My Father was a Fire Man

 

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(Please let me know that you are out there, make a short comment, it can get lonely otherwise. And thanks for an amazing gig at Joe’s Pub).

My oldest sister Delores gave me this photo of the Wexford Fire Brigade for my birthday, it’s an unusual one that I had never seen before, my father Jem is the last one front right. He later became the Captain, and so we had the phone (incoming calls only).

My first legitimate musical experience was at the age of nine when I joined a brass and reed band in my hometown of Wexford in the southeast of Ireland.

We had just moved down from a fireman’s bungalow at the top of the hill to a three-storey house on the quay with a shop underneath it. My father had been a part-time fireman, while the other part of his time was spent working in Pierce’s Foundry as a turner, those names are coincidental incidentally. The bungalows up on Davitt Road came with the Fire Brigade. Ten semi-detached houses in a row all connected by a loud alarm bell to the Captain – Mr Crosby’s – house, he had the Fire Brigade’s telephone to the outside world. If someone wanted to raise the alarm, they would call him and he would press a button that would ring through all the houses. He would also turn on the siren in the fire station which would travel through the entire town and beyond. If anyone was at work it was understood that they had dispensation to leave. My father would hop on his heavy black bike with the iron spring saddle and make his way up the many hills on the way to the fire station.

My mother was an ambitious woman and she wanted to move up in the world, so we came down the hill. When we got down there she was a bit nervous about me and my brother Paddy hanging around with a rougher crowd down around the main street, so she got us off the street by having us join an all male Catholic brass and reed band called The Holy Family Confraternity Brass and Reed Band. Father Bernie was the main benefactor for The Holy Family Confraternity Brass and Reed Band and he was a very nice man, but he had an unfortunate style of sermonizing, instead of going up he went down, and instead of going down he went up. It made for an unfortunate effect upon the entire congregation bringing us to within a heartbeat of slumber.

 Father Bernie got us involved in all the main religious occasions of the year, the biggest one being the Mary Queen of May march when we marched out to a grotto on the outskirts of town where there is a statue of the Blessed Virgin. I always thought that we were marching out there because she had appeared there but it turned out we were marching out there to try and get her to appear there. When we got out there, Father Bernie said mass in his usual sing songy kind of voice, and it was then for the first time in my life I came to an understanding of how horses fall asleep standing up.

After he had said mass we would turn around and start shuffling back into town. We sang hymns as we went along the way. We had a female choir and a male choir, the female choir were all dressed as the Blessed Virgin herself and the male choir were not. We sang hymns like Oh sacrament most holy, Oh Sacrament divine, all praise, and all thanks giving be every moment thine. Now it was turning into dusk and we lit candles as we came up the hill into the outskirts of town where people stood in a state of reverence at their doorways, and down to the folly where we dispersed, some people went for a cuppa tea and some went for a pint, but we all felt vindicated, we had done something for an hour and a half with absolutely no material rewards, and now we were floating on the security of tradition and the infinity of a silent conscience.

As much as my father liked being a fireman and the few extra bob that came with it, he soon packed up the house and followed us down the hill. On the evenings during the interim when he was obligated to stay there overnight, my mother would send one of us there to have his tea ready for him when he came home from work. I remember running down the hill in the dark having sliced the brown bread and cheese and laid it out on the small wooden table with a fresh pot of rich amber tea.

“Oh be the holy mack” he would say with discomfort, I knew what he wasn’t saying, he didn’t need to articulate his affection.

“You better go back home now, your Mammy will be waitin for ye”

22 Comments

  1. Used to to work with the United Firefighters Union here in Australia. A fine group of workers and organisers, dedicated to looking in equal measure to the safety of their community and the well being of workers and their families.

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    • Yes it’s true Shane, my Father never really discussed his experiences as a Fireman, but my English Brother in Law had been a professional in London, and after moving to Wexford joined up, he told us about horrific car accidents, I didn’t realise that was what my Father had been experiencing. Those 2 way roads in Ireland were dreadful.

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    • i read ty pierce for the stories

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  2. Hi Pierce, A memory of days long gone by. Hope all is well.
    Mary

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    • Thanks Mary, long gone indeed, it was great to see you while I was there, I told Larry that you look so well. Px

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  3. Charming stories

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    • Thanks John. Don’t we lead a charmed life?

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  4. Lovely memories of Wexford Pierce hope all is well

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    • Thanks Tony, hope all is well in Reading, hot as hell here! P

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  5. Glad the lads were spared the blessed virgin suits.
    I love your monday morning milk deliveries, but on my IPad mini,
    in both the Safari and the Chrome browser, “pinching’ the screen to magnify the page does not make the print bigger.
    On my Macbook, I can magnify the text on the page by pinching across the trackpad. I don’t have me a schmartphone, but I think maybe Iphone people who try to read your blog posts will be having the same trouble as I have on the IPad (same IOS operating system,
    i think — Android, I don’t know about).
    – k.

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    • Hi Kev, yeah I have always thought about that, can’t do anything about it unfortunately, I see people on the subway reading stuff on their I Phones that is tiny, of course their eyes are young and less used. In the end one has to say that there is still lots of room for improvement in this world of IT. Lovely to hear from you. P

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      • Yeah, some sites “pinch up” on my Ilittle Ipad mini, some don’t. On the laptop, they pretty much all do. Maybe you could copy, paste and post your Monday Morning Milks text for Facebook timeline reading. My old pal Asa, up in Cambridge , has, at age 62, five-year old twin boys, and he uses the timeline for a blogspot, with a nice lbunch of likes and comments and shares. We all like them “likes.”. And I think that the way facebook works, the more people who react to, share, or comment on our facebook posts, the more people who will see them in the future. I blame the tiny print on CD covers back in the eighties for my now needing reading glasses (and maybe being born 65 years ago, too) A raw organic, washed, unpeeled carrot a day helps, I think. – k.

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        • I’ll try pasting Kevin, it means not visiting the site I suppose and stuff like that, it is all so time consuming as it is. I wonder how Bob Dylan would have written those great songs if he had to do this too?

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          • After spending longer rooting around in some of the geekiest forums I’ve ever rooted around in, and for longer than it mighta took Bob to write Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands and Tangled Up in Blue, I have found a fix for enabling “pinch-to-zoom” in the Safari browser on my Ipad mini. Now I can read your beautiful Monday Morning Milks on my device of choice. (The fix involves “creating, on individual devices, a “javascript bookmarklet” — geeked-to-the-max.) Dylan would have strangled me by now, but my last words would have been that songs must be heard to and Milk Deliveries enjoyed. by one and all. If you asked your webperson to make sure “pinch-to-zoom” is enabled for both mobile and desktop, I’m pretty sure they could easily get that done for you and for all the squinting iphone people out there. Now that I have the fix enabled on my IPad, I can catch up on all those Mondays when I wasn’t on the desktop, where pinch-to-zoom works. (And, speaking of Bob Dylan, didn’t Steve Addabo do a beautiful job of re-mastering all those “New Morning” and Self Portrait” out-takes with just Bob and Al Kooper and David Bromberg. Acoustic piano, acoustic guitars and Bob was really singing back then.) – the white type on black looks GREAT blown up on this little mini screen! – all very and the best — k.

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  6. Great story Pierce. Keep them coming! You said you might be writing a book of stories? Any news on that?

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    • Hi Dave, I have booked the Dublin Unitarian for Nov 25th btw TIX at tickets.ie you are the first to know
      I had an agency shop the book idea around, Joseph O’Connor gave it his approval, and there was serious interest from one publisher, but in the end they lumped me in with other songwriters (Larry Kirwan in particular) who had books and didn’t feel that the sales would be there. Of course, there are still many more that we haven’t tried. I did lose interest a bit though, I think the over-all feeling needs a bit more cohesion. Waiting for my mind to clarify that.

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  7. That’s really touching, Pierce. Beautiful.

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  8. Brilliant observation / memory. “Floating on the security of tradition” I always loved the way you speak and articulate our tradition/culture whether secular or not cos you can’t separate the two regardless of our beliefs. Great image of your dad as vivid as the nicotined hand. Love can’t always be articulate. Sorry to have missed your Irish gigs this year clashed with me doing our own show. Reading this felt like being at a show of yours. Keep up all the good work it’s real valued.
    Pat Kiernan

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  9. love to all man thank you for the yarn x

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  10. Thank You Frank, it was great to see you in WExford, made my night to see you and the lads there, never thought I would see John Behan and the gang again, thought I had lost them to Declan O’Rourke or someone like that!! Wish someone had videod you guys, arm in arm, spread across the front of the Church, singing Faith of Our Fathers, what a moment. Love p

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  11. remember running down the road with our dads gear the big coat the axe in its cover and boots,trying not to break our necks

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    • That’s a good one Paddy, I forgot that, they did weigh a ton. it’s funny you should write I was just thinking of something that you and I used to do. I often recall it when I’m meditating as a perfect moment, you’re memory appears to be better than mine, so you probably recall it differently. One very beautiful sunny day, you and I went fishing with our new fishing lines, an orange coloured twine wrapped around a wooden crank with a hook at the end and a weight. You and I were crossing the old Wexford Bridge with the barrels staggered across it as a deterrent to speed, it was about 7am and we looked down along the river Slaney towards the sand banks on the other side, we planned on digging there to uncover some worms for bait. I can recall the feeling of complete serenity and perfection, no school, and nothing to do but daydream, I’m sure we caught more crabs than fish, but that moment has stuck with me this day Paddy.

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