I introduced my then girl friend to my grandfather who asked, “where are you from”. She replied “Clondalkin, County Dublin”. “Oh, a country girl and from which end of the village” he asked. She informed him she lived in Fox and Geese, off Robinhood road. “Near where the Camac (river) can be seen” he interrupted and much to my surprise, as I had no idea my grandfather would have known any of these far-flung places in the Countryside. To me he was a “true Blue, Dub” who had never ventured beyond the city limits. And there began the telling of his life story.
He, Joseph, was born 1897 in tenements in Delahunty’s Buildings, where now stands Scruffy Murph’s Pub, Lower Mount, off the corner of the famous Clanwilliam House and across from the Grand Canal. As a child he played on the canal and watched the older lads swimming during summer months. The canal was the great divide between tenement life on the north banks and the more affluent life of Northumberland Road and Baggot street on the south banks. It was possibly the only amenity to be enjoyed by young tenement dwellers, for they had little of anything and an abundance of misery, for times were hard. By the age of 12 he had finished school, a total of 6 years, then down to live with his grandfather in Carnew, where Joseph worked as a servant in Carnew Castle. He worked there for a few years, missed the great lockout of 1913 but also missed the city and the canal, so returned home to work in a grain stores between Spencer Dock and the end of the canal. This was heavy manual work and poorly paid. With badly blistered hands he applied and joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, trained in Beggars Bush barracks, then to Nass, and then to Valentia Island to protect the cable station as WW1 began.
There he stayed till October 1914, until he was shipped off, first England and then France. Unknown to Joseph, while he was half way through WW1, a girl he had grown up with, Winifred, and would later marry, had moved out with her sister from the tenements to a flat, in a large house at the junction of Percy Place and Northumberland Road, looking across McKenny Bridge, now known as Mount Street bridge. In 1916 Winifred and her sister witnessed first-hand, the Battle of Mount Street bridge, where British troops came under attack from a small group of volunteers of the Easter Rising and suffered their worst casualties of the rising. 240 killed or wounded soldiers lay on or under the bridge or on the north and south banks.
On Joseph’s return from the war, he got a job in Guinness Brewery. He began in the “Scald Banks” near the dry dock of the canal, at the rear of the brewery, scrubbing out the huge wooden barrels, before they were refilled with stout. Then he worked on the barges which transported the barrels along the canal to Robertstown. This was when he became familiar with all the lock gates, including the 9th lock, Clondalkin. At this point he was still living in lower Mount Street but no longer in the tenements. He and Winifred married and moved a small house in Grattan Court, just off the canal where they raised their family.
He was involved with the Mount street club who transported turf along the canal Kildare on to the 9th lock to unload some for their farm in Larkfield Farm, Clondalkin, then into the Spencer Dock with the rest for distribution amongst the poor.
In his retirement he spent many days sitting not far from where the statue of the poet Patrick Kavanagh now sits.