Betty Keogh was 5 years and 8 months at the time of the bombing. She lived with her parents and brother in a rented room at 10 Charleville Mall. The house was completely destroyed by bombing and family lost all of their possessions, later receiving just £18 compensation. Betty talks about her memories of the night, including sheltering in the basement and at nearby convent. She also discusses the aftermath of bombing, playing in the rubble as a child, moving in with her aunt in East Wall, and her father joining the British Army.
Listen to Betty’s story here:
Duration: 00:23:17 mins
Project Name: North Strand Bombing Oral History Project Phase 3
Track Number: 01
Date of Interview: 23rd June 2011
Name of Interviewee: Elizabeth Gormley nee Keogh (Betty Keogh) (BK)
Name of Interviewer: Marc Redmond (MR)
Place of Interview: The Lab Foley Street.
Name of Transcriber: Eileen Gogan.
Length of Track: 00:23:17
MR: This interview is taking place on 23 June 2011 in the Lab on Foley street. Present are Elizabeth Gormley Nee Keogh , Liz Gormley (also known as) and the interview is being carried out by Marc Redmond on behalf of Dublin City Archives. Betty thanks very much for coming in this morning, can I ask you your date of birth and what age were you in 1941?
BK: My date of birth is 26th of September 1935 and I was 5 and 8 months the night of the bombing.
MR: And you were living at home at the time
BK: We lived, we had a room rented from a family on Charleville Mall, number 10 Charleville Mall we lived.
MR: And who was living in that house, were you living with brothers and sisters…
BK: My brother, my mother, my father and the family that owned the house we just had a room upstairs.
MR: And what did your parents do, what did your father do? Work wise?
BK: He was a lorry driver at the time and my mother was just looking after us.
MR: And what do you remember about the night of the 30-31st of May, the night of the bomb?
BK: Well I remember wakening up and being a five year old I had no concept of time or anything like that just that it was dark and my mother and father over by the window looking up at the sky. There was big shutters on those windows years ago and they had the shutters opened and they were all upset and noise going on and screaming going on and like huge explosions all over the place. So being five and me brother was eight we didn’t know even to ask questions, you know. But I know shortly after that my father went out to investigate what was going on and he was gone for a long time and then the family of that house had a son I suppose in his twenties at the time and after a while my mother went out to look where was my father gone and she put myself and me brother into bed with the son of this house and we were, I can still see the three of us in the bed (laughs) and we were each side of this guy in the bed and there was another explosion and the whole back fell out of the house and I can just see it as if it happened last night. Honestly.
MR: That must have been a tremendous shock for the three of you
BK: My brother remembers, my brother remembers us coming down the stairs, this guy holding us by the hand, me mother and father were still gone and my brother remembers coming down the stairs and the stairs full of broken glass and broken windows and fires kind of everywhere I don’t remember that now. But I do remember being brought as I thought, I only heard on Saturday it was a basement but I thought it was an air raid shelter under the church. But the historian guy that was showing that film on Saturday he said there was a basement ran under all those houses and under the library and under the church so (coughs) he said they were probably in a basement.
[Betty is referring to screening of ‘Dublin’s North Strand Bombing’ Documentary produced by Philip Gallagher’, with Q & A session with Dr. Michael Kennedy at Charleville Mall Library, 18 June 2011]
But we were there just myself and me brother loads of women crying and saying the rosary and loads of kids running around not understanding what was going on thinking it was great fun, going around in your nightdress or whatever like that and I must have fell asleep at some stage then because the next thing I only found out last Saturday that was a quarter past two in the morning that that bomb fell. So it was that time and it was only then I remember being brought from the shelter across the road there’s a convent there? The Irish Sisters of Charity
BK: and we were brought over there and the nuns gave us tea and bread
MR: did you see or did you remember much about the aftermath of it?
BK: the aftermath of that is what was in that film the other night, the whole North Strand was just full of rubble for years because as kids we used to play there. So it was full of rubble for years and then eventually the rubble was cleared but it was still always left an empty space, you know till then they built those flats that are there now
MR: and were you unfortunate enough to know anybody who was killed on that night or
BK: I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t because I was five.
MR: and you obviously wouldn’t have even been in school you probably weren’t even in school at that time
BK: I wasn’t even in school. In those years you went to school when you were six.
MR: and what about army activity or ARP or activity on the night?
BK: ARP were heavy on the ground. There was loads of them knocking around and everything else because after we got the tea and bread from the nuns I remember going around with…I don’t ever remember seeing me father again. But I do remember me mother bringing us around and there was absolutely nothing left all we had was what was on us, yes. And she had a sister in East Wall who was married with eight children and they took us in and my father went, he must have went straight away to Northern Ireland and he joined the British Army ’cause the next time I saw him, you know I don’t remember him coming back from investigating what was going on, you know I don’t ever remember seeing him again till he went to Northern Ireland joined up the British Army and after a short time of training, he was being shipped out to South East Asia and me mother and me brother and myself went up on the train to Newry to say goodbye to him.
MR: and that would have been…
BK: and them we didn’t see him for eight years
MR: so that would have been immediately after kind of the North Strand Bombings
BK: Immediately after, he must have went immediately after because I don’t recall even seeing him
MR: Yes. Yes
BK: he did, certainly didn’t move in with us to our sisters in East Wall
MR: and can you remember what the, what the talk would have been around with the adults at the time? About whether they thought this was, did they think this was going to happen again or…?
BK: yes, they didn’t know and it was all “oh my god, like what was that?” and “what, will it happen again tonight or the next night?” or whatever not knowing and puzzled completely, completely puzzled and why
MR: how did you fare out losing everything and did you did you…
BK: every single thing we lost
MR: did you get did you end up getting any clothes from the corporation or or, anything like that?
BK: no my mother’s sisters really helped out big time there. She had a sister in Emerald street off Seville Place and this other sister in East Wall and who they, they had big families of kids so they helped out in regards to clothing and things like that you know.
MR: and did you stay in that house out in East Wall for the, for the rest of the duration or
BK: no we only stayed there for a little while. My mother at the time was offered Cabra
BK: You know older people in Cabra would probably have originally come from the North Strand. But my mother at the time Cabra was the country (laughs) she wouldn’t go. So we ended up getting another room, rented another room on, still on the North Strand. [Albra] Parade and we lived there for a while. And then we moved from there to Amien Street.
BK: And then when I was fourteen, we moved, we got a house in Inchicore. That was the first time we ever had a house.
MR: So you had stayed in that area a good while after the bombing
BK: Yes till I was fourteen.
MR: What was it like were there many people still living around that area at the time or were most of the people you knew or your family knew gone completely gone out to Cabra?
BK: Well families would have been gone to Cabra, most people took Cabra. My mother wouldn’t take Cabra she wouldn’t leave the North Strand
MR: and was there any, was there any kind of businesses or anything still in existence?
BK: There was still shops, there was still shops along there
MR: just the odd shop?
BK: ’cause I remember going over there was a lovely cake shop right at the Five Lamps. There was Byrne’s grocery shop ’cause I remember going over there for messages for my Mam and cakes and there was a chemist. And that bend there just at the Five Lamps. So there was shops there. And there was a shop at the corner of the traffic lights there at the Five Lamps there was a shop there, shops on the other side, there was still a lot of businesses going. But that big space was still empty after the bombing, all the buildings that were destroyed were just left like that for years
MR: how long, would it have been ten years or more?
BK: it was longer as far as I can remember, ’cause if I…. It would have been ten, we’ll say ten. So I’m trying to go by I was five nearly six and up to, still in school and I was playing there in the rubble. We used to put all the broken bricks all around like that playing house you know. That was your, that was your house. And then they cleared it all and we used to make slides there in the winter because all the rubble was gone but it was just flat you know. For years, yes. But then in the film that lad, that historian lad on Saturday said, I think in the film he said in the sixties they built those flats,
MR: the flats yes
BK: yes, yes.
MR: so in the mean time you had hoarding, the odd shop and then the odd pub was just was just left that way
BK: there was a chipper, there was a chipper, there was a chipper there yes, roll up your single in newspaper (laughs) remember that.
MR: and your father went off to join the British Army
BK: he did
MR: how did that affect your family and had a long period of not seeing him.
BK: well it was kind of good because he drank and my mother didn’t have a a good time with him.
BK: he drank a lot and he was a bit violent on drink so when he was gone he was gone and the army the British Army sent her her pay. So kind of through the whole second world war, we were fine
MR: and did you, did people at the time,
MR: did they follow the course of the war you might have been a bit young ,but were there was there a fear that maybe there was going to be another bombing or an invasion?
BK: yes there was always that yes. And always of course no telly or anything but everyone had radio
BK: you know and you’d be always tuned into that for the news and what was happening and what was happening and you know all that yes, very conscious of that.
MR: and would you remember things like Lord Haw Haw on the radio?
BK: yes yes
MR: funny voice
MR: and then what other things would you remember like issuing gas masks and that type of thing.
BK: yes we all had gas masks yes
MR: what was the story there?
BK: yes well every house depending on how many were in the house and the rationing of course
BK: all the rationing the ration books and everything else but we all had the gas mask. If there was ten people in the house there was ten gas masks you know. We had three because me Mammy, me brother and myself.
MR: and they were brought somewhere else.
BK: and they were in a little square box and we used to play with them you know but every house had them, every person had one yes
MR: and what kind of other, it must have been very difficult obviously, you know your mother bringing all these up on her own.
MR: would there have been any kind of commotion with the glimmer man or that type of thing or…
BK: always with the glimmer (laughs) you would be all day boiling a kettle of water like you know it was so it was the lowest of the low. Yes I remember that. And people had, had things out the back the back they didn’t have back gardens they had back yards
BK: and any bit of space at all a bit of clay to grow vegetables they would grow something that you could eat, not flowers and. But I remember they had these things it was like a tin barrel about that size full, I don’t know what this is now and people don’t know what I’m talking about but I remember it distinctly and it was kind of stuffed with saw dust and like say you shoved a pole down the middle and made a hole and that was lit and that burned eventually like it would take a while for that to hotten up and burn and turn red and they used to use that to help to cook. But that was out in the back yard it wasn’t in the house you know
MR: it was another…
BK: so that kind of helped someone else remember that
MR: I met up with there was another man
BK: (laughs,) anyone that I tell that to they do say, they don’t know what I’m talking about you know.
MR: there was a man I interviewed called Kevin Mullen last year and he said exactly the same thing
BK: Go way
BK: Strange I don’t even know what they called it you know
MR: they used to stuff he said his father used to stuff a biscuit tin full of saw dust
BK: yes make a hole in the middle…Yes
MR: and what other memories do you have do you remember seeing planes or or hearing explosions
BK: No but me Mother would always say that she looked into the pilot’s eyes, she used to say ’cause he was so low, he was so low and then there was all the different theories why it happened and all that sort of thing you know which we learned a lot about in that film the other day.
MR: of course yes
BK: yes we learned a lot from that
MR: and what other things did you do as a child. I mean it must have been very disruptive moving into the other house with all the other kids did you settle in or was it cramped.
BK: Settled in because they were all first cousins and there’s some of them still alive now. One died actually last week she was ninety, the other two that are alive one is my age and the other is eighty five or something. But I was saying it to her on the phone and I said do you remember us moving in after the bombing? ‘Cause the older ones of that family had been sent up to the North Strand to see were we ok you know.
MR: yes, yes
BK: Like go up and see is Dora ok and Betty and all and all that. This cousin anyway I spoke to her last week on the phone and she said of course I remember sure there was six of us in the bed, kicking each other and pulling the clothes off each other an all but I do remember being there yes and they were so good
MR: and how big was it would it have been a similar sized house…
BK: it was only a little house on Russell Avenue in East Wall
MR: East Wall
BK: and there was eight kids and the mother and father so there was already ten people in that house and they took the three of us in yes.
MR: and how did that affect your relationship.
BK: It was hard, it was hard going because they with so many kids and that I remember I would always tell my kids the same story what was what those kids wore was taken off them when they came in from school and washed and dried and ironed for tomorrow.
BK: ‘Cause that’s all they had that’s all you had what was on you, you know it was hard, it was hard
MR: and would you remember other things like the pawn shops?
BK: Yes of course I do.
MR: and what was the situation
BK: I would be bashed if I went near a pawn shop (laughs) ’cause a young one I went to school with they were always in the pawn and if I went with her I would be bashed for coming near ’cause my mother didn’t do that.
MR: and what was the situation…
BK: she really didn’t … my father did when he was there like he’d pawn you like for the drink yes but of course I remember the pawn shops yes.
MR: and that was a kind of a way of life it was a currency for people you know
BK: a way of life of course it was. There used to be stories about like the man of the house would be, would have nothing to wear till Saturday and then the, his suit would be taken out of the pawn on Saturday to go to mass on Sunday.
MR: and put back in.
BK: and put back in Monday morning, that’s a fact yes, that really happened.
MR: and can you remember other things like even how you would have still been very young for school and all that what kind of things how did you keep yourselves occupied during the day
BK: we just played like I’m saying about the old rubble you made pretend walls with the rubble that was your house and that was your door and that was your window and we just amused ourselves and all played together you know me brother all the boys played with the girls we all played together and we kind of looked out for each other and me brother was three years older than me he was always my hero, yes
MR: and again you would have been very young at the time but I mean years later when you were coming up to when you were ten or even a teenager did the gravity of the whole thing ever come back to haunt you?
BK: it was lonely yes absolutely that, the night of the bombing as I say I was five and eight months and it will never go out of me head. I remember it so distinctly you know. Sometimes I don’t remember what happened this morning but seventy years ago I can remember as I if it happened last night yes .
MR: I suppose it was a big adventure as well was it?
BK: yes, yes it was kind of fun being a kid because not knowing the gravity or what was going on just thought it was funny everyone going around in nightdresses you know. It’s just, it was weird then growing up and playing around the streets and it was a lonely time too because me mother had to work. She worked till eleven o’clock at night on Amiens Street Station scrubbing the trains. So the women that owned the house where we lived she used to put me and me brother to bed and we would be asleep by the time me mam would come in you know. They were lonely times too. But there was no, then me father was gone. So there was no drinking or fighting or wrecking the place ’cause he was gone. So it was good for the eight years that he was gone.
MR: and how did things, when he eventually came back after eight years how did the war effect him or was it?
BK: He never, ever would speak about it, the, what he had seen or what he had experienced. He was a driver in the Royal Engineers and drove like from pillar to post with supplies, food and that for the troops. But he went through the whole World War Two in south East Asia in Burma and then after that he went straight from there to Germany to Munich to work for an American organisation UNNRA, U N N R A, [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] whatever that stood for and they were an American organisation rehousing people in Germany after the war and that’s how he was eight years gone like the whole war and then Germany and then when he did come home we didn’t know who he was, I was twelve when he came home I didn’t know who he was.
MR: that must have been a bizarre experience. Did it take long to…
BK: and then he couldn’t settle and he was drinking again and it was kind of back to square one.
MR: and do you think his war experiences would have, wouldn’t have helped
BK: I think just added to whatever problem he had with the drink I would think it added yes.
MR: and do you think a lot of there would have been a lot of unemployment at the time as well do you think there would have been a lot of men idle
BK: A lot of men idle and a lot of men going to England. He went he ended up going back to England he died, he actually died in England, yes he’s buried in England. But he ended up going back to England. Everyone went to England like you know.
MR: Unusual as it might seem do you have any good memories from back then things like Christmas and that type of thing
BK: It was always nice because it was always just the three of us, myself and me brother and me Mam. And she would, she worked so hard and would always make it the best she could with the little she had, you know.
MR: And was there anything else of significance that you can remember? Just, just, generally from the period or about the night in question, anything that sticks in your head?
BK: No what I’ve told you now is about as much as I remember about that night because I must have fell asleep at some stage being only five.
BK: I must have fell asleep because there’s a kind of a gap between going to the air raid shelter and going to the nuns for the cup of tea in the morning you know so I must have fell asleep at some stage
MR: And did the Nuns do much follow up stuff after that, with the community did they?
BK: you know Ellen it was Ellen said to me, Ellen Murphy?
MR: yes Ellen Murphy
BK: she said to me she said that’s very strange Betty. Your only the second person that mentioned that the nuns helped but so I don’t know if they did anymore than that I mean over the years I was always sent to that convent because they used to knit men’s socks and men’s jumpers and an aunt of mine used to get them done for her husband. I used to have to go to that convent and collect them you know (Cough). So I don’t know if they did a lot about the bomb victims or the bombing victims or that. All I remember is sitting there with big wooden tables and chairs and they giving us tea and bread that’s all I remember.
MR: and can you remember if things like the blackout would have been more strict after the bombing
BK: Yes I do remember that I do remember that
MR: I remember the ARP guys and did he have you hounded?
BK: yes absolutely I do remember that yes
MR: and that continued after…
BK: and most of those houses at the time maybe they still have ’cause there’s a lot of those houses still there, had the big wooden shutters that closed over like that. So it was completely blackout. Always made aware of that you know even as kids adults telling you that close the curtains close.
MR: and there was some speculation I believe at the time among the young men that they were speculating whether it was the Brits or the Germans that did this do you remember anything about that “………….”
BK: yes there was always a question mark over like who did it and why did they do it and all that you know but as I say I learned a lot from that film on Saturday that we saw on Saturday and it sort of clarified a few things and still at the same time it’s still not for definite.
MR: exactly yes
BK: because the lad the historian lad I can’t remember his name. He said they’re still investigating and still in touch with Germany as regards that
MR: Michael Kennedy that man’s name is yes, yes very nice man
BK: is it Michael yes lovely guy lovely guy yes very intelligent guy.
MR: Betty that’s great we’ll conclude that unless there’s anything else you would like to add
BK: that’s about as much as I remember now Mark yes
MR: that’s great
BK: me brother I got onto me brother there on the phone to before the anniversary thing happened to see would he like to come but he’s very…he’s waiting to get two new knees
MR: ah right yes
BK: and all this he just wouldn’t have been able. But I was saying to him like what do you remember and he remembered exactly the same as me, only the bit coming down the stairs and the lad of the house holding our hands and broken, I don’t remember that, broken glass everywhere and fires everywhere and of course screaming and noise and you know.
MR: and did you did you get any compensation for it?
BK: eighteen pounds my mother got and I have the receipt
MR: you’re joking
BK: I have it, I can’t find it at the moment ’cause I had a lot of papers belonging to me father dealing with his army career and UNNRA career after the war and a nephew of mine is very interested in all that and he has all them and I think in that bundle of stuff is the receipt
BK: but it’s a receipt for eighteen pound
MR: and you lost absolutely everything
BK: absolutely everything there wasn’t a stick of furniture or anything to wear
MR: there presumably wasn’t anything worth even going back and having a look for? It was that bad
BK: no, went back and looked, I remember we went back and looked but there was nothing. But that whole row of houses, if you, I don’t know, do you know Charleville Mall?
MR: I do yes, yes
BK: it kind of backed onto a lane which I don’t know if that lane is still there but I think the whole row of houses I think, the backs just fell out of them like, like cards
MR: yes ’cause I could see it falling you know? Honestly
MR: Betty thanks very much for coming in this morning
BK: ok love
MR: and I’ll conclude the interview now thanks a million for coming
BK: ok Marc thank you.
See Also: Betty’s Story