Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On A Cold Winter's Evening

Always at this time of year my thoughts return to my childhood in Ringsend, Dublin where at night time my small avenue was lit by two wonderful ornate street lamps, one in the middle of the street the other at the end corner. When it was foggy, and that was quite often with sea fog and smog from the coal fires, I'd be mesmerised by the orange glow from the street light shining through the thick mist which swirled around it.

Inside my house the living room would be in darkness, the only light coming from the coal fire blazing away in the open grate. The mantlepiece was one of the old beige tiled types which you don't see much of nowadays. Another distant light would be from the kitchen where my mother would be busy cooking dinner. You accessed the kitchen from the living room down a steep step.

Winters in the 1950s and '60s were harsh and as I'd lie curled up on the sofa in that semi-darkened living room I'd listen to the howling winds whistling through the gaps in the sash window while also listening to Radio Eireann, Ireland's only radio station at the time. Once a week at around 5.00pm the voice that enthralled me was that of the late Eamon Kelly, the "seanchai" (an Irish word meaning "storyteller" or "old talker").

In his wonderful Kerry accent he'd tell you stories that would either have you falling around the place or sometimes tales that would scare the life out of you. I especially loved the creepy ones which were usually set in the middle of winter with atmospheric howling winds and lashing rain and always had some sinister goings-on in the dark lonely countryside. Every story began with the words, "Fado, fado", meaning "long, long ago" (the "a" in "fado" is pronounced "ah"). How I loved those stories that would, for fifteen minutes each week, completely captivate my young imagination.

One more beautiful memory is again of sitting in our living room, lights out and in the silence watch the coals sink in the fire grate, making that comforting sound as they'd settle. All was well on a cold winter's evening.

Above images sourced at:

Cambridge Avenue: Taken by me in 1969.
Coal Fire: eHowdotcom.
Eamon Kelly: diddlyi.com