Billy McCarthy: Childhood, Catholicism, GAA.

Billy McCarthy.jpg


Billy McCarthy: Childhood, Catholicism, GAA.


Life History: Catholicism, Cork Airport, Emigration, Farming, Fishing, Fitzgerald’s Park, GAA, Holy Communion, Hurling, Inisfallen, Legends, The Lough, Nationalism, Poverty, Religion, Quaker Road, Sunbeam, Travelers, Trams, War of Independence.


Billy, a one-time Cork Folklore Project member of staff and long-term collaborator, was born in Cork in 1941 and grew up with his six siblings in Quaker Road. His mother was born in Cork and his father came from Dunmanway. Billy attended St Marie’s of the Isle convent school and then Christ the King School in Turners Cross.

Billy recalls that, even though times were hard, life was good, and people didn’t feel underprivileged because all their neighbours were equally poor. He talks about emigration and the Innisfallen ship that sailed out of Cork City every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, full of emigrants. He would make money as a child carrying bags for country people arriving by bus heading for the boat. He witnessed the heartbreak at the quayside, and he calls this the ‘sad side’ of life in Cork.

Billy recalls having to leave school at fifteen to take over his father’s job as a bread van driver when his father took ill. His career also included working at Sunbeam (Sunbeam Wolsey Textiles), which he describes in detail, and at Cork Airport.

Billy talks about his father, who started off working as a tram driver then became a bread van driver, and who was also involved in the War of Independence. Billy talks about the characters he met while working with his father, collecting eggs and bread from country people and Travellers. He tells a tragic-comic story about his Holy Communion and the May procession.

He talks about various aspects of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), including his presidency of the Douglas club, an account of what hurling is and how it is played, and the link between the GAA and Irish Nationalism.

He tells a humorous story about being taken out of school to cycle from Cork to Watergrasshill to tend sheep on land his father owned.

Billy also remembers fishing and playing hurling up at the Lough. He shares memories of the Lough and its changing environment over the years. He remembers trying to meet girls in Fitzgerald’s Park. He recalls motorcycle racing on Monahan Road and Centre Park Road, and on the Carrigrohane circuit on Sundays.

Note; This interview was conducted as part of the Cork 2005 Project

Interview duration: 58m 46s


25 May 2004




Cork; Ireland; 1940s - 2000s;


O'Carroll, Clíona for the Cork Northside Folklore Project (2006) How's it goin', boy? Dublin: Nonsuch Publishing.

Related Content in CFP Archive:

As Interviewer:
CFP_SR00050_mccarthy_1996; CFP_SR00207_mccarthy_1998:

As Interviewee:
CFP_SR00043_various_1996; CFP_SR00049_mccarthy_1996; CFP_SR00220_mccarthy_1998; CFP_SR00253_various_1999; CFP_SR00299_various_1999:


Cork Folklore Project Audio Archive






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58m 46s


Douglas, Cork

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The following is a short extract from the interview transcript, copyright of the Cork Folklore Project. If you wish to access further archival material for this interview or other interviews please contact CFP,

D.H: Billy are there any places in Cork that bring back memories to you or that you see every day and have a little bit you want to talk about.

B.Mc: Yes there are, I think the Lough in Cork comes to mind straightaway - it is a place one of the earliest memories I have I’m sure of going someplace without my parents; it would be fifteen, twenty minutes walk from where I lived in Quaker Road in Cork, em we used to go there after school to fish for torneens, sticklebacks. sticklebacks ok, we used to fish for them there, and roach and rudd and that sort of thing; long summer evenings fishing for those. Another thing that comes very close to my memory when I speak of the Lough is the Hurling League matches that used to be played there, oh I’m talking fifty years ago, and they were sponsored by Dan Hobbs who was a men’s clothier in Patrick Street; he was also a local comedian who appeared many times on the stage of the old Opera House, em, he had a slogan which said, you see he was a men’s clothier, and he used to have the slogan if you want to get ahead get a hat. As I say he used to sponsor the local hurling leagues at the Lough which were played in the long summer evenings! Another incident was my brother had a what we would call a racing bicycle - a bicycle with turned down handlebars, you know, and he was very, very particular about that: he wouldn’t let us use that, we were too young to use that, so that was his pride and joy. But one summer he went to the country working as a helper on a combine harvester, (combine harvesters were very new at the time, and they used to require so many people working around them), and he was doing that for the whole summer, and while he was away I took advantage of his bike, and one day we were cycling in the Lough. Now you can walk right around the Lough: there is an inner path and an outer path; the outer path was always regarded as an Irish mile around the Lough, now it would take a person walking a good ten or eleven minutes to walk around the outer side, but that wasn’t good enough for me: I was cycling the bike in the inner path. Now there is a little wall all the way around it, it is about ten inches high, now while I was cycling around the Angelus bell rang, are you familiar with the Angelus? The Angelus bell rang, and being brought up in the strict religious code that I was, I made a sign of the Cross, and to do that of course it entailed taking my right hand off the handlebar, and while I had lost concentration for that moment, the front wheel of the bike struck the curb which ran right around the Lough and I went head over heels into the Lough with the bicycle following on top of me. Completely submerged in the water, and that’s the way I had to go home and confess my sins that I had taken my brothers bike out and that I had to suffer the consequences. That for me was the Lough, it has many, many memories, and eh I brought my children there down the years, and now I bring my grandchildren there! D.H: Do you find that it is the same, or that it has changed in these many years? B.Mc: The beauty of it in fact is that it is full of wildlife now, it is full of so many different birds - there were just swans and water hens on it in my time, but now there all sorts of ducks and geese that weren’t known around here then, but it is now a wildlife sanctuary and it is beautifully kept and it’s lovely to see, so the Lough has improved to what it was in my time. Legends surrounding the Lough, there is actually the legend of the Lough, which is, it has been written in quite a number of books written about Cork and it’s a the story goes that it is the site where once stood a great castle and the King of the Castle of course had the usual beautiful daughter, who was enthralled with this lovely prince, and one night when there was a big feast in their honour being held at the castle, the King asked the princess to go to the well and bring a jug of fresh water for the table, but warned her that she wasn’t to spill any water because the story went if the water was spilled then the castle would be submerged in water. So the princess went and of course the prince being the gentleman that he was he accompanied her to the well, the jug overflowed, and spilled, and the castle was submerged, everybody was lost, and people say that on particular moonlit nights now you can still hear the music that was being played at the ball, at the time of the function you know, so that is something along the lines of the legend of the Lough now which you can read in quite a number of books about Cork. So that is the Lough was just a beautiful place to go, and it seemed the natural place to go of a sunny summers evening. Fitzgeralds Park too was obviously a great attraction for us young people, particularly I think in our teenage years, when eh guys like myself were chasing the girls and that you know, you’re always bound to find them around Fitzgeralds Park lying out there in the sunshine, and I think that is where we did most of our courting in our time so a lot of memories there. A lot of memories too in the Marina for the same reason; you know we didn’t have any transport or anything like that so all these places were in walking distance and we would spend many, many hours around there. For instance on a Sunday evening, you would have motorcycling on what was then known as the Monaghan circuit, it consisted of the Monaghan Road and Centre Park Road, the motorbikes used to race up and down those roads, there was a natural circuit there, em, so that used to take up quite a lot of our time, eh watching the motorcycle racing, which doesn’t happen anymore of course. Again there were motorcycling racing on the Carrigrohane circuit which consisted of the Carrigrohane straight road, out as far as where the roundabout before you come to Ballincollig (the Poulavone Roundabout) eh bicycles would round that and go back the Model Farm Road, as far as Dennehy’s Cross, go out then to Victoria Cross and back out the straight road again, and that would have carried on up to possibly twenty years ago, when there were some objections I think from the residents of Model Farm Road (that became fairly well built up at that time) and these motorbikes would have been practicing there three, four o’clock in the morning, em, so now you would still have what they call the Flying Kilo, and that sort of thing, there is a kilometre marked out on the Carrigrohane straight where they do speed trials, and that sort of thing, but that’s as far as it goes now, you don’t have the Carrigrohane in use anymore. Do you know all those things they all mean something, and they’re all memories of childhood and growing up in Cork you know, that’s nice to think back on. D.H: This has been wonderful, thank you very much, Billy! B.Mc: You’re very welcome indeed.



Cork Folklore Project, “Billy McCarthy: Childhood, Catholicism, GAA.,” accessed September 22, 2023,