Naas, County Kildare
Boxer and Cotton Mills Fitter & Painter
Born 1933 & 1933
(Photo: James Fennell)
‘I do the Lucky 15 every day,’ says Joe Waldron. ‘It’s something to do in the morning. Walk down, look at the papers, write out my Lucky 15, go home and wait for the results.’
‘I never had a bit of luck on horses,’ says Brendan Drewett, shaking his head solemnly.
‘Me neither,’ retorts Joe, ‘but one day! It’s only fifteen cents each way. And if it does come in …’
‘It’s a madman’s game,’ continues Brendan. ‘I don’t back them at all.’
‘… well, then, winner all right, says I,’ finishes Joe.
Brendan and Joe have been friends all their lives, perpetually bonded by the dual coincidence of age (they were both born in 1933) and education (they attended the same school in Naas.)
‘There were three of us that were friends at school,’ says Brendan. ‘Myself, Joe and another lad, Donal Reid, who lives in England now. Figgy 1, Figgy 2 and Figgy 3. That’s what they called us.’
Joseph Drewett, Brendan’s grandfather, was a Catholic Englishman who worked as a warehouse foreman in Dublin for the British army before independence. With the advent of the Irish Free State, Brendan’s father, Ernest, found work as an accountant for the Irish army at the Curragh Camp.
But the maths that most interested the young Brendan was simply the countdown from ten to one whenever he felled one of his boxing opponents.
‘I was bantamweight,’ says he. ‘I had a few auld boxes in The Towers on the Fair Green in Naas. It was a workman’s club where the Kildare footballers would meet years ago. I was sixteen when I stepped into the ring and I boxed for nearly four years. I got plenty of wallops, I can tell you, but there were a few lads taken away off the pitch too.’
By the time he was twenty, Brendan was working as a fitter at the Naas Cotton Mills. Assigned to the nightshift, he was unable to keep up his boxing. ‘I always kept fit though,’ he says. ‘I used to do a lot of walking and running, maybe ten miles in a day, with the dogs, going off to get rabbits.’
When he started at the cotton mills, Joe Waldron was with him. ‘I went into the mill from school when I was fourteen years of age,’ says Joe. ‘I stayed two years and then I served my time as a painter after that.’
Joe’s grandfather, William Waldron, was a slater but his father, Samuel, had branched out and become a painter. Colouring and white-washing the walls of the town and surrounding countryside enabled Samuel to bring home enough money to look after nine children born in nine years, of whom Joe was the second oldest.
Joe’s penchant for a flutter is understandable given that the house where he grew up was only a mile and a half from the Punchestown racetrack. (In later life, Joe secured the contract to paint the grandstand.) Not only that, but his bedroom window over-looked a field that doubled as the town’s greyhound track for many a long year.
For Brendan, the greatest change in the area has been the influx of new people to Naas which has seen its population rocket past 26,000. There’s a lot of talk about just how big the population of Naas was back in the 1950s. Some reckon it was over 5,000, others put it nearer 3,000. Brendan pegs it at 1,800. But all the statisticians agree that the population was a whole lot smaller and that, not so long ago, everyone knew everyone else.
Many of those with whom Brendan and Joe were at school subsequently emigrated to England. The last of Brendan’s brothers and sisters crossed the Irish Sea when the cotton mills closed in 1970. Brendan toyed with the idea of leaving while he worked part-time as a barman in Naas but then found work at the ESB power station in Allenwood.
So between the emigration and the newcomers, the old sense of intimacy in Naas is long gone. It’s not all gloom and doom though. ‘All I have to do now is look along the pavements for someone with grey hair and I’ll find someone I know,’ says Brendan.
Both men are married. Joe was first to wed back in 1962, and he has a son and a daughter. Brendan held out on his own until he was thirty-nine and is now the father of five.
As our talk comes to an end, I can tell that Joe is itching to find out how his Lucky 15 fared. I suspect that Brendan might even ride along to the bookies with him, just to see whether today’s the day that Figgy 2 comes up trumps.
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