Home Columnists John F Headen: Bullseyes and Buttermilk, Biddy Bolton’s measuring method, day-old chicks,...

John F Headen: Bullseyes and Buttermilk, Biddy Bolton’s measuring method, day-old chicks, fresh herrings, a burdizzo and a yankee treble

Local historian John F Headen is contributing a series of articles to LaoisToday – and in this week’s piece he remembers his time as a messenger boy as he got full value from his raleigh bike.


When I was starting in the Christian Brothers in Portlaoise in the early 1960s, a school bus had just started the eight-mile route from our village, but my mother suggested to get a bike and use the weekly bus fare of seven and sixpence to pay for the bike.

So the next day in town she picked out a Raleigh man’s bike with carrier and a Stumprey – Archer lighting set in Dinny Kavanagh’s at a price of three pounds and ten shillings.

Dinny was paid the three half crowns every Monday and the bike was paid for before Christmas.

The freedom of having a bike meant that odd deliveries and collections could be done after school when the school bus would be gone.

Of course this did not go unnoticed by the neighbours in an era when very few women drove a car and men only went to town once a week.

So in no time at all, I was getting requests from the neighbours to do this, that and the other.

Jack Kerr and Mick “The Jock“ Buggy would spread the horse racing pages on the hay-bogey and pick out potential winners. Jack would write with a stubby pencil the names of the horses on a sheet of paper, licking the pencil a few times to produce a purple colour list for the bet called a Yankee Treble.

The list would then be wrapped around a two shilling piece, a florin and delivered to me to place the bet during our school lunch break with Miss Hamilton a bookie on Lower Main Street.

They only had one big winner in my time placing bets for them, when Ayala, the last horse on their winning list, won the Grand National at 66-1.

I collected the winnings for them. It was two pounds and Ten Shillings, a man’s weekly wage that time and they gave me five shillings.

Mrs Murphy in Glenfield would be waiting for some of us cyclists going to school. She would have a two shilling bit and we all knew that only a Shields of Mountmellick Pan loaf from Eddie Boylan’s would do. She would be waiting for us on our way home from school. 

Mrs Bennett, with the pub on Upper Main Street, had a contact who delivered every Thursday a half cran of fresh herrings. Country people adored a fresh herring and at six pence each they were excellent value.

Word got around and I often carried home on the bike, up to 20 fresh herrings on a Thursday evening for the Friday dinner.

Farmers wives always kept fowl, and to prevent inbreeding would get a few dozen day-old chicks each year. They would send a postal-order to the hatcheries and after a week or so a card would arrive telling them that their day-old chicks would be arriving in Portlaoise Railway Station on such a date and time.

I was asked to collect a box of chicks for a neighbour after school one day, and when I went to the station, the Station Master asked me would I also deliver a second box of chicks to a woman on my way home as she was unable to get to town.

The boxes were small and light and the Station Master secured them well with twine on the carrier.

On my way home, Jim Murphy’s dog was sitting as usual on the wall, watching the world go by and as I passed it heard the chicks chirping and got it into its head that there was free meal available, I peddled hard up Glenfield to the Spout and I was at Bartley Bannon’s Hollow before he gave up the chase. 

A great invention of the 1960s was the Burrdizzo, a device for making bullocks out of bulls in a bloodless simple procedure.

They were expensive and Jim Gannon the Main St chemist had a few that he hired out to farmers for six pence a day, a few neighbours would get together and the one six pence would do them all and I would get the job of returning the crange as it was known as.   

Br O’Sullivan got very flustered one day when he he saw it sticking out of my school bag thinking it was a gun and when I explained he sent me down straight away to Gannons. 

One of the most regular messages was to Mrs Dunne on the New Road, a dressmaker and was the dressmaker by choice to most people out our way – curtains to be altered, trousers legs let down, frocks and dresses, hand-me-downs made to fit. Suits from a recently desceased were given to friends or neighbours and needed altering,                                                                   

 Biddy Bolton bought a pair of Bloomers, double gussed interlock in Shaws sale and the elastic was too tight on one leg so I had to bring it into Mrs Dunne for modification and when ready for collection was delivered to Biddy that evening.

Within half an hour, Biddy was back for it to go back to Mrs Dunne again and she had a lenght of binding twine  that was the circumference of her leg and was to be used as a pattern

These were just some of my schoolday recollections from a very enjoyable time.

SEE ALSO – John F Headen: Timahoe’s Volunteer Band and their trouble with the Black and Tans                                

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