My Irish Childhood
My Irish Childhood
I don’t know about you but as a young kid interested in travel pre-YouTube days, I was fascinated about the streets, buildings, cars and landscapes that far away lands exhibited. Growing up on an island on the edge of western Europe nations like Japan, Australia, Peru and Brazil held a deep fascination for me. As I have grown older, and been fortunate to visit such locations, you start to look back and remember how you pictured these nations to be. Some countries have disappointed or underwhelmed, but in general most have been as fascinating as I imagined.
For every child in Ireland wondering what life is like in Japan there is probably a Japanese child wondering what life is like in far away Ireland or the UK? So what is life like Growing up in Ireland? Is it all leprechaun chasing, potato picking and riding horses around the fields as portrayed in some laughable stereotypical movie? Although we all have different childhoods here is my interpretation of Growing up in Ireland, My Irish Childhood.
My Irish Childhood. Shifting and Drifting
Ireland is a small nation, little more than a blot on a world map. As a child however it was the centre of the universe. A walk from the front door of my home to the local shop seemed like an adventure. Wherever you grew up on the island from Dublin, Cork, Galway to Dundalk, Dingle, Naas, Tullamore to Wexford I am sure we all experienced similar things growing up, even though our environments differed from urban to rural settings.
Mention the words Bosco, Glenroe, shifting/meeting, Dutch Gold and pen pals and many an 80s or 90s child in Ireland will know what you are talking about. Each town and village had their own unique traditions or hobbies but in general we were all the same. Here is my own personal experiences of growing up in Ireland. My Irish Childhood.
Probably our earliest memories are our school years. Growing up in Ireland school life starts at about four or five years of age in junior infants. Usually this is a mixed affair with boys and girls educated together. Colouring in, play time and running around the yard or field at lunch break being the main tasks. This usually continues into our second year called senior infants.
Primary school is the next challenge, first class to sixth taking you from communion to confirmation (7-12 years of age usually) the last big childhood payday before you get a real job!
It’s then on to secondary school/high school (12-18 years of age) next where pressure is put on you to complete your junior certificate and then leaving certificate. Both worth completing, as it’s necessary to get a job or go on to university but in the long-term overhyped in my opinion.
My Irish Childhood Smarten Up
It is school life in Ireland which gives us our earliest and often fondest memories. Amusing teachers and fellow students in a world where for a few short years our biggest worries are homework, tests and getting up early. Things I feel make school life in Ireland unique:
- Compulsory uniform wearing, consisting of a shirt, tie, jumper and pants. Colours were usually drab, grey, navy and brown with the occasional trendy school sporting a bright red. Clarks Shoes and Doc Marten boots the footwear of choice whether you liked it or not! For the girls, hitching their skirts up at lunch time and after school was a ritual. Especially when the boys were around! God forbid, if you were seen with it down lower than your knees.
- Fast food lunch specials. Chips (french fries), sausages, snack boxes (chicken & chips), curry chips, batter sausages burgers (deep fried beef burgers). Ate as quick as you ordered it before the hoardes of begging pupils demanded a hot chip, usually drowning in vinegar and salt!
- Nuns/Priests as teachers and school principals as most schools were run and funded by the Catholic church.
- ‘An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas?’ The one Irish/Gaelic phrase we all know. Can I go to the toilet please. The only way we could be excused to go to the toilet aside from soiling oneself!
- Snow days. The first fall of snow greeted with joy as the inevitable day off would usually follow. Even light dustings were valid enough reasons to stay at home.
- And saying ‘slán leat agus go raibh maith agat’ (goodbye and thank you) in a dying person’s voice when another teacher or person of importance left the room.
- The sheer panic from the teacher when the cigire or inspector visited the classroom.
- Woeful sex-education. The uncontrollable laughter made it impossible for the teacher to do much work. Not that it mattered, most students had the gist of how things worked down there by this stage. As a result the educator had to squirm and dodge awkward questions thrown their way by cheeky pupils!
My Irish Childhood Taught a Lesson
Looking back I feel privileged to be a product of the Irish education system. For one it is free, well except for uniforms and books, but worth the expense. It isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to the outdated way the Irish language is taught! Most leave school after thirteen years education unable to string a sentence together. Something needs to change. Overall we are very lucky compared to many nations around the world. Classrooms are usually well-equipped, warm and facility rich. The teachers in general were quite good and the range of subjects quite varied.
Things to Do
So what does a young kid do in Ireland when not in school? Probably most of the same things many kids do around the globe. Play sports, computer games and hang out with friends. But there are things which I feel are uniquely Irish. Hanging around shop fronts being the main one! Just the sight of a huddle of hoodies is enough to send people scuttling across the road or prompt security guards to move them on, for fear “they are up to no good”. But give them a break; they have nowhere else to go. With secondary schools closed for nearly three months in summertime and summer jobs scarce, or non-existent for younger teens, the lack of low-cost recreational facilities for young people was always evident.
The local shop was also the meeting point pre-mobile (cell) phone days and social media. Here you could catch up with your friends and awkardly chat up the girl you had your eye on. In the eighties and nineties meeting (Dublin) shifting (rural Ireland and beyond) was the pastime of choice. Essentially these slang terms meant putting your tongues down each other throats! A friend being the facilitator or modern day tinder app. ‘Will you meet/shift my friend?’ the usual approach. Before putting a minty chewing gum in your mouth and going behind the nearest wall or tree for privacy!!
My Irish Childhood Nic Nac Paddy Whack
A time when kids on our estate used to”go out to play”. This involved getting together and playing informal or semi formal games in the immediate precinct of our homes or the derelict areas nearby. When you went out you went out until hunger or total exhaustion drove you home, time was not measured in hours.
Games such as Kerbies/Kerbs (Throwing a football at a kerb across the road and trying to catch the bounced ball). Rounders (a mixture of cricket and baseball). Football tennis (using the tar mac lines as tennis boxes). Tip the can (The ‘can’, usually an electricity post, is out in the open. Whoever is ‘it’ stands at the can, counting to 20, while the rest run off to hide. When the counting is finished, ‘it’ goes on the hunt. Every person that is caught gets sent to ‘jail’, but if someone manages to ‘tip the can’ before being caught, they can free one of their comrades).
Nic Nacs (press a doorbell and run like crazy to get away from the street grump). Trolleys/Karts (home made karts made from old babies prams and powered by one or two guys pushing from behind and usually steered with your feet. Used shopping trolleys were also a good source for spare parts. Frequently found submerged in the local canals!)
Robbing Orchards (Any house that had a fruit tree in their back garden became known as an orchard and were considered fair game by most of the lads, (lads in this case included pre-teenage boys and girls). Scraps (arranged fights involving members of the same gang facing off against members of opposing gangs, usually from “up the Road” or “down at the shops”.
My Irish Childhood Going for Gold
All very innocent pastimes until the novelty wears off as a teenager and there are less options unless you play soccer, hurling or gaelic football. If there is so little to do then what can you do in Ireland? Here is probably where our nation’s stereotype for heavy drinking begins. Drinking has been a big part of our nation for a long time. By law we are not supposed to touch a drop until we are 18 years of age. Let’s face it though, the fact is you would be hard pressed to find an 18 year old who hasn’t already downed a beer (usually Dutch Gold, cheap lager beer and cider) or shot of whiskey stolen from your parents’ drink cabinet! There will always be that older looking girl/boy who looks beyond their years to purchase alcoholic drink.
Now drinking in a damp field, street or canal side on a winter’s evening may sound like torture but the chance to mix with crowds your age and the chance of an adrenaline filled chase by the Gardai (cops) makes this an interesting past time. Well it certainly did when I grew up! Of course there were some who would over-indulge and some who sipped a can of beer but the vast majority were underage drinkers.
As time goes on, and people’s attitude towards drink changes, this habit may die out to a certain extent. If drinking wasn’t your thing there was always pen pals! Usually a spanish or german student who visited the area for the summer to improve their english. Nowadays the internet can connect you with someone from thousands of kilometres away with a click of a button. It wasn’t so long ago that a pen, paper and stamp was the only way to communicate!
Growing up during a troubled time for our island (1980’s) bought about an inherent dislike for Britian even though many of us in the southern part of the island didn’t really know why. We followed english sports, worshipped english footballers and copied English fashions etc. So really this did not make sense for the majority but you could understand the deep tensions in the north. Cheering on anyone but England in the Euros or World Cup was normal. Furthermore, who could forget Euro 88 when Houghton put the ball in the english net? Or Italia 90 when we celebrated Sheedy’s equaliser. There isn’t an 80’s child who could forget!
Areas such as Dublin and Cork exhibit great humour, particularly during poor economic times like the 80’s and early 90’s. Just check out any of the Roddy Doyle films, The Van or The Snapper and you will understand! It involves plenty of teasing and sharp tongued responses. Due to various inadequate governments many have traditionally left our shores and from a young age. The possibilility of having to do this has always been there which generally shaped our attitudes towards our future. We had no Disney Landesque child facilities but we made do and had equal if not better fun, jumpers for goalposts and ingenious ways of having fun.
Being posh was asking whether you would like your vanilla ice-cream served in a bowl or wafer. Having relatives round in the ‘good room’ (the one room in the house used only on a special occasion!). Having more that two channels on your tv other than RTE1 and RTE2 or possessing a telephone! Attitudes were quite different back then with people getting on with things despite difficulties. A far cry from today where the smallest issue can cause a riot!
Minerals, Tayto crisp sandwiches, red lemonade, frosties, woppa bars, chomps, hula hoops, monster munch, brunch ice creams, purple snacks, club milks, kimberley mikado, Tanora. I think it could be fair to say that the irish diet wouldn’t rank up there with the world’s healthiest. I have already gotten a telling off from ‘Irish foodies’ for our blog, What to eat and drink in Ireland. Yes Ireland has come along way and our food choices are expanding rapidly. However I can firmly say that many of my friends and classmates ate quite poorly. Particularly in the eighties and nineties and pre-avocado, quinoa and celebrity chef days!
Tayto crisps the national crisp/chip of Ireland formed the basis of many a childhood diet. During school time it wasn’t uncommon to see a packet in a lunch box and for many the tayto crisp sandwich was a delicacy! I never got that one! Sugary drinks and sweets formed the basis of a child’s diet in the 80’s and 90’s. Red lemonade, tanora (found in Cork) were guzzled. Frosties a sugary, cola flavoured chew sweet, woppa bars and chomps could be bought for the price of a few coins found on the streets! Purple snacks and club milks were a chocolate covered biscuit that we all loved and used as currency. Today many parents wouldn’t dare allow their children to eat such things on a regular basis.
The Wooden Spoon
In these modern times how a parent/teacher disciplines their child/student is usually through communication. Things however were not always like this, yes hitting a child or anybody of any age isn’t clever. Mention the wooden spoon to many an irishman or woman above thirty and fear and dread may wash over them! Clenching the butt cheeks and running away as a mother stormed at you with the wooden spoon was a way of life. Thankfully it was only done during times of boldness but it has to be a uniquely Irish thing! It possibly was the weapon of choice for mothers in the UK and further afield and it sure beat a belt or cane. Mention the wooden spoon to an Irishman or woman over thirty and I’m sure it will bring back memories.
I can firmly say that as a “wooden spoon boy”, I don’t think I am a mal-adjusted adult, with social or mental issues. In fact, I think I am the exact opposite, law abiding and sociable person who understands right from wrong, and will always try to err on the side of doing what’s right. Why? Because my Ma (mother) (with help from her trusty tool) taught me what was right and what was wrong. Ireland back then was a very black and white world. Unlike the world of today with its 50 shades of grey and everyone’s opinion chiming in from all sides…Facebook, Twitter, forums, Instagram, 24/7 News Channels etc. The wooden spoon these days may only be a rugby term to milennials. To us it was a pain in the behind!
My Irish Childhood Walking Down Memory Lane
That was a taste of my Irish Childhood. I’m sure we all have our own experiences and memories. We would love to hear from you in the comments section. If you are from another part of the world we would love to know what made your childhood unique?
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My Irish Childhood