OUR TOWN c. 1850 - 2000


This house was built circa 1880, but an earlier one was occupied by John Robinson who was succeeded by Patrick Bryan and, in the 1860's, George Blong. The immediate lessor was the previously-mentioned Rev. John T. Moore. In the 1840's, a George Blong was a butcher in Portarlington and, given the strong Huguenot connection with that town, I think it's reasonable to assume that his surname is a corruption/local pronunciation of the French Blanc. [There is still, incidentally, a Blong family in Edenderry, about 25 km from Portarlington]. Anyway, George Blong was living here in 1864, but it is interesting to note that, six years later, he appeared in Slater's Directory, as George Blanc.

In March 1901, Jane Bell, a native of County Antrim, was living here with her son Patrick. He is described as "caretaker". Ten years later, the occupants are John and Margaret Brophy and their infant daughter. John is listed as "Caretaker of Billiard Room". I can only assume that both job descriptions refer to the Men's Social Club on the ground floor. And here there is some difference of opinion. In January, 1910, the Leinster Express referred to the premises as hosting the Catholic Young Men's Society, and I have seen the place similarly described in the Cancellation Books and elsewhere. But some of my informants are adamant that this was not the Catholic club. The latter, they maintain, was in the old tennis pavilion which stood on what eventually became the grounds of the present Catholic Church1.

Almost half a century later, in apparent contradiction of its reference above, the Leinster Express wrote that the CYMS wasn't established until 1954. In its issue of January 1, 1956, the paper enthused that 'the club has succeeded in taking youths off the streets', and a local priest went into overdrive: 'there was something Christ-like about the CYMS'. [Eddie Boylan, incidentally, calls the premises the Young Mens Society Club and makes no reference to any denomination.]

In its early days, The Catholic Young Men's Society - wherever it was based - had its own Brass Band. In May 1880, for instance, it led Land League celebrations after the sale of cattle - confiscated for non-payment of rent - was generously thwarted by Charles Gowing and John Dunne. It seems that Land League events were never short of music: at a meeting in the Market Square in 1881, the CYMS band was joined by four others: Ballyroan Brass Band, Mountrath Brass Band, Maryborough Fife & Drum Band and Summerhill Fife & Drum Band.

Anyway, in later years, the premises in the picture were known simply as 'The Club' where young men of the town gathered to play snooker, billiards and cards. One of my most elderly informants also recalled that, in the 1930's, barefoot man could be seen standing outside this building. She thought that there was some sort of Welfare office here.

An upstairs room was the weekly meeting-place of the Legion of Mary. I was a member of the Junior Praesidium - the organisation of the Legion was modelled on the Roman army - where, under the watchful eyes of Timmy Scully and Kevin O'Rourke (who we've already met as a musical Viking), I did my best to be a good young Catholic. Armed with my own personal rosary beads, leather-bound missal, a miraculous medal pinned to my vest and the Magnificat tripping off my tongue, I set out to storm the gates of Heaven. One of my 'good works' was to deliver 'holy newspapers' around the town. And so, on Saturday afternoons, bearing The Standard, The Irish Catholic and my little red notebook, I was a foot soldier in the army of Mary, beset by barking dogs, ridiculed by older boys, snarled at by the odd cat on a window-sill, praying that my knock would be answered not by the usual 'oul wan' asking for my mother, but a smiling girl my own age. But I never advanced much further in the Legion because, shortly after this, I got my first guitar, swapped the rosary beads for a plectrum, and Hail Queen of Heaven and I'll Sing A Hymn to Mary were usurped by Bob Dylan and The Beatles.

In later years, part of the building housed Mrs Babs Doody's hairdressing salon, but it stands vacant today.


1 The tennis court and its pavilion stood on the Dublin Road side, near where the Vincent de Paul shop is today. The court was perceived by many I spoke to as being the preserve of posh Catholics, and a favourite pastime of local young lads, I was told, was "climbing this big wall to look at the wans in the short skirts". By the way, those who, as the saying goes, "kicked with the other foot" (or served with the other hand?) had "their own" tennis club down by the Dead Wall.