Old Sickeen

This photograph was taken in the early 1940s and shows a happy group of children in Sickeen. The wall at their backs was the boundary wall of St Brendan’s National School. In the background on the left are the backs of houses which fronted on to St Brendan’s Road. They were occupied by the Lillis family, the Lohan family, the Molloys – home of ‘Five Goal Molloy’ aka Sonny, Maurice O’Connell who worked in the post office, Jim Redington who later became Mayor of Galway, and Tom Walsh who was a teacher in St Brendan’s School.

The origin of the name Sickeen is uncertain. Some think that it related to the dairy farming which was once an essential part of life there. The term suckler calf may have led to Suckeen and on to Sickeen. Some referred to the street as Railway View and others called it St Brendan’s Avenue, but the locals used the word Sickeen.

Most of the houses further down the street have since been demolished. At the end of Sickeen at the back of the County Buildings, there was a gaunt building which was known as the Sanatorium. The council kept various implements and machinery there, and the Lynskey family were the caretakers. For many of the children in this photograph, the Sanatorium was a playground, the scene of many a battle between cowboys and Indians. These kids also played on the street, marbles and rounders, cad, and bumpers which was a pitching game played with bottle tops. When they had a football, they made their way to the Plots, an area which was often a hive of youthful activity. If they had a few pence, they bought their sweets and lollipops in Mary Joyce’s, the only shop on the street. When they grew up a bit, some of them graduated to the ‘Hideaway’, an empty space next to the back of the school, an ideal location for a different type of school, pitch and toss. It was often a busy place after Mass on Sunday.

In those days a number of people on this street kept cattle in fields on the Headford Road. Twice daily they were herded and walked into Sickeen for milking. On fair days, farmers from Angliham would drive their cattle through Sickeen and Eyre Square on their way to the Fairgreen, so the regular clean up was an onerous job.

The happy children in our photograph are shown with an impressive array of wooden barrows which were very useful, especially for farmers. They were used mainly for drawing turf from the bogs on the Headford Road and they were made by Eoin Foxe. He was a coachbuilder who had a workshop just down from the rear of St Brendan’s School. He took great pride in his work and the rebuilding and re-modelling of trucks and vans was his stock in trade. He lived in Eyre Street and once made a soapbox for his son Joe who raced it in those memorable soapbox derbies that were held on Prospect Hill.

This photograph, which was kindly given to us by Claire Muldoon, and all of the above information, come from a book entitled Sickeen in the Rare Auld Times, which was written and published by Durkan Forde. It is a delightful portrait of the street he grew up in, its families and its characters, the games they played and what they worked at. Reading it is like sitting by the fire listening to Durkan regaling you and entertaining you with his memories. There are no pretensions about this book, which is a charming record of times past. Very highly recommended and available in good bookshops at €15.

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