My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.
The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.
The Miser – 1931
When I was a boy, in the early 1930s, there was always music in our house. My mother was an accomplished pianist and singer and my father had a very fine tenor voice. He would sing songs such as The Trumpeter, Songs of Araby, The Toreador’s Song from Carmen and Friend of Mine and my mother would play the accompaniment on the piano. They sang many duets also and on wet days and Sundays as children we would gather round the piano and mother would play all the popular and comic songs of the day. A right old sing-song would be enjoyed by all. I vividly remember my favourite, which was “Minnie the Moocher”!
Both my parents were heavily involved in the Wallace Grand Opera Society in its heyday and consequently they knew everybody in the musical scene of the day and most of their friends came from that circle.
Two of their friends who often visited us were a Jewish couple, Isaac Levi and his wife Florence, whose maiden name was Goldring. They were immigrants from Poland and had fled from there in the early 1900s when Jews were being persecuted. Incidentally, they told me that they had been promised in marriage to each other when they were children.
Classical music was their forte and they often regaled us with duets; he on the violin and she on the piano. I still vividly recall their rendition of Brahm’s Hungarian Dance which was “something else”.
Levi had a shop at No. 8 John Street, Waterford, where he dealt in furniture and antiques and did good business. My father told me that when the Levi’s came to Waterford and took the shop at No. 8, they had with them a very old man, probably the uncle of his wife, and he carried on the business of money lending. As part of that business he used to buy gold sovereigns and half sovereigns and it was known that he would pay one pound and sixpence for a sovereign and ten shillings and threepence for a half sovereign. These coins were solid gold, with a milled edge, and were worth one pound, and ten shillings respectively. The sovereign weighed one fine ounce while the half sovereign was half a fine ounce. At that time all precious metals were measured in “Troy Weight”.
Now this old man could be seen daily sitting in a rocking chair, in the window of the furniture shop, holding in his hands a small Buckskin bag and shaking it constantly as he rocked to and fro. It was this practice that earned him the nickname “The Miser”. The street urchins and indeed many adults used to congregate outside the shop and could be heard saying “see how he loves his money, even the sound of it jingling in his money bag.” They could not have guessed the old man’s secret!
My father explained it to me as an object lesson to illustrate the acumen of the Jewish businessman. Apparently the old man collected the gold coins for a particular purpose. When he had collected whatever he considered to be a sufficient number of them he put them in the small leather bag and shook them for, let us say a week. Then at the end of that time, when he emptied out the coins, there remained in the bag a residue of gold dust. This happened because the milled edges of the coins rubbing against each other, when the bag was shaken, resulted in tiny flakes of gold coming off each coin.
The real beauty of this procedure was that when fifty coins went into the bag the same fifty came out again and the deposit of gold dust, however small, was a net profit. So, to quote my father, you can have your cake and eat it … if you know how!
This story, which is true, instilled in me a very healthy respect for Jewish businessmen which has remained with me to this day.
©Geoff Cronin 2005
About Geoff Cronin
I was born at tea time at number 12 John Street, Waterford on September 23rd 1923. My father was Richard Cronin and my mother was Claire Spencer of John Street Waterford. They were married in St John’s Church in 1919.
Things are moving so fast in this day and age – and people are so absorbed, and necessarily so, with here and now – that things of the past tend to get buried deeper and deeper. Also, people’s memories seem to be shorter now and they cannot remember the little things – day to day pictures which make up the larger canvas of life.
It seems to me that soon there may be little or no detailed knowledge of what life was really like in the 1930s in a town – sorry, I should have said City, in accordance with its ancient charter – like Waterford. So I shall attempt to provide some of these little cameos as much for the fun of telling as for the benefit of posterity.
Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.