KATHLEEN Walsh has received a few strokes of luck throughout the years but given her modest background and no airs or graces attitude, she deserved each bit of it. Make no mistake about it, nothing was ever put on a plate for her and the Flynn family – she grew up in Lower Grange in an era where she would have to go out the back garden to shower or use the toilet and in her mid-20s, herself and her mother had to move to St John’s Park after a storm dismantled the roof of her house.
Thankfully, they were thrilled to be joining a close and cosy community which she proudly states she will never leave.
Kathleen had just one sister in a small family for that time, she remembers one family of 13 living down the street, but the economy was so weak they were far from spoilt. Her father worked as a labourer in the city while her mother was a housekeeper in Dower’s by the car stand, and she remembers a happy childhood before St John’s Park had even been built.
“We’d swing on the poles or play knockadolly, chimeys and knucks – that was our entertainment. If you were lucky enough to have a penny you’d go into the Colosseum to the pictures. I remember Mrs Kerr going in there with the flashlight. We’d be down in the cheap seats down the front. There was a shop down there called the Moneyball and they sold rocks and bullseyes, if you had money for that you’d be away with it because you’d be chewing away for two hours.”
At home the sisters pulled their weight with the cleaning or they wouldn’t be allowed out and she has fond memories of playing cards with her father, who would sit between them for hours as they gambled the harmless commodity of lollipop sticks. When they weren’t at home, they were as safe outdoors.
“I remember going out the country – Mrs Tubbritt god be good to her was alive and she had a cottage out there. We’d bring out a penny with our little cups and she’d boil water for us to make the tea. You’d get sixpence worth of lemonade powder down and two pence worth of broken biscuits in Woolworths, you’d have banana sandwiches wrapped up in newspaper. You could be gone from 10am to 6pm. We were only around six or seven, there would be about 10 of us.”
A student at the Ursuline, Kathleen never enjoyed the harsh education system of mid-1900’s Ireland, where the teachers never objected to dishing out prisoners and the poorer children would eat their lunch near the door with a perishing breeze blowing in. She left the day she turned 14 on her own accord.
“I came in below at Lower Grange, caught my school bag and said to my father ‘now, I’m 14 and I’m finished’. He said you can if you get a job and I said I would, I wasn’t going back there, and I never did. The next week I got a job in Danny’s Fish and Chip Shop and I loved it. Three pound a week at that time was an awful lot of money. I still had to go to the one-day Tech down on the Mall where we did cooking and stuff to bring you out into the world.”
In her late teens she got a job in Bolger’s drapery and she worked there happily for 22 years, including a period after Dunnes Stores had taken over. Dealing with people helped pass the time for Kathleen and one part of a staff always willing to help each other, she never dreaded the day ahead as she cycled in each morning.
Peculiarly, Kathleen was never into music and was happier at the Curragh than the Olympia when she fancied letting her hair down for the night.
“I loved the greyhound racing and the horses. My father was into it, he used bring us back chips some nights from the track when we were younger. I don’t think there was a track in Ireland I haven’t been to. The Derby, Punchestown, the Curragh – I’ve been to them all.”
“Any big wins from throughout the years”, I ask jokingly.
“Oh, I couldn’t tell you them now. I loved the racing and the social day out, you could be gone before 8am to go across the country and you wouldn’t get back until after midnight. I’d save up my few bob for that.”
While it was too severe an incident to call a blessing in disguise, some happiness stemmed from the hole a storm ripped into the roof of the Flynn family’s humble home – a happy life in St John’s Park.
“I enjoyed it out here. I would have known people from here and it was busier. Everybody was so friendly, they would say hello to you no matter whether you know them or not. You could go out the front of the house and you mightn’t come in for an hour because you’d be talking to people passing.”
She met her husband Ollie who lived across the street from their new home and they still live in the home with their dog Jimbo, the kids reared and out on their own. Recently, her dog tiny passed away after 18 years and both her and Ollie are stony-faced as they declare that to them, dogs are certainly a member of the family.
“They bring so much happiness. You always have company and we talk to them like humans.”
Handing over a framed Manchester United jersey which belonged to Tiny, Kathleen asks “tell me what you think that dog meant to us.”
“Obviously a lot. I won’t hold the jersey against him now, I’m an Arsenal fan.”
“Oh Jesus,” Ollie peeps up from behind his newspaper.
She continues: “I can tell which of my children are coming to the door by the way Jimbo barks. I know if it’s a stranger. I’m usually last to bed and if I go to go up the stairs before setting the alarm he’ll sit at the end looking up and me and the alarm as much to say ‘you’re forgetting about that’. He won’t move until it’s set. He won’t let you in the gate if a child is in the garden either and he’ll lose his mind if people stop at the wall in the front.”
Twice a week, she will try and get out to the slots in Tramore for an hour or two and while Ollie calls her the luckiest woman around, she remains tight-lipped.
“Have you ever gotten lucky out there,” I ask before her eyes widen and head nods.
She continues to nod.
“Very very lucky?”
The nodding doesn’t cease, before Ollie explains she once accidentally placed a maximum bet on a machine only to strike the jackpot. The figure mentioned left me amazed and jealous in equal measure, but there was no wild celebration from Kathleen, which is always the case whenever she benefits from a stroke of luck.
“I don’t believe in that it. I’ll try and help the family and that’s that.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey