Fond Memories from My Childhood in Bray, County Wicklow

Bray, County Wicklow lies on the eastern seaboard of Ireland and is known as the "gateway to the garden of Ireland."  Just twelve miles south of Dublin, it offers a  range of attractions to suit all ages.

The promenade starts at the northern end near the harbour and Martello Terrace.  This was the childhood home of the great Irish author James Joyce.  There is a mile-long stretch of promenade and a pebbly beach which will lead you to the   link path to start your climb up Bray Head.  If you do manage to climb up Bray Head, it will give you a magnificent view of the surrounding Sugarloaf and The Wicklow Mountains.  Looking out toward the Irish Sea on a clear day, you will be able to see the mountains of Wales in the distance.

In the long ago past, this was my playground.  I was born and raised in Bray, the middle of five children.  The promenade was a haven for all my family, and with lots of school friends we would go "dipping" in the cold water of the Irish Sea.  The cold sea never put us off.  My Mam worked in Casino’s Fish & Chip shop across the road from where we would be "dipping."  Bags of chips would keep us fed until we went home in the early evening, where my Granny O’Rourke would have made a hearty meal of stew or potato cakes -- large, thick pancakes that would fill the whole frying pan with batter.  Then, when it had been slowly cooked, we would let the butter melt into the pancake -- mmmmmmmmmm ... mouth-watering even now!

We were as free as birds.  If we were not down at the sea during the holiday, we were up in the woods making "Tarzan's Cave," or picking the Bluebells or any other wild flowers for our Mams and Grannies.  Sometimes, we would venture further afield up to Darley Miller's woods, situated at the top end of the Boghall Road.  In autumn, this is where we would pick blackberries and chestnuts.

We played "hopscotch" with squares marked out on the pavement with chalk (which had, no doubt, been nicked from school!).  Catch five pebbles in the palm of your hand, thrown up into the air, and then turn your hand around and see how many pebbles you could catch on the back of your hand.  Whoever caught the most pebbles won.  Then there were our games of marbles.  A hole was dug into the ground.  Each person threw to see who could get the nearest.  We even played our own version of cricket.  The black section at the end of a lamppost served as the wicket, and the roadside was the field!

Lovely, long days just playing ... no fear in us.  Although, as we went out the door we could hear the words that we heard every day: "Don’t speak to strangers," and "Don’t leave one another" were on the list of things we were not to do.  However, that is not to say that there was no such thing as paedophile’s (bad men and women is what my granny would call them) to instil into us the dangers of not talking to strange men and women.

The 1970s and 1980s brought a wave of tourism to Bray.  All the emigrants would flock home from the mills and car factories in England and Scotland.  Bray was very prosperous, and every house that had a bedroom to spare would take in lodgers.  The Scottish visitors, in particular, would have brought a musical instrument with them: Banjos, accordions -- anything that would sound a musical note.

I was raised in Wolfe Tone, and the next road to us always had lodgers.  So, every night during our school holidays, we could be found sitting on the roadside listening as the music was played with people singing along.  Then, of course, as it got dark we would hear our names being called by the various parents and Grannies.  It was off to bed until the next day.

Lovely innocent days, all gone now.  I wonder how many children of today will be able to recount their childhoods in such a free and innocent  fashion.


Mary Thorpe is the author of "That's Just How it Was," a personal memoir and tribute to her much loved Granny O'Rourke (nee Nolan).  It is an attempt to place the stories she heard and was told into a true and historical context.

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Tags: Bray, Childhood, Wicklow

Comment by Brendan Flynn on February 11, 2015 at 6:00am

In some ways Yes Mary....However I doubt that anyone that has left doesnt have Ireland in their heart.

Perhaps you would let your family know about the Monument project.......which is closing in on completion in Vancouver BC and will celebrate the immense contribution of the Irish to Canada.......from coast to coast.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 11, 2015 at 6:25am

Brendan ; I do not have any contact with mu sister in laws family as she remained in Ireland; got married to my brother RIP..

My youngest brother lives in Calgary ; have been to visit him on several occasions  and will be visiting again this year some time.He still gets very homesick at times as does his wife ; both from Bray - as do I and I am only across the water .Ireland is in our souls - it never leaves us.   

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Comment by Irish Cultural Society of GC on February 12, 2015 at 2:16pm

Our boardwalk in Coney Island, Brooklyn was a lot more honky-tonk than the peaceful boardwalk in Bray.  You had the luck of walking to the beach; we took the subway and had a ride home with sand everywhere and salt water dried on our skin.  Thank you, Mary, for helping us to remember.  Childhood is the thing for fun then and now and forever.  Lucky we are who have grandchildren close enough to be a part of the fun.  My grandparents on both sides remained home in Ireland.  Too bad for them; too bad for us.  John Walsh

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 12, 2015 at 2:40pm

Hello John Walsh ; lovely to have your comment om my childhood reminiscence .  Emigration broke many family ties and left parents heartbroken.

I know from my own experience of moving from Ireland the heartache it caused me and my family. We all do what we feel is right at any particular  moment in time; which in hindsight we would mange differently . 

Having a job, a house , cars  ; University education ; seemed all so important at that particular  time ; did not however compensate  for all the loss'es we had ; family , friend's,  familiar places, children not seeing their grandparents ; grandparents not getting the hugs that rewards them ; just for being grandparents . It is sad John - But then its Life ,

In hindsight we would all be perfect !!


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