Milestones along the Way – Tradition and Smoke Signals by Geoff Cronin


Three friends were in the habit of meeting every evening in their local pub to have just one drink on their way home from work. Each would buy in his turn and the round was three halves of Jameson Whisky. Well, after some years one of the friends was transferred to another town and his two pals continued to buy and drink the traditional three halves – just not to forget the absent one.

However, before the year was out a second member of the trio was transferred, leaving one solitary friend and he decided he was not going to forget his two pals. To that end he continued to buy the three halves which he drank – what else could he do?

Anyway this went on for some time until one day he went into the pub as usual and ordered just two halves of Jameson – The barmaid served them up and timidly asked “is one of your old friends dead”? To which he replied “ah no, it’s just that I’m off drink for Lent”!!

Smoke Signals

My first encounter with cigarettes was when at age six, in the early ’30s, I bought a packet of five Woodbines for two pence at Kirwan’s in John Street where I lived. Having smuggled them home, I went into the back yard, out of sight and lit one up. When I stopped coughing, having accidentally inhaled a mouthful of smoke, I found myself staggering about, felling dizzy and finally being sick all over the place. I didn’t smoke again till I was twenty!

The variety of cigarettes available in those days was endless and I can recall many of the brands:- Players, Carolls And Gold Flake were the main leaders and then there was Churchman’s, Passing Clouds, De Rezske Minors, Craven A, Kerry Blue, Drumhead, Players Weights, Senior Service, the list goes on. The price of smokes varied from Woodbines at five for twopence to sixpence for ten of the main brands and a shilling for twenty. The fancy brands cost up to one shilling and threepence for twenty.

Of course “serious men” of that time smoked a pipe and while the lower classes used a clay pipe the more respectable citizens used a Briar or even a Meerschaum, and a Corncob, an import from America, was for the more adventurous.

The equipment required for the pipe smoker seemed endless – the tobacco pouch, the pipe cleaners, the tobacco jar, the universal tool for tamping, reaming and stem cleaning, the pipe rack and the absolutely essential penknife also the pipe cover for smoking outdoors. Lastly the special big box of matches favoured by pipe smokers called “Swan Vestas”.

The shop which stocked all these items was called a Tobacconists and also stocked cigars, cheroots, humidors for storing cigars and of course tobacco in all its forms, namely plug, rubbed and loose mixtures plus many tinned proprietary brands such as Bruno, Mick McQuaid, Three Nuns, Players, Black Cavendish, Reilly’s Twist etc. Chewing tobacco was also stocked and then there is snuff. This last item was made by grinding up tobacco leaves and stems into a fine powder and was consumed by snorting it. Small containers, waistcoat pocket size were used to carry a supply on one’s person and in that context it was considered good manners to offer the open box to a friend or friends in company to have a “pinch of snuff”.

It was on such occasions that a very mean person, unseen by the donor, would squeeze a penny edgewise in the pocket between finger and thumb thus creating an indentation in both so that he would get a bigger pinch of snuff. Such a man would be known as a penny pincher which led to the general term “penny pinching”, meaning economising to excess.

It is not generally known that in the ’30s tobacco was grown in Ireland for a number of years and there are still examples of the tall drying houses where the leaves were dried for a period after harvesting. Once can still find antique silver snuff boxes which are collector’s items though the practice of “snuffing” still exists.

Incidentally, there was a factory in the Back Lane in Waterford, Hanley’s by name, which produced clay pipes until the early forties if my memory serves me right. The clay pipe broke easily and very often the stem would break off in the pocket leaving the bowl with a very short stem, but it could still be used and was known as a Dudeen or Jaw Warmer.

In fact I can remember as a child seeing old women smoking Jaw Warmers behind their shawls and when a jaw warmer eventually broke it was not unusual for it to be ground to a powder and mixed in with a measure of snuff as the clay pipe would have absorbed a considerable quantity of nicotine in its life so it closely resembled the snuff.


©Geoff Cronin 2010

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: