Old Lifeboat House, 1906 –2014.


This was the lifeboat house in its heroic age, a century ago. The picture tells the story. The launch of the lifeboat was a momentous spectacle. Everyone came to watch, ladies in summer dresses, young men in flannels and knickerbockers, barefoot urchins, sturdy men in cork lifejackets. You can imagine the buzz of conversation and the clunk of the wheels on a fine Sunday morning. Fewer would have turned up to watch a launch in a howling gale with rain slanting in from the east and waves thundering on the Grey Mare Rock. Those were times of fear, when people strained their gaze seaward, dreading to learn what toll the sea might claim.

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The burly man with the beard, made burlier by his lifejacket, was Reverend Shegog, rector of Holmpatrick, a man who saw practical service to his community as an integral part of his vocation. My father, a child boarding with the nuns, looked askance at Reverend Shegog, because he was one of our separated brethren. In later years he admitted that the rector was indeed a mighty man, almost a giant in a child’s eyes. He would be pleased to see this image nowadays in bars and restaurants around the town. He would no doubt, raise a glass in honour of Reverend Shegog and indeed of the entire crew. Appropriate for a clergyman to become part of an icon.


I became aware of the Lifeboat House sometime in the late forties. There was no lifeboat in it. I think there was turf stored there. It was a place of refuge in sudden summer showers, perhaps during a band recital in the newly developed park on the site of the ruined Coastguard station. One day there was a man painting murals. He painted freehand, covering the interior with Disney characters, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White, Hollywood glamour and sparkling colour all over the walls. I was entranced. Not since Michelangelo put a few coats of paint on the Sistine Chapel, had anyone so totally transformed a plain barn of a building. Then came an ice cream counter with all the delights that a child’s heart could wish for. There were slot machines that disgorged endless streams of money, but only big people were allowed to use them. Our parents did not approve of slot machines, despite the wealth that flowed from them. There was pinball, with real pins and real steelers, not the etiolated shadow of pinball that children play on electronic devices nowadays. Table football  was played by young men with all the fervour and cheering associated with the real thing. Most wonderful of all was the jukebox, a marvel of automation and flowing chameleon lights. It was the most colour that I had ever seen. (You may remember the forties. It rained a lot.) It was a Wurlitzer. I thought that that meant it contained all the music in the Wurld.  My spelling needed attention. For a mere twelve-sided thrippenny bit you could command Doris Day, Jo Stafford or George Clooney’s auntie to pour out her feelings in song, the desires and longings of a generation yet to be labelled ‘teenagers.’ There was a song about a doggie in the window and a robin walkin’ to Missouri, but the less said about them the better. Woof woof. Sorry about that.

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The juke box, like all glamorous things, came from America. The music was practically all American, except for Ruby Murray and Bing Crosbie, who was Irish by popular acclaim.. They sang about other things besides mawkish love. I preferred the cowboy songs: Tex Ritter and High Noon, Slim Whitman whining about tumbleweeds and just about everything else; some other cowboy with a fear of being fenced in: let me wander over yonder, til I see the mountains rise. Guy Mitchell belted out a cautionary tale about a pawn shop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a very foolish man indeed. There was a recitation about shifting, whispering sands, a dead miner and the crafty Navajo. It was different. Tennessee Ernie Ford sang manly songs about fightin’ and trouble and diggin’ coal. One fist is iron; the other one’s steel. If the right one don’t getcha, then the left one will. Walk softly around Tennessee Ernie. I wanted to grow up and be tough like that but I didn’t want to have to listen to Nat King Cole groaning about falling in love and broken hearts. That stage came much later, but by then it was the whimpering Everly Brothers and their ilk. On balance, I preferred the ice cream. Let the big people pay for the music.

At that time, the top twenty hits were calculated on the sales of sheet music, not records. Sheet music! Then the market discovered  the buying power of teenagers. A succession of men with sufficient gravitas to ensure good behaviour, Charlie Grimes, Felix Murray and the ever cheerful Johnnie Murray, saw generation after generation of youngsters hang around the Pier Shop, as the building was renamed. It is important that young people have some place to hang around, some place to laugh, to strut on occasions, to talk and argue and learn a measure of tolerance, to gradually grow up. It is important also to be able to get in out of the rain and maybe offer a glass of orange juice to a girl you have feared to talk to, all summer long. Shaken, not stirred. The poet Yeats, was inspired to write his most famous poem, by a similar orange juice fountain, in a café on the Edgware Road. It was one of those glass containers with plastic oranges bobbing about. It made the sound of a trickling stream. I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree/ and a small cabin build there of clay and wattles made.  I was surprised that so lofty a  mortal as Yeats would frequent a café.   I was not surprised that a local wag applied for planning permission to Sligo County Council, for a small cabin of clay and wattles made, on an island in Lough Gill. He was refused. Anyway, Lough Gill has the most voracious midges this side of The Amazon rain forest. nevertheless Yeats caught in his poem, the longings of the human heart, for home and love and peace and of course, beans and honey, just as the Pier Shop/ Lifeboat House for a time, held our dreams and longings.

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Indomitable it stands against time and change. My children taught me how to play Western Gun and Pacman in there, the first, and my last, video games. Co-ordination of hand and eye and razor sharp reflexes. I lost. It is now a welcoming restaurant. We filled it recently with our children and grandchildren to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. They filled it with talk and laughter and agreeable noise. I know that Mickey Mouse and his friends are still there behind the wainscotting, a task for some future archaeologist to uncover and wonder at, as I did. I looked around at a building filled with love. It was better than Bill Haley. Better than Elvis, Lonnie Donegan, Hank Williams and Harry Belafonte. Better even than the great Fats Domino. Better than any juke box filled with endless music. Our parents would have approved. Even Reverend Shegog would have approved, to see the Lifeboat House so full of life..

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It was worth getting out of bed to see the sliver of moon over the sea. Venus was nearby. It was even better that I caught a glimpse of the space station too, a speck of light in the immensity of the void. There are people up there, also enjoying the dawn. They enjoy it numerous times in the twenty four hour cycle. The spacecraft got away, before I could find my camera. That was the cardinal rule of photography….’Don’t move!  Now you’ve ruined it.’  Children with speed streaks and bird wings instead of arms. Faces blurred, as memory blurs. The space station moved, but the moon gave me a few minutes’ grace. I thought of George Clooney’s film, Up in the Air, billed as a comedy, but bleak and lonely in its conclusions, a winking speck of light in the night sky, to signify his passing. George came to mind again, in Gravity, suave as a coffee advertisement, schmoozing his way through a spaceship crisis. Planets and asteroids swam past in the blackness. Did he get the girl or did they just drift apart, like so many couples? I don’t know. Coffee should keep you awake, but I dozed off, lulled by the magnificent special FX. (We say FX in movieland instead of effects.  Effects, Effects! Write it out twenty times, boy.) I once fancied his Auntie Rosemary. Is it ok to fancy someone’s auntie?

When asteroids threaten the Earth and all the wonderful variety of life that flourishes on it, there is no need to worry. Hollywood springs into action. Hardy men and some good looking women, in figure hugging space suits, heavenly bodies, are dispatched to intercept them and blast them to smithereens, or deflect them away from our gravitational pull. Nations come together in the hour of need. We realise that we all share a common humanity. We gaze skywards at the approaching apocalypse. We watch, via space telescopes, the tumbling, cratered, mass of rock,  whizzing out of deep space, heading directly for Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London.  Nothing to worry about. It’s special FX.  Nevertheless, I’m glad that I don’t live in any of those places. Monsters, Martians, Aliens, Plagues, Giant Ants, Killer Bees, always head for places with photogenic landmarks. Big Ben…bowoing, bowoing. Washington Monument…photo opportunity for the President. Even the Sun went on the blink once and had to be re-ignited by thermonuclear devices delivered by intrepid astronauts. A damn close-run thing.

I saw an asteroid once, many years ago, before Sputnik bleeped its way into our consciousness; before Goonhilly Downs bounced television pictures into space and down again, on the other side of the Atlantic; before Yuri Gagarin astonished the world. The asteroid came at me in slow motion.  (Slo-mo, I understand, in Movieland.) No simulation there. It tumbled and grew in my vision, a sinister black mass, bigger and bigger with every nano-second. I had plenty of time to take evasive action but I had no time to decide. It was thrown by a classmate after a frank exchange of views, on the way home from school. I had time to marvel at his skill. I had time to fear that it might hit one of the petrol pumps in the Caltex garage. There were glass valves on the pumps, where you could see the petrol surging through. If it hit the glass, a Niagara of petrol would gush forth and flow down the hill, towards the school. We would all be incinerated. The school would be incinerated. There would be trouble then. I hoped it wouldn’t hit the glass. It didn’t. It was a brilliant shot. It got me right on the temple. I saw stars and supernovae, the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s moons. I slid into a black hole.I heard alien voices from beyond our galaxy.

“He’s gone up through Ruigrok’s field. We can catch him at the mill.”

My companions seemed to think that this was a good idea. I went along with them…on wibbly-wobbly legs and right enough, we homed in on the culprit, the miscreant, at the mill. A fight was inevitable. Honour must be satisfied. I had no wish to fight. I actually liked the chap. I already had a lump on my head, quite enough to be going on with, at the time. I was bleeding spectacularly.Right was undoubtedly on my side, but my knees were letting me down. He wore glasses, so I couldn’t punch him in the face. There were rules, in those days…before Bruce Lee made kicking and hitting below the belt, acceptable in polite circles. Ah, so!

Three black-robed figures hove into sight. Time lords from a passing starship. Eh, no. They were three nuns taking their daily constitutional, my father’s cousin among them. Divine intervention.

“Stop that at once, you boys!” We had only reached the shoulder pushing stage. “Go home now or I will speak to your parents.” That was enough. In the nick of time. You don’t argue with time lords.

We parted with many backward glares and muttered threats, but nothing ever came of it. That was sixty three years ago, if I am not mistaken. I had a few drinks with him in later years. We sorted out the world and probably the universe, but the asteroid attack was forgotten. I recall that he was critical of De Gaulle. ‘Je vous ai compris,my arse.’ I met him the other day. He looks a bit shook. I wonder if I could take him…Ah, never mind.

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In the time it took to sort out the camera, all these blurred memories came into sharp focus. Photographs on the wide screen, the Imax, the Vista Vision, the Todd A O, of memory. The space station was gone. Venus and the cuticle of new moon had yielded to the greater light, Helios, Sol, The Sun. He’s looking well. No need for re-ignition. Another day.