When we write articles for this blog, we draw on memory, the writing, photos and music Gerry left behind, plus the accounts of his friends and those he worked with. So, we get quite a well-rounded picture of Gerry as an adult. I was curious to know a little more about his childhood. So I got together for a chat with our aunt, Kathleen McBride, Gerry’s older sister – and part-time body-guard, as it turns out!
“Gerry was always watching and listening – always happy, even though he was small and skinny. He was always interested in people, inquisitive, and that started in the boarding house at home. There were always people around, some perhaps not always the full shilling, and you never knew what to expect.
We’d have our dinner earlier – my mother could make a dinner out of nothing and then dessert as well – but you’d have all the lodgers coming into the kitchen in the evening, while we were there, and making their own food, each with their own particular, sometimes peculiar, habits. One lady liked to wrap every piece of food in paper, and then unwrap it systematically at tea-time, and none too quietly, as the news came on. Daddy’s loudly hissed “whisshht – the news is on!” was the inevitable outcome – we’d be waiting for it, every time!
Some of the girls were from the factories, and Daddy would feel quietly responsible for them, even though he couldn’t actually discourage them from going out with the handsome American Navy men, billeted just down the street. There was always a drama of sorts, and I used to get to watch the girls get ready to go out – it was so glamourous!
Keeping an Eye
Gerry had been ill when he was younger but no-one quite knew what the diagnosis was, only that he had to stay in bed for an extended time. I was that bit older, so I looked out for him. The boys, Charlie and Johnny, were older again and off about their business, so when I could, I kept an eye out for Gerry. He was that small and skinny that I was afraid for him going to secondary school – I really feared for his safety and what the bigger lads would do to him, but that was that. We were always close.
I left school at 14 and began work in a local factory sewing underwear for a Mrs. McBrearty in Foyle Street – there was lots of work for girls in those days, but not so for the boys and men; work was thinner on the ground for them, even though Johnny (eldest brother) did manage to get a job in the local sweetshop. Then Charlie headed over to the car factories in England and Johnny went to Canada, where Gerry was to follow the music later.
The eagle has landed
Daddy fitted stoves and ranges for Cook’s, who sold them – he installed them in the houses. He could turn his hand to anything really – he had also worked in the shipyard before then. That’s where the eagle came from, the one that survived the bomb on Sackville Street? That one. (A big wooden American Eagle that came down through the floor of the family home on Sackville street when it was bombed…unsubstantiated rumours suggest that it may have originated on an American ship…)
Sundays we all piled into the car and went to either Shandrum in Buncrana, or to the beach. We often went down Culmore Point Road to the shore and played there. Daddy would always have us very busy there – looking for shells, building castles – while my mother relaxed. He was a stern man – a little disconnected from us like the men were in those days. They weren’t as involved with their kids. His bark was enough, so that you didn’t want to know about his bite, and he rarely got that cross.
When we weren’t at the beach, we were at Shandrum where there were cows to be chased and haystacks to slide down. There was often the chance of a good wake there too – or a gathering there or at Bradley’s, Kelly’s or any of the neighbouring houses – all in front of an open turf fire, with music, spirited singing, and sean nós dancing – Gerry and I loved it. The Stations were a real special occasion – preparations for that were all out – everything was washed and painted within an inch of its life, but it was worth it for the celebrations that ensued!
The Last Word
Gerry was always happy, and always very funny. He took each day as it came and never worked to a grand plan – he took the chances life presented him, lived in the moment – he always did. But he was forever interested in music and talking – and that’s what it came down to – that’s what he lived for.
Gerry was very good to me – we were very close. Mind you, I haven’t even read either of his books properly – the Gerry in those books isn’t the Gerry I know at all!”
And there you have it! Many thanks to Kathleen for sharing her memories with me – the time just flew!