‘Maureen is the oldest swinger in town,’ laughs her lifelong friend Jenny Cullen. Born in 1920, when the Tans were on the prowl, she was reared at her grandmother’s house, 18 O’Donoghue Street, which runs parallel to the old Great Southern & Western Railway Works in Inchicore.
Her grandmother Catherine Tierney was a Kildare woman born at the tail-end of the Great Famine. In the 1870s Catherine moved to Dublin, married Maureen’s grandfather and had two sons, Patrick and William.
Patrick Tierney, Maureen’s father, was a labourer at the Inchicore Works where they made and restored wagons and carriages. At that time the Works also incorporated paint shops, a saw mill, a gas plant, a creosote plant and a boiler making facility. ‘Everyone worked at Inchicore Works then,’ says Maureen. ‘They’d come out in droves on their bikes. You couldn’t cross the road for all the bikes. You don’t see anything like that now.’
The Tierneys lived directly opposite Peader Kearney, the Republican composer best known for “Amhrán na bhFiann” (“The Soldier’s Song”), the rebel song of 1916 that became the Irish national anthem in 1926.
‘We were all in and out of people’s houses that time,’ she says, and the Kearneys house was no exception. Another neighbour Jack Tighe was a noted melodeon player, while the Murphys of Railway Avenue were legendary for their musical evenings. Maureen could sing well but dancing was her thing. ‘Ah, there’d always be dancing,’ she says. ‘Ballroom dancing on the street corners – one, two, three and a hop.’
‘Sure, she’s still dancing!’ interjects her friend Connie Brennan. ‘We had a bit of a do in Bluebell yesterday and Maureen was up doing the line dancing. The fellows were up dancing and all. They weren’t so bad, considering they’re all grandfathers.’
Maureen went to school at the nearby Scoil Mhuire gan Smal which was founded by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. This French Catholic order established their Irish headquarters in a farm by the Inchicore Works in 1854.
By the 1870s they had inspired the railwaymen to construct a new church for Inchicore, consecrated in 1903. Arguably the most powerful of the Oblates was Father William Ring who led a pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1883 and for whom Ring Street is named.
‘A lot of the streets around here are named for the Oblates,’ says Maureen. ‘Like Father Nash and Father O’Doherty.’
During Maureen’s childhood, the Oblates began leading torch-lit processions through the streets of Inchicore. In 1927, over 3,000 people attended the first such procession. The following year, work began on the construction of a concrete replica of the Lourdes grotto beside the Oblate’s Church. Maureen’s father was amongst the railwaymen from Inchicore who helped complete the work in 1930. Maureen has a clear memory of heading out in her blue cloak on a spring morning that same year to join practically every other young girl she knew on a procession to the Grotto.
There they stood silent witness amongst a crowd of 100,000 as Archbishop Byrne gave the Grotto his blessing. Catholicism remains an important part of Maureen’s daily life and she continues to worship at the Oblate church.
Maureen was a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl in Goldenbridge when her mother died in 1933. With her older sister already in a convent in Newry, Maureen was obliged to take on the maternal role. The following year, she left school to look after her two younger brothers, Tommy and Paddy. Her uncle William worked as a van driver for the Metropolitan Laundry, located just behind the jail in Inchicore. In 1937, William helped secure his seventeen-year-old niece a job at the laundry where she remained for the next twenty-six years. ‘I worked from eight in the morning until nine at night, pressing and ironing shirts, or cleaning and pleating coats for the nurses at Vincent’s Hospital. The money was very bad and it was hard work.’
Meanwhile, her brothers grew up and found employment. Tommy, ‘the only one who got married out of the family,’ worked at ‘anything and everything’, while Paddy joined their father on the railway. Both brothers have since passed away.
‘So I’m free now!’ she chuckles.
‘But she was very good,’ adds Jenny. ‘She also looked after her elderly neighbours like Mrs Johnson. She’d call in to see her before she went to work every morning, to see was she all right. Then she’d cycle to the Laundry, do her days work and cycle home and look in on them again.’
After she left the laundry, Maureen moved to the Mono Containers factory on the Jamestown Road where she spent the next twenty years making lollipop bags and waxed cartons for HB ice creams, as well as paper bags for Lyons tea. Her hands automatically give a display of just how the cardboard was to be folded around the ice cream blocks. ‘We were only making the boxes though,’ she says. ‘Unfortunately the ice cream didn’t come with it.’
Maureen died at Cherry Orchard Hospital on 28 December 2017 and was laid to rest at Bluebell Cemetery.
With thanks to Emma Deering and Olivia and Ollie Blacque.