As a former Derry girl, I frequently think about the people I grew up with as a child, and wonder where on the globe each of us have ended up.
I was born Val Perry in 1946 and lived at 21 Howard Street Derry. I had one sister Gabrielle. Through my correspondence with Danny McQuilkin (of Derry), I have asked many questions regarding my old stomping ground, as I have nobody remaining there to bring me up to date. Danny in his infinite wisdom suggested writing to (the Alumni Association), seeking your assistance in trying to track down some of the Derry gals I knew back then.
I remember with fondness the Cairns family from Howard St who had twin girls. They lived next door to us. My grandmother would always have the scone bread baking on top of the steel range in the kitchen, and when it was baked, would use the poker to tap on the tiles to let the twins mother know she would be arriving soon with the bread for a cuppa. Also Ann Quigley, who toured America several times with The Little Gaelic Singers, and Una Armstrong. Una and I managed to set her mothers kitchen on fire one day trying to make toffee apples. Adjacent to us on Howard Street, was Fulton Place, where I remember Sally Dillon, Yvonne Villa, Mary, Betty and Peggy McLaughlin, Eileen Dillon, Ann McLaughlin, to name just a few. I have successfully managed to locate Yvonne and the 3 McLaughlin sisters, which is wonderful.
At the bottom of Howard Street was The Wells. There I knew Sally Kane, and Father Hamilton. One day when we had a particularly heavy snow fall, I attempted to ride my sleigh down Howard Street, and managed to end up in Father Hamilton's hallway. I think I still have the bumps on my head from the smack I got from my mother. In the Lecky Road area, I knew Delores Scanlon, Kathleen Griffith, Rose Deehan all of whom I went to school with. Around the Stanleys Walk area lived Ita and Maura Loughery who I worked with at the ABC cinema, one of them married Bill Copp of Chicago, I believe. I wonder also about Celine Doherty from the Waterside, who dated Michael Casoni, whose father owned a big restaurant in the Waterside. And of course, Kathleen and Rosemary McLaughlin whose parents owned the bar at Bishops gate. I remember the laughs I had with Rosemary and Kathleen helping serve the customers in their bar. Coming from a family (mostly) of tea totalers, I was pouring whiskey like lemonade until it was noticed by their parents. It was especially fun on the 12th of August when after the orange walk, everyone would spill into the bar and we would be run off our feet. Little did my mother know!
Our laughs also extended into the ABC cinema, where we had great fun, showing our favourite boys into the good seats and the not so popular ones way up front. In the few years that I worked there, I met many nice US servicemen, always gentlemen contrary to some reports. I wonder where Ann Sweeney from Bishop Street has gotten to, and Angela Coyle from the Magazine Street area who I worked with at McColgans in Bishop Street. I never realized how many people I knew until I began writing this letter.
The thing I remember especially about Derry back then was the big bonfires we used to sit around toasting potatoes on sticks, the buntings that the women made to decorate the streets for St. Columbas day, while the men painted the doors and windows. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then surely the brass door knockers in our area where the eyes of the family within. Every Saturday without fail, the houses would be scrubbed, the windows cleaned and the brass shone as bright as the sun. I remember my mother down on her hands and knees scrubbing the lino and my poor unfortunate grandfather arriving home from the pub in the middle of it. She would yell, "Don't you be walking on this floor with your feet." Imagine it! How else was he going to do it? I also overheard my grandmother on one occasion say to grandad "Are you not well John? Why don't you go upstairs and throw yourself down." I wonder if they were trying to tell him something? Only in Derry.
We had great characters back then, Willie Turf at the dances could part the crowd like nobody else, as he headed across the room looking for a dance partner. He was Burnfoots answer to a cowboy. Betty Skeets otherwise known as Dingdong who loved the lads and wasn't afraid to show it, Maggie McKay, the rag and bone man who traded goldfish for your old rags, and the milkman who sold us the milk from a horse and cart, and Con Boner and his much loved donkey.
But it was the innocence of my youth that is most memorable, skipping in the street, swinging around the lampposts on ropes, hoping not to get lumps on your head, playing hopscotch, trying to dodge the sodality meetings at church but being caught anyway, running home after the dances hoping to make your curfew so you wouldn't be locked out and be shamed by your mother appearing at the door in her pajamas. How sad, that never again in our lifetime will we ever experience such innocence, either ourselves or through our grandchildren. The world back then was indeed a better place. Through our hardship we learnt our values, formed friendships and extended a helping hand when we could. I could go on and on about special times like Halloween and Christmas but I fear your newsletter would become a book.
Thank you for allowing me to bend your ear and share with you some of my memories of Derry. I do hope that you will find something worthwhile in all of this to print, and hopefully rekindle some memories for your readers.
I would ask anyone knowing of any of the above people to direct them to my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org so that we might try and revive old friendships. I am sure we have some great stories to relate to each other.
Val (Perry) McAnally, Australia
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