retired, you have more time to think about things. I looked into at time, and then I left it so. I wasn’t pleased about not being contacted.
EM: Do you have any final comments you would like to add?
MM: I want to thank you for the work you are doing on the archives. I think most people have a wonderful appreciation of it.