‘You hear the young people say “I’m going down to the village?” That’s what they call Inchicore. But I never knew it to be called “the village” and I was born and reared here. It was like a village, but we called it “Inchicore”.’
So opined the late Jenny Cullen, christened Jane, who was born on Nash Street, Inchicore, Dublin, in 1925. Her father was a railway man, as were her two brothers. They lived in a tenement house with a small plot of land to the rear, from where she could see over the wall as far as the Brickworks. She recalls the fields down by the canal before the industrial park was built. ‘We got first preference on the new houses but we hadn’t the money. It was nearly all guards and engine drivers who took them up’.
Jenny and her three sisters went to the same school in Goldenbridge, where her friends Maureen Tierney and Mary Parkinson went. One of their teachers was a permanently suspicious creature. ‘She’d ask what you had for breakfast, then look down your throat to see were you telling lies.’
After school, she walked to the Mono Containers factory on Jamestown Road where she spent over thirty years, working alongside Maureen, making containers for ice creams and yoghurts. After the ladies were made redundant in the early 1970s, Jenny found employment with Coopers (now Wellcome Ireland), boxing up pharmaceutical pills and medicines.
One of Jenny’s icons was Lugs Brannigan, the no-nonsense Garda detective who had once worked as a fitter on the Great Southern Railways with her brothers. Lugs had an unorthodox technique for maintaining order. When he found someone misbehaving, he banged their head off the nearest wall. Or if there were two or more of them, maybe he’d bang their heads together. And then the luckless miscreants would be sent on their way, without charge, but the message was loud and ringingly clear.
On one occasion, someone managed to bite Lugs’s bottom during the scuffle. ‘He was worse than the Balubas,’ opined Lugs in court afterwards, referring to the Congolese tribe whom the Irish peacekeepers frequently came up against at that time. ‘At least they cook you first.’
‘It’s a pity we haven’t got a few more of him around now,’ mused Jenny. ‘Lugs was the only man who could keep order. He didn’t like people hanging around in groups. But what he hated most was a woman being ill-treated.’
Other Dublin legends whom Jenny recalled included Tommy ‘Bang Bang’ Dudley, a cowboy aficionado famed for staging mock shoot-outs on trams and double-decker buses, the always heavily-clad Johnny Forty-Coats, and Kitty Ennis, who used to throw buckets of water over anyone who came too close to her house.
Jenny was probably the best travelled of the four Inchicore ladies that we interviewed for the third Vanishing Ireland book, although all four knew Ireland well. Shortly before our visit, they had been on a grand tour of the country, taking in Rosslare, Kenmare, Ennis and Westport. This was a subsidised annual train trip organised by An Garda Síochána. The ladies also regularly made their way to the Red Cow Inn for an evening of Bingo where Jenny enjoyed ‘a drop of wine’ or a glass of sherry. A woman of much gentility and sweet humour, she unexpectedly passed away just a few months after we met her.
With thanks to Emma Deering and Olivia and Ollie Blacque.