Bonfires on New Year’s Eve


New Year’s Eve was crazy. All the gangs from the area would go gathering materials for the bonfires. They would collect pallets, wooden crates, tyres and anything else that would burn. The Villas, Whelan House, O’Rahilly House, George Reynolds, Stella Gardens, St Brendan’s Cottages, Pembroke Cottages and the Pigeon House Roads would all have their own fires.

Sometimes, if the gang hadn’t gotten enough stuff to burn they would rob someone else’s. It got very rough, which I didn’t care for, so I hid a lot while there were running battles on the streets.

One night, word filtered back that Stella Gardens and George Reynolds were going to attack the Villas and rob all the stuff we’d gathered. Some of the older lads were ready for them. They took up fighting positions. I went into my typical fighting mode. I hid in me Ma’s bedroom.

Peering out the window, I could see one of our lads hiding behind a huge tree outside Number 45, hurley in hand. A lad came down from Irishtown; I think it was my cousin Billy – me Da’s sister’s son from George Reynolds House. When he passed the tree the older lad stepped out and smacked him across the face with the hurley. He collapsed in a heap in the street; I collapsed in a heap in the bedroom. “Blood is thicker than water,” says I, hiding under the bed.

Another year, we were collecting and we were expecting the usual raid. One of the older lads, Joe Early, asked me if I would like to go to the pictures. I was undecided – should I stay or should I go? We chose to go to a Norman Wisdom movie and laughed from start to finish. When we got home, the bonfire was just about ready to be lit. I had ducked the fighting with my good looks intact for another year.

Mr McBryan was the master of ceremonies. All the men would be drunk and singing. The younger men would be drunk and fighting. McBryan would lead us all in Auld Lang Syne and great fun would be had when the fighting was over. When we got up the next day the fire would still be smouldering. We’d get it started again the next day and keep it going for days. Soon we would be fed up and that would be that for another year.

This in an extract from Gay Byrne’s book Is it Dark Yet Ma?
By Gay Byrne