My name is Patricia Clarke (nee Leech) and my sister is Margaret Kelly (nee Leech). My father was Walter Leech and my mother Mary Henderson.
I was born on the 19th July 1932, my sister was born on 20th May 1930. We lived at 19 North William St with my father, older brother Jim, younger brother Colm and baby sister Deirdre. My mother had just died on the 2nd March of 1941. She was 32, leaving a young family, my brother Jim was 13, Margie was 10, I was 8 and a half, Colm was 6 and Deirdre was only 1 and a half.
My father came from Charleville Mall, his parents before him had a business bringing turf and wood from the country on the barges along the canals for CIE and other companies. They lived in a cottage on the canal at Ballybough Bridge. My uncle worked on the barges and when they came from the country, they would put the horses in the stables at the cottage on the canal for feeding and resting. When my father got married his parents gave him the house at 19 North William Street as a wedding present. The house was directly opposite St Agatha’s Church on the corner of North William Street and Dunne Street (where the old folks homes were later built).
My mother came from No. 20 Summerhill Parade. My mother’s father, David Henderson was Corporal in the British Army and fought in the Boer War and in India. When he returned to Dublin he opened a shoe repair business in the front room which was converted to a shop, at the family home at No. 20 Summerhill Parade. My Grandmother, (my mother’s mother), came from Arklow and moved to Summerhill Parade when she got married, she lived all her life there and died at a ripe old age of 99 and eight months (she just missed her £100 birthday gift from the Government by 4 months). After my grandfather died Mr Byrne rented the shoe repair shop and carried on his business there until he died years later.
My grandmother’s house was later turned into Tony Gregory’s offices for a short time before it was demolished and apartments built in its place.
No. 19 North William Street was a two storey house with a basement, two kitchens, three bedrooms, sitting room, dining room and an area in the front. We had a tenant who lived in the basement, Jem Lee and two sisters who lived upstairs. At the time, my father had employed a lady Mary Markey to look after us after my mother had died and she lived in the sitting room.
On the night of 31st May 1941, I was awakened with a terrible noise of banging at our bedroom door. The lady who looked after us was shouting “Walter, Walter (my father), get up, get up, we are being bombed”. (On the funny side now, she ran down the stairs in her bloomers and her vest with her handbag tied around her arm with an elastic band).
We all got a terrible fright. We were all gathered together and my father ushered us all down under the stairs, the family, the housekeeper, the tenants, my father, all huddled in under the stairs. All except Jem Lee, he was deaf and he couldn’t hear us calling him. We were all praying and crying at the same time. There was a silence for a long time after the bombing so we all went into the kitchen and sat down on the couch.
We heard another terrible noise, we all started to scream and cry we were thrown off the sofa to the stone floor, the soot came down the chimney and covered us, we were all black. My Uncle Bill who had come down from my grandmother’s on Summerhill Parade to check that we were all right and was standing at the hall door and was thrown down the stairs. This time the bomb had exploded on the North Strand. I believe the time was about 1.30 a.m. My father had gone upstairs to see what was happening. My sister Margie got under the arm of the couch with the baby Deirdre, I went looking for my father and myself and my younger brother Colm ran upstairs after him, just as I passed the window on the landing, it came in pieces behind me. I was really lucky but frightened. My brother Jim appeared with a tin helmet on his head and said he was going out to help; he had only recently joined the ARP as a messenger boy….Hence the helmet. My father stopped him from going out, he was 13 years old.
My Uncle had spoken on the steps to a Mr Boyle, who was on his way down William Street to check on his wife, we later heard that she had been killed in the explosion.
I remember too, an ARP man called to ask was everybody safe in the house and we were to go over to the shelter under the church. But my father kept us in the house.
All the neighbours were going to the shelter, where they were looked after. My father would not leave the house. I think my father thought we might be separated. Even when the house was being repaired he would not leave it and it was a long while after that before they were all repaired and in a fit state. It was probably the 1960s before the site was eventually cleared.
My older sister Margie and baby sister Deirdre went to my grandmother’s house on Summerhill Parade, as they went up William Street past the convent, the basement windows were smashed and they could see the children and the nuns crying and praying, they got to my grandmother’s house and stayed for a few hours, to see that she was ok.
I could not sleep for weeks after that.
The next day we went up on to the steps of the house to have a look out, there was a rope tied from our railings across William Street to the bomb site, so we had to stay put in the house. If you went out side the rope the men in charge would not believe we lived in the house that had the rope tied on it.
All we could see was rubble and glass and slates on the road, it was terrible.
All the neighbours were rehoused while their houses were being repaired, but my father would not leave the house even though it was in a bad state, again he was afraid we would all be separated and of course with my mother only dead a couple of months, he wanted to keep us all together. It was a long time after that before all the houses were repaired.
When I got the gas mask and the evacuation card, I cried in bed for a long time every night thinking we were all going to be separated and sent down the country to different people and away from my father. I still have that card and whenever I look at it, I get very sad.
There was a siren put on the school roof and every Saturday it would go off as a test and I suppose so that people would be ready in case of another emergency.
Margie’s sad memory of that time was a telegraph boy on a motor bike delivering a telegram down to William Street, he did not see the rope and drove into it and he was killed instantly outside our house. He was about seventeen years of age. She has never forgotten him, but never heard anything about him after that.
Gaynor’s sweet shop was just around the corner from our house on Dunne Street, we could go out the back door up the steps, out the gate and into Dunne Street. On the night of the bomb itself my brother Jim came in and told us that the shop was blown in and that there were sweets and chocolate all over the street. My father wouldn’t let Jim out again to pick up sweets and we were dying for some.
My husband Desmond Clarke lived in Pearse Street at the time and he had heard the drone of the planes. He got out of bed to look as he had a great view over the city, and he saw the bomb being dropped, now I don’t know if it was the North Strand or the North Circular Road.
After that there was of course a state of emergency.
After the Bomb
As I said the site wasn’t cleared until the 1960s however, we had a great time playing.
We used to build houses on the site, with all the bricks, we had a bedroom, kitchen, sitting room, even a hall door, we didn’t have bathrooms in them though!
In the winter when it snowed we made slides with the rubble, we had a great time playing on that site.
We used to collect ‘chaneys’ (coloured broken glass) on the bomb site and set up shops and pretend to sell the sweets.
On Sunday mornings, Hector Gray would set up on the bomb site and sell from a van. (I think this is how he started out), I remember him well.
During the war time of course we had to put up Dark Curtains, or anything black on the windows, there were no lights.
The Glimmerman Calls
I remember well how we got gas in the middle of the day, we had been shown to stick a knife in the Gas meter and turn and it gave us more than the glimmer. Of course when the glimmerman came around to collect the money out of the meter we would be short and have to pay anyway, but at least we got a bit of credit.
I remember the rationing, there was a shop in Portland Row which used to sell loaves and we would hear about it and go around to queue, you might be queuing for 2 hours for your loaf of bread.
We were lucky, my father worked in the North City Mill and he was able to get sacks of flour, he had to buy them of course, but they would be delivered to the door. We used to make lovely bread and pancakes.
We used to buy the turf or coal by the stone up in Summerhill, this would last for about 2 days if we were lucky.
Of course Tea, Sugar, Butter, Jam were all rationed, but we had coupons, we were allowed a certain amount per person but that would run out of course during the week and we would have to go to the black market for tea. We didn’t mind the butter, because we could fry the bread.
We used to make toffee squares with Cocoa and condensed milk, mix it like a paste and put it into a tin box and leave to set over night, we used to call these chocolate squares.
Editor’s Note: Memories written at Fighting Words Writing Workshop on North Strand Bombing at Casino Forum Group, Marino, Dublin 3, 17 June 2011