Sean Curtin's Stroll Down Memory Lane: Limerick stories told in nostalgic publication

Maria Flannery


Maria Flannery

Limerick’s George Street – which later became O’Connell Street – pictured sometime after 1888. The roads on the busy thoroughfare were mere dirt tracks  Pictures from the book courtesy of Sean Curtin

Limerick’s George Street – which later became O’Connell Street – pictured sometime after 1888. The roads on the busy thoroughfare were mere dirt tracks Pictures from the book courtesy of Sean Curtin

It’s November 20, 1956, and Marilyn Monroe is having her first sip of a recently – and locally – invented cocktail.

Dining during a stopover at Shannon Airport, the mid-century screen queen and her husband Arthur Miller are being served Irish Coffees by chef Frank Ryan, while their waiter Paddy Harty stands in the wings.

This iconic photograph featuring the hot drink, which was famously invented in 1943 at Foynes Seaport to warm the cold and weary passengers, is one of more than a hundred pictures featured in the 17th edition of Limerick: A Stroll Down Memory Lane by Sean Curtin.

The annual archive book is a Christmas favourite in Limerick, and for local man Sean – a former employee of the Limerick Leader – it’s a labour of love.

“I hope to go to at least twenty volumes, depending on the quality of pictures made available,” said Mr Curtin.

To date, the collection has made available almost 2,000 pictures of old Limerick that might never have seen the light of day. And “there are as many more out there, locked away in attics and drawers,” Sean said. “Already, I have half a dozen gems for Volume 18.”

The series shows off the Limerick of the last 100 years and sometimes beyond, and every one tells its own story.

For example, American farmers make up most of the tobacco trade today, but Limerick also had its own tobacco grower from right in the heart of the city. Mr James Hickey, who lived at 23 Davis Street, was a gardener to the rich and famous, having worked for the Knight of Glin and the Earl of Dunraven.

But in his free time, he cultivated his own tobacco on his plot in Ballinacurra. He is photographed on page 29, assessing his crop in 1940 as large leaves are laid out to dry on the fences. He is pictured gazing down the lens, with a very apt cigarette in his mouth.

On March 11, 1952, Deputies in Dáil Éireann discussed the fascinating story of a Fairy Fort in Ballynanty, which was the subject of much controversy when the council tried to build a Housing Scheme on it. The local workforce refused to destroy it - due to the belief that it was the ‘headquarters’ of Limerick’s leprechauns.

Corporation manager at the time, John McNamara, was quoted as saying that “the people of Limerick wouldn’t go near the fort. Several members of the bulldozer crew said they saw leprechauns making shoes at night”.

‘Strange things’ were said to have happened to all who previously tried to work on the patch of land. Gables were built, and the next morning “not one of them was standing”, according to the tale. Landowner Mr Collins was forced to sell it because “all my cattle died”, he was quoted as saying at the time. The next owner, Matt Foley, “had to sell it, too, because my cattle losses were phenomenal”.

A local schoolteacher, Robert Cashin, recalled that as kids, they were warned not to touch the trees around the area. A playmate of his pulled some hazelnuts one day, and supposedly became a “cripple for life”.

Finally, farmer Dan Kennelly claimed that his cows stopped producing milk. The full story is on page 14 of the new volume.

To commemorate the Super Blues’ return to the Market’s Field, there are photographs of Limerick FC playing in the old ground during the halcyon days of the early 1960s.

“It’s Limerick’s history, and if they’re not published, people won’t know what Limerick was like,” said Sean Curtin, dedicated to the long-running series he started working on back in 2001.

Limerick: A Stroll Down Memory Lane (Volume 17) is available in all well-stocked local bookshops and on Saturday mornings at the Milk Market.