Upper William Street in December 2020
Jumbo’s fast food restaurant is an institution in Listowel. Just as people of a certain generation remember Chute’s Chip Shop, younger people remember Jumbo’s.
When I was a teacher of English, references to Jumbo’s in children’s essays were a frequent occurrence. Every good day out, every match won or lost, every trip to Ballybunion ended with a trip to Jumbo’s.
Once I was explaining to a class that when it came to the Junior Cert, it may be better to say McDonalds, or even Supermacs because not everyone who was correcting their essays would know that Jumbo’s was a restaurant. “But everyone knows Jumbo’s.” came an innocent reply. I decided to leave well enough alone. If a Junior Cert corrector had never heard of the legend that is Jumbo’s then that was his loss.
Snippet from the papers in 1971
Thu, Dec 10, 9:21 PM (11 hours ago)
New York, Saturday, November 20, 1971
The death has taken place in Dublin of Mrs. Edith Karney, wife of Mr. Joseph Karney, De Vesci Court, Dun Laoghaire, former Aer Lingus pilot and control officer at Shannon Airport. Mrs. Karney, before her first marriage to Captain Bill Cusack, a one-time Aer Lingus pilot who was killed in a Berlin air-lift crash, was, under her maiden name of Edith Newman, a leading Irish fashion model. She then became Aer Lingus’s first chief air hostess, trained many of the earlier hostesses and designed their first green service uniform. After the death of her first husband after one year of marriage she returned to Aer Lingus as Passenger Relations Officer. She was also a member of the teaching staff of the Rathmines High School of Commerce.
When R.T.E. began its television operations she was appointed Head of Women’s Programmes. On leaving R.T.E. she went to the United States where she married Mr. Joseph Karney. While there she filled positions including that of social secretary to Mrs. Heinz, of the food processing firm. She returned to Ireland early this year. Mrs. Karney is survived by her husband, five brothers (including the Rev. Antoine Newman, O.D.C., Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire), two sisters and their families. She was an aunt of the Abbey actress, Angela Newman.
This story has become a regular feature of Listowel Connection Christmases. It is my favourite Christmas story from one of my favourite balladeers and essayists.
The Christmas Coat
Seán McCarthy 1986
Oh fleeting time, oh, fleeting time
You raced my youth away;
You took from me the boyhood dreams
That started each new day.
My father, Ned McCarthy found the blanket in the Market Place in Listowel two months before Christmas. The blanket was spanking new of a rich kelly green hue with fancy white stitching round the edges. Ned, as honest a man as hard times would allow, did the right thing. He bundled this exotic looking comforter inside his overcoat and brought it home to our manse on the edge of Sandes bog.
The excitement was fierce to behold that night when all the McCarthy clan sat round the table. Pandy, flour dip and yolla meal pointers, washed down with buttermilk disappeared down hungry throats. All eyes were on the green blanket airing in front of the turf fire. Where would the blanket rest?
The winter was creeping in fast and the cold winds were starting to whisper round Healy’s Wood; a time for the robin to shelter in the barn. I was excited about the blanket too but the cold nights never bothered me. By the time I had stepped over my four brothers to get to my own place against the wall, no puff of wind, no matter however fierce could find me.
After much arguing and a few fist fights (for we were a very democratic family) it was my sister, Anna who came up with the right and proper solution. That lovely blanket, she said was too fancy, too new and too beautiful to be wasted on any bed. Wasn’t she going to England, in a year’s time and the blanket would make her a lovely coat!. Brains to burn that girl has. Didn’t she prove it years later when she married an engineer and him a pillar of the church and a teetotaler? Well maybe a slight correction here. He used to be a pillar of the pub and a total abstainer from church but she changed all that. Brains to burn!
The tailor Roche lived in a little house on the Greenville Road with his brother Paddy and a dog with no tail and only one eye. Rumours abounded around the locality about the tailor’s magic stitching fingers and his work for the English royal family. Every man, woman and child in our locality went in awe of the Tailor Roche. Hadn’t he made a coat for the Queen of England when he was domiciled in London, a smoking jacket for the Prince of Wales and several pairs of pyjamas for Princess Flavia
The only sour note I ever heard against the tailor’s achievements came from The Whisper Hogan, an itinerant ploughman who came from the west of Kerry.
“ If he’s such a famous tailor,” said Whisper, “why is it that his arse is always peeping out through a hole in his trousers?”
Hogan was an awful begrudger. We didn’t pay him any heed. Tailor Roche was the man chosen to make the coat from the green blanket. Even though it was a “God spare you the health” job, a lot of thought went into the final choice of a tailor.
The first fitting took place of a Sunday afternoon on the mud floor of the McCarthy manse. The blanket was spread out evenly and Anna was ordered to lie very still on top of it. Even I, who had never seen a tailor at work thought this a little strange. But my father soon put me to rights when he said, “Stop fidgeting, Seáinín, you are watching a genius at work.” Chalk, scissors, green thread and plenty of sweet tea with a little bit of bacon and cabbage when we had it. A tailor can’t work on an empty stomach.
The conversion went apace through Christmas and into the New Year. Snip snip, stitch, stich, sweet tea and fat bacon, floury spuds. I couldn’t see much shape in the coat but there was one thing for sure – it no longer looked like a blanket. Spring raced into summer and summer rained its way into autumn. Hitler invaded Poland and the British army fled Dunkirk, the men of Sandes Bog and Greenville gathered together shoulder to shoulder to defend the Ballybunion coastline and to bring home the turf.
Then six weeks before Christmas disaster struck the McCarthy clan and to hell with Hitler, the British Army, and Herman Goering. We got the news at convent mass on Sunday morning the Tailor Roche had broken his stitching hand when he fell over his dog, the one with the one eye and no tail. Fourteen months of stitching, cutting, tea drinking and bacon eating down the drain. Even a genius cannot work with one hand.
Anna looked very nice in her thirty shilling coat from Carroll Heneghan’s in Listowel as we walked to the train. Coming home alone in the January twilight I tried hard to hold back the tears. She would be missed. The Tailor was sitting by the fire, a mug of sweet tea in his left hand and a large white sling holding his right-hand. I didn’t feel like talking so I made my way across the bed to my place by the wall. It was beginning to turn cold so I drew the shapeless green bindle up around my shoulders. It was awkward enough to get it settled with the two sleeves sticking out sideways and a long split up the middle. Still, it helped keep out the frost. Every bed needs a good green blanket and every boyhood needs a time to rest.
The ghosts of night will vanish soon
When winter fades away
The lark will taste the buds of June
Mid the scent of new mown hay.