In the 1930s the shops in Waterford City were dependent on farmers from the surrounding county for a considerable slice of trade, particularly at the weekends. Tradition was that a farmer and his wife would travel to town on a Saturday and as public transport was thin on the ground the pony and trap was the most common way of getting to the city.
At this point I must explain that well established pubs would have a yard with some stabling attached and a yard man would be in attendance, also many of these would be “bar and grocery” shops. So, having arrived in town the farmer could park his pony and trap in the care of the pub yard man, while he and his wife went up the main street – she to order bread for the week and to sell her eggs and home-made butter and he to visit the bank and the hardware shops, to order seeds and tools and the like. Instructions to the shopkeeper would be “send it to Dower’s yard, Grace’s Yard, Pender’s yard, Power’s yard”, or wherever the pony and trap was lodged.
Now in those days no woman would be seen in a pub but in a ‘bar and grocery’ establishment there was always a ‘snug’ where a lady could be seated while giving her grocery order and waiting for her husband. And, what harm if a glass of port or a beer on a warm day, or even a whisky in the cold weather, was served in the process. And when himself would arrive he could join in with a pint of stout and chat for often times there would be several ladies in waiting in the snug.
Serving behind the counter in my father’s bakery shop, I was quite familiar with the programme of the country people as we had a big proportion of our customers in that category.
There were great number of bars in Waterford and I often wondered why a pub should be called “A bar” until one day I noticed a very ornate, polished brass bar, elbow high across the window of a pub called the Dew Drop Inn in Greyfriars. After much research, I discovered that the origin of the “Window Bar” could be traced to a time when fairs and sales of cattle and horses took place in the street, or wherever there was a convenient square or open space. On such occasions, the bar prevented large animals from leaning against the window and probably breaking it. The bar served another purpose too. When a patron of the pub who was the worse for wear was leaving the premises, he could grasp the bar and ease himself along the window and thereby make a dignified exit.
In recent times I spotted a not so decorative iron bar across the window of a very old pub in a narrow street in a small provincial town. But it was many a bygone year since a horse or a cow was sold in that street.
In the ’30s the horse was king of the road and you could see iron rings sunk into the street kerbs where a horse or donkey could be tethered while his owner went shopping. Also there was a huge variety of trades, related to the horse, blacksmiths, farriers, saddlers, feed stores, leather and harness makers, coach builders, coach painters, wheelwrights, tackle shops, stables, hay and straw merchants and even street sweepers. But gradually all these trades and the employment they provided disappeared with the demise of the horse drawn traffic and even the skills associated with those trades became largely extinct.
Horse racing and breeding still support some of the old trades and the now dying sport of fox hunting plays a part too, but it’s only a fraction of what used to exist. Such is progress.
Definition: Syncopation, an unsteady movement from Bar to Bar!
About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017
There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.
Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.
Thank you for dropping in today and you can read The Colour of Life, The Black Bitch and the previous chaptes of Milestones in this directory: