Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Town Scene by Zelly Restorick

Town Scene by Zelly Restorick

Light of other days

In a series of word pictures Sean O’Shea takes us on a journey back in time to his own townland as seen, heard and smelt by a child in the middle of the last century. In these short extracts he describes the people, a fair day, the school, a strange sight on the river bank and an Irish wake. The tale is beautifully illustrated by HOT’S Zelly Restorick.

The good people knelt in rows before the altar rails, their rosary beads hanging from their fingers, their eyes closed and their lips moving in prayer whispers. The Holy Spirit lived in the tabernacle. The red light in front of the tabernacle was the sign he was there.

The rich people sat at the front of the church at mass on Sundays. This was to be near the Holy Spirit. It also meant that their fine clothes could be seen by all. In the aisles the poorer people gathered, and at the back stood those who did not care too much to be seen.

The Holy Spirit could see everybody no matter where they stood.

God and His Flock by Zelly Restorick

God and His Flock by Zelly Restorick

The church was in the middle of the market place. Around the rails of the church the country people would tie up their horses and carts and their donkeys and carts too. Old women in black shawls would squat by the walls chewing tobacco and selling vegetables and paper flowers. They were joined there by peddlers, fortune tellers, jugglers and wandering minstrels, and often you could hardly hear yourself in the general hubbub.

Above the market place there was a big hill called the hill of gold. It was called the hill of gold because long, long ago the brave warriors buried their gold there deep in the ground so that no one could ever dig it up again. Since then many people tried to dig up the warrior’s gold. As the big people became greedier they even used diggers to try to get at the gold but no one could ever find the treasure.

Hill of Gold by Zelly Restorick

Hill of Gold by Zelly Restorick

From the top of the hill you could see the main streets of the town reaching out towards the farmlands. The streets were full of shops which sold everything you could think of and more besides. The shops were painted in gay colours by the house painter.  Beyond that was the great Atlantic Ocean. On calm sunny days the waves rippled playfully on the shoreline. Come winter the shoreline would be lashed and torn by breakers as big as houses.


Sally's Shop by Zelly Restorick

Sally's Shop by Zelly Restorick


Sally’s was my favourite shop. She sold bon bons, ice lollies, dried figs, biscuits and fresh cream cakes. At the back of her shop she sold porter and whiskey. The shop smelt of tea and lavender; the back usually reeked of piss and porter.

Each day Sally stood by her scales rocking from side to side weighing the tea and putting it in white bags, half pound bags and pound bags, turn and turn about. She stacked the tea on her marble counter. All the while she was watched by a large black cat who sat on the window sill.

Sally wore a hat to mass on Sunday. It was a blue hat with a great big silver pin the size of a poker stuck through it, in one side out the other, not a drop of blood anywhere. It would be a rare wind that could blow Sally’s hat off. On Fridays she would count the week’s takings. After that she would have a glass of sherry.

I spent a lot of time in Sally’s shop and knew all her routines. Yet sometimes she’d hardly notice I was there. This was because I could stay dead still for hours on end, just like the cat, watching all the comings and goings.

The priest would visit Sally once a month. In preparation for these visits she would have her hair permed and make up a nice coal fire in the parlour. She’d make dinner for the priest and then they’d retire to the parlour to listen to her favourite operas on the gramophone.  The priest would take off his white collar, put it on the mantel piece and light his pipe. The smell of his tobacco would fill the room, and he’d sometimes make smoke circles and wink at me as I sat in the corner. Before he left he would bend to stoke the smouldering embers. Then he would put his white collar back on again and bid Sally goodnight.

The Butcher by Zelly Restorick

The Butcher by Zelly Restorick

A fair day

‘Are you coming to the fair? ’ said the pig to the mare. ‘That I am to be sure and I’ll be taking you there.’ ‘And how long will we stay?’ said the pig to the mare. ‘Well I’ll soon be away to have me some hay. But you’ll have to stay, so make the best of your day.’

On a fair day all the country people would come to town with their cows and their horses and pigs. On such days the town would be covered in shit: cow shit, horse shit and pig shit. Sally would run out of her shop with great delight to collect some of the horse shit for her roses. On such days the townies found it very hard to get about without getting shit on their shoes. Some of them would wear wellies, but this did not protect them completely.

In the evening the big fire engine would come with the fire men to clean all the shit up with their long hoses. But this did not always work very well. Sometimes they would spread the shit around all the more and send it flying in waves up the streets going splatter, splatter on the windows of the shopkeepers. This would make the shopkeepers very angry indeed.

One day the butcher flew into such a terrible rage with the firemen for splattering his shop window that he cut their hoses with his meat cleaver. A civil war broke out between the firemen and the shopkeepers. The baker joined in and then the harness maker, and the cobbler and the green grocer. There was such an affray that the Garda (police)  had to be called to restore order, and one half of the town refused to speak to the other half for ages thereafter.

School by Zelly Restorick

School by Zelly Restorick

Back to school

After the fair day it was back to school. The school smelt of dettol and paraffin. The paraffin was for sprinkling on the turf to make it burn better and keep the school warm. The school was never warm. Not even in summer would the school be warm. There was an old clock in the corner above the master’s desk. There were long hands on the clock like spider’s legs. Sometimes the spider’s legs would stay perfectly still and not move at all.

The lessons were hard. The catechism was especially hard. There were blue questions, red questions and black questions, going from what was supposed to be easy on to the more difficult. An easy one was: who made the world? God made the world. Another easy one was: who is God? God is our father in heaven, the ruler and guide and he is all powerful and made everything in six days because he loved us so much, and he is perfectly good and lives everywhere and knows everything, even our most secret thoughts and actions. On the seventh day God rested because he was well pleased and a bit tired after all his creating.

The priest came to check that you knew the answers off by heart. The priest had no lips, or the lips that he had were so thin, it looked as if he had no lips at all. When he drank the wine from the chalice which was really the blood of Jesus, he would wipe his mouth with a white napkin over and over again. This was how his lips got worn away. Next to the clock behind the masters desk hung a crucifix from a rusty nail. A cobweb dangled from the rusty nail.

After school you could do anything you liked. There was plenty to do with fishing and building damns and fires. You could roast fish and bake potatoes on the fire. The big boys would tell stories of the wild animals in the woods and the ghosts that haunted the castle.

There would be a beautiful red glow all over the world as the sun went down. And as darkness fell and I made my way home under the twinkling stars, I’d gaze up at the sky and compete with the big boys to see who’d be the first to spot the Plough, the Flying Horse, the Bull, the Hunter, the Herdsman and the Lion.

Starlight Walking by Zelly Restorick

Starlight Walking by Zelly Restorick

In part two of Light of Other Days Sean O’Shea will describe an adventure by the river, the winter drawing in and an Irish wake.

SOS Dec 2014













Posted 15:26 Thursday, Dec 18, 2014 In: SOS

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