Personal Stories

Mike Connolly’s Story

Mike Connolly was 5 at the time of the bombing, and living in Shelmartin Avenue, Fairview. His grandmother lived close to the Five Lamps and the site of the bombing. His father was a member of the auxiliary fire-brigade, and also worked for Dublin Corporation. Mike recalls the events of 30 May, and his memories of walking through bomb site. Mike also speaks of his brother who joined Irish Army and operated a Bren gun, witnessing a dogfight in Fairview, the glimmer man, Lord Haw Haw, Christmas time during the Emergency and attending a military tattoo in the RDS.

Listen to story here:

Duration: 23:40 mins.


Project Name: North Strand Oral History Project Phase 2

Track No: 03

Name of the Interviewee: Mike Connolly [MC:]

Name of Interviewer: Marc Redmond [MR:]

Place of Interview: Remote interview via Internet.

Date of interview: 6th April 2010

Name of Transcriber: Marc Redmond [MR:]

Length of Track: 00:23:40

MR: This interview is taking place on 6th of April 2010 over the Internet via Skype. Present are Marc Redmond in Dublin, and Mike Connolly in Johannesburg in South Africa. The interview being carried out by Marc Redmond on behalf of Dublin City Archives.

MC: My name is Mike Connolly, and I live in South Africa. I emigrated from Ireland some 25 years ago. I grew up in the suburb of Fairview. I was born in 1936 and we were living in Shelmartin Avenue in Fairview, at the time of the bombing in 1941. My father had been in the Dublin Fire Brigade, but he had been become injured in an industrial accident, when one of the fire engines skidded, and he fell off the tender and he broke his back. But during the war he was in the auxiliary fire service. He had a white hat, and he had a stirrup pump, to put out small fires. In our house at that time we were very fussy about using the blackout curtains. He always made a point of putting them up in the evening, before the lights went on, and we were asleep in bed in 1941 when the bombs went off. The house shook somewhat, and woke us all up. We came down to the kitchen, and my father arrived in his pyjamas, and he put on his overcoat, and ran out onto the street. And of course there were a lot of people who had opened their hall doors, and had come out onto the street to see what was happening. He was running up and down telling people to close the doors and put off their lights, in case there was another set of bombers coming over. So after a while, he came back in, and he said that where he could see the glow, he figured that it was quite close to his mother’s house, which at that stage was in Sean Mc Dermott Street, quite close to the Five Lamps. And he decided anyway, that he would get dressed and set off on his bike, to see if there was any injuries, or damage done to the house. We all sat around and made tea and wondered what the hell was happening as you can imagine. Eventually many hours later, he arrived back to report that everything was ok back at the house, and there was no damage done, but there was extensive damage done from Newcomen Bridge, and he said that the church in North William street was still standing, but a lot of the cottages in that area, at the side of the canal were flattened.
About two days later, he brought me in to see my grandmother, and we walked through the damaged area, which was extensively damaged. There were a lot of old trucks with chains and ropes, pulling down damaged masonry that was in imminent need of being pulled down, before it fell down on top of somebody else. I was 5 years old at the time, and I was probably learning the clock, and there was a big electric clock at the back of one of the small shops quite close to the Five Lamps. This was an electric clock, but it puzzled me because it didn’t have numbers on it, which was difficult if you were trying to read the clock in those days. It was just digits. It was 12 digits around the face of this clock, and I remember as we were walking along, I looked up to where this clock would have been, and all that was standing was this bracket coming out of the wall and the frame of the clock. The whole clock had been blown right out of its fittings in this bracket. We walked along by where this clock had been, and as I say, there were trucks, steam rollers, all sorts of things trying to get rid of some of the rubble. And of course afterwards they got these big wooden buttresses, which they propped up some of the shaky buildings with, which lasted quite a long time afterwards. Some years later I was an altar boy, in the Fairview parish church, the Church of the Visitation. Some of the older people there were telling me that during the time of the bombing, there were a lot of the coffins brought there, because the church in William street was full, and the coffins were laid out in the corridor between the sacristy and the vestry. That was about the full sum total of the bombing in Clontarf, and North Strand.

MR: Have you any recollection of airplane sounds?

MC: Oh yes! We heard them; I heard them. As I say, we were shook, and all the family, there was 5 of us living at home at the time, and we got out. We weren’t quite sure what was happening. You could hear the bombers in the distance. I presume at that stage they were flying away.

MR: Did you know any people personally who died in this attack?

MC: No I didn’t know anybody, I did have a guy I knew; he was a photographer, a chap called John O’Donoghue, and he was there at the time, and he took some photographs, which are quire horrendous, of the bombing. I’m sure he’s long dead by now. He was probably, was probably, in his thirties at that stage.

MR: And can you remember anything being said at school over the following couple of days?

MC: No I have no recollection of anything else other that I just told you. I remember being amazed at how much damage. A huge amount of debris all there along, when you came up from Newcomen Bridge. On the right hand side there was a lot of damage. Initially there had been a lot of cottages and small houses, but they were all gone completely. That’s where they built those blocks of flats now that are standing there.

MR: In terms of your own family, did you have any brothers or sisters?

MC: Yes, there was one sister and 3 older brothers, that I had. My sister at that stage was working in Levers Soap Factory, and my eldest brother Sean had volunteered for the Irish Army. He was in the Irish army, he had been working in Dunlop’s, and he resigned from Dunlop’s and joined the Irish army. He was based up at Santry Hall in Santry.
I think he was responsible for a Bren gun. They had these Bren guns, which were in small wooden two-wheeled carts, which were towed by bicycles. I think a Bren gun was a gas-operated type of machine gun, and as I say my brother Sean had a volunteered. One of interesting things about being a volunteer [was] he had a different belt to the other members. He had a sliver belt with large buckle, silver buckle on it with the ‘FF’ on it, which he got apparently he got for being a volunteer rather than having been conscripted into the army.

MR: Can you recall many changes after that bombing? Were people made more aware of air raid precautions?

MC: I don’t think so, the general consensus was that it had been a mistake, although there was some people that said it was a reprisal for helping the people in Belfast, when there was a big fire bomb attack. The Dublin Fire Brigade apparently went up to Belfast and helped out with the fire. I understand that a lot of those German bombers were flying on signals, which were generated in Germany, and the British intelligence had some facility to bend these waves. I guess it was a mistake at the time. But I do know there were other bombs dropped. There was some dropped in Fethard -Shelbourne co-op in Fethard Co. Wexford. I had a friend down there; he was a small kid at the time. There was a couple killed in the canteen of the Shelbourne co-op in Fethard at the time.

MR: Did you have any family or friends whose homes were bombed, and had to move out of the area?

MC: No, no I was only 5, I wasn’t really, I was only sort of in infants’ school at that stage in Fairview. That was just the sort the major event of that period that I can remember. Sometime later I remember I was in our back garden, in Fairview again, and we saw a dogfight with two fighter aircraft, flying over shooting at each other, and some of the kids went off and found some of the empty machine gun cases from the aircraft. But they were so high you couldn’t see who was who. I presume it was a German plane and a British plane, a British pilot.

MR: Do you remember any other things about the emergency, like the rationing or the glimmer man?

MC: Oh I remember that very well, we all had gas masks, you know. My sister decided, that she would get married, and she got married in 1946, and the rationing was still in existence at that stage. Everybody in the street sort of contributed to collecting coupons, so she could have a, some sort a trousseau, and we could put on some food for the wedding breakfast. I remember during the war, they had a lot of problems with the gas, because of the fact the coal boats were being shot at, and had difficulty in supplying the coal for the Gasometer. The people who lived in the area, they were warned not to use gas at certain periods of the day. That was what they called the ‘Glimmer’. Apparently it was just a residue of gas that was in the pipes, and it was considered dangerous to use this gas, as there was no pressure attached to it apparently. So the people, none the less, tried to cook food on this glimmer. But the gas company had a lot of inspectors going around. They had these orange coloured bicycles, and they would come into the area. And of course, as soon as they arrived, everybody knew they were looking to see who was cooking on the glimmer. So the word would go out that the glimmer men were in the area, and people would take the food off the gas cooker and put the hob into a bucket of water so they could cool it. If they were inspected, nobody would know that they had been using this gas cooker because the hob had been cooled in the cold water. In those days they had these penny meters. Most people had the gas, and they would put in pennies into this slot machine, and there was a bellows, and a penny gave you so many units of gas I guess. These guys the glimmer men also had these brown bags, and they would come to each house in the morning and open up the gas meter and collect the pennies out of it. And they would normally give a small rebate to the house owner, and the kids would get a couple penny’s each and they would go off and buy something like aniseed balls, you know you got 10 of these for a penny.

MR: Did kids play games play games? Like, the Germans and the Brits?

MC: In some cases, there was a lot of pro German sympathy, among a lot of the kids, I recall. There was one family and the father had, it was like my father, they had come out in 1916, and they were quite pro German in their attitude. No, but we didn’t tend to play war games at all at that stage.

MR: And do you remember Lord Haw Haw on the radio?

MC: Oh yes we used to listen to Lord Haw Haw. William Joyce was very popular in our house. We were very interested to listening to him, and he came on in the evenings. Interestingly enough, I met with a man out here in South Africa, who had been in Germany. He went to study in Germany and he caught up in the war. He was studying engineering and he spoke Afrikaans, which is a local language here. It’s based on Dutch, Dutch language. This guy ended up in Germany, and in those days, South Africa was a British protectorate. So this chap couldn’t get out of the country. He was approached by the propaganda ministry, and they gave him the job of going around with Hitler and Lord Haw Haw, and he would broadcast in Afrikaans from Hitler’s rallies, and he knew William Joyce quite well. Of course Joyce, when he was caught, they hanged him for treason, which was quite rather strange. Joyce was a rather interesting individual. I remember reading up about him at one stage. He worked in the West of Ireland, and although he was only a schoolboy, he was giving a lot of information to the British Authorities about the IRA, and the IRA put a contract out on him, and he was forewarned, and he fled Galway and ended up in England, where he got involved with Oswald Mosley, and that’s how he ended up in Germany broadcasting, for the Germans into England and Ireland. My father used get tickets to go to film shows in the Metropolitan Hall which was in Lower Abbey Street in those days and in this hall they had a lot of newsreel films and that sort of stuff, of German bombing.

MR: Do you have any memories of the pawnshops?

MC: Yes there was a pawnshop in Amiens Street. I’ll tell you what I do remember quite distinctly. My father worked for Dublin Corporation during this period, and I don’t know how he managed, it but he got a set of pram wheels, with axels, which would have been pretty scarce, and he made me a toboggan, with the four wheels and a plank and piece of rope to steer it with. Now, one of my functions was to go to Thompsons Saw Mills, which was off Philipsburg Avenue, and buy a sack of sawdust. And I got this great big, to me it seemed like an enormous, sack of sawdust, for sixpence, and then I would drag it home on the toboggan. And my father had a biscuit tin, and he had cut a hole in the bottom of this biscuit tin, a round hole, and he had a piece of cardboard the same diameter as the hole. And he held this cardboard over the hole, and packed in the sawdust very, very tightly. And eventually when he had the biscuit tin filled up with the sawdust, he would extract this cardboard tube. Then he put this tin box up on two big concrete blocks, which meant that the actual tin was up maybe six inches up off the ground. Then he’d get some newspaper and put it into the tube and he would put it into the hole and he would light it, and eventually the sawdust would burn. And at that stage, he’d put a pot on top to cook whatever we were having for dinner. I remember particularly that he did this if he had some piece of meat for Christmas or Easter or something like that, and he was very proud of this. We did have electricity, but it wasn’t available all the time, and this was to supplement the use of the electricity, he had this saw dust fire that he used. It was a large Jacobs’ biscuit tin, and this is how we did some of the cooking. Tea of course, was severely rationed, as was sugar and most other things, and my mother had this great idea that when we were finished the tea, she’d empty out the tea leaves on a piece of paper, and she he would leave them out to dry and the tea leaves would be recycled. Not very successfully, but if you put in an extra half a teaspoon of tea into it you could get a half reasonable cup of tea out of it. But a lot of people, certainly in our family, just stopped using sugar at that stage, and I still don’t take sugar in my tea, so I guess it’s like a throwback to those days.

MR: Do you have any memories of Christmas time during the war?

MC: Of Christmas time? Yes, we used to put up paper chains and this kind of thing. There certainly wasn’t much in the line of toys. I remember I used to get wooden toys rather than anything else, you know, a truck made out of timber with wooden wheels and that sort of stuff on it. I remember I had one of these. It was painted green, which I used to play with. At that stage Walt Disney was in vogue of course, Pluto was very much a part of, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Pluto. He was a dog, and I had this flat piece of timber, and there were four holes in the bottom of this timber, which had pieces of twine going through them, and you could pull these four pieces of twine, and the dog would collapse or stand up straight. You could manipulate these strings in such a way that this dog would sort of, move for you. It was a very simple kind of a thing. That was that.
We used to listen to broadcasts from the States, of the boxing. My father was very interested in boxing, and we used to listen to some broadcasts from Madison Square Garden. You know? People like Joe Lewis, that was boxing at the time. That was part of the entertainment. We also used to go into my Grandmother’s house, particularly at Christmas time, and they had a radio there. Now, this radio was battery operated, of course these batteries, you had to have them charged on a regular basis. We used to go in there and, possibly at Christmas, we would have all of the family come together, and of course there was not much entertainment. There was a piano in the place, and I had an uncle who played it, and I had an uncle who played the tin whistle. There was another couple of uncles who did recitations, and I had this cousin at the time, we were all of, sort of an age. This guy, his name was Sean, and Sean’s big claim to fame, was that he could sing Silent Night in German, and the rest of the kids really didn’t have a lot of time for this guy. He was such a bloody show off with his “Stille Nacht” all of the time.

MR: And what memories would you have of the very end of the war?

MC: None really, I can’t say I do. I remember my father bringing me to, there was an exhibition in the RDS and there was a tattoo [Military Tattoo] as well, and he brought me to that thing. And they had a dummy on a parachute, and a plane in the hall, and the tattoo was sort of held out in, where the horses jump, in the arena there, and they had a mock battle going on, with plenty of bangs and shouts and cannon guns going off. At one stage, if memory serves me right, Jans Smuts, he was subsequently the President of South Africa, he was in Dublin, and he was the guest of honour, and he took the review at the military parade on O’Connell Street. He was on a platform outside the GPO. I think he had been involved in the setting up of the Boundary Commissions when they were settling for partition he was one of the guys that was involved.

MR: Ok Mike, that’s fine, I’d like to thank you on behalf of the Archive for taking the interview this evening.

MC: Super! Thank you very much, Take care.

Interview ends

See Also: Mike Connolly’s Story

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