Saturday 17 March 2018

When brown paper wasn’t for parcels

Post-war hardship led to humour, imagination and innovation

Con Houlihan
Con Houlihan

Con Houlihan

My memories of my second and third years at Cork University have more to do with hardship than scholarship. The war that ended in 1945 left a terrible legacy. Food and fuel were very scarce -- the city of Cork didn't escape. Many women spent much of their time prospecting for pieces of dry turf in the mounds created by the city fathers. During a severe spell of bad weather a strike at the gasworks didn't help.

Some women cooked in the backyard with sawdust in tar barrels. I can never forget the smell. Many men in those days had only one suit. You could smell the damp clothing in the reading room in the City Library. You could get the same smell at Mass on Sunday in the South Chapel. It was the smell of poverty.

The bread of that era -- if you could call it bread -- had a flavour all of its own. It was concocted from various ingredients, including flour. Sometimes due to a bad harvest the flour was damp -- the bread had a rather mouldy taste. People in rural Ireland used farina to make bread -- this was the flour of potatoes and produced a very tasty loaf.

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