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Paul Francis Mc Cann

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Absent Friends - Rocks and Ruths
by Paul Francis Mc Cann   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, May 19, 2007
Posted: Saturday, May 19, 2007

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Big step with heavy suitcases in a new land .



In a series of articles I have put together entitled Absent Friends ,
I have managed to contact hundreds of people who emigrated from a village called Ardoyne in North Belfast and adopted another home in many places around Australia . There have been many people who were not interested in sharing their memories about the place they left . However some have and it is for these precious few that I am persisting to so the hard yards and research in the continuing search for Absent Friends here in Australia . With on the going cost’s of this project my ability to do what I would like to are not possible . I shall not let that stop me in bringing some more Absent Friends into the circle I have already found .

Now I would like to introduce you to Kathleen Ruth . The daughter of Anna and John Ruth from 47 Hooker Street in what was called old Ardoyne which has now been demolished for many years . Kathleen’s Father John Ruth R.I.P. ( or Big John as he was named ) originally came from Herbert Street (also demolished ) . Herbert Street had many characters and a few shops and The Hibs Social Club . Certain men in Herbert had stills and made the illegal Irish Potieen , that was sold to those people who were game enough to try it . For those who enjoyed a gamble there were the card schools behind Herbert Street in the entries . Herbert Street was always a busy thoroughfare for people .

Kathleen’s Mother Anna (nee) R.I.P. had a shop in Old Ardoyne on the corner of Butler and Hooker Street . The shop which was called Rocks was Christened The Peppermint Lounge “ by some of the local lads who would often meet there for a lemonade and a chat before going to the dances in town . Big John and Anna ran the shop in both the good times and hard times alike . Although the shop is now gone there are many memories that will live on in the heart of the district . Like so many of the corner shops it stitched together the fabric of the people in the district .

Kathleen tells me she could write a book about the people and the happenings in Rocks shop . Even when the troubles were on they always found a way to have a laugh about things she says .I’m sure it would be a very funny book called the wee shop . Who knows it may even come to be .
It’s encouraging when you witness the real character of people come through in tragic circumstances . Ardoyne certainly has had its share of tragedy over the years which has contributed to the strength of its people .
A great sense of humour has always been one of Ardoyne’s greatest assets .

Kathleen has many happy memories of the decent people in Ardoyne like Mary Ann and John Gillen the next door neighbours in Hooker Street , Mary Ann and John Gillen .Also from Butler Street was Kathleen’s best friend Mary Hughes . Lizzie and John Hughes were Mary’s parents and she spend a lot of time in their house . Kathleen loved to get out to the dances in town with the Clarkes . One of their favourites places was the Plaza Ballroom .

She says ,
“We were mad about the Miami Showband and we followed them everywhere they went ..We never gave a thought about how we would get home , but somehow we did . There was hardly a night we didn’t go out .
My Mum and Dad were so good . If I was sitting at home Mum would ask if I needed money to go out and she would slip me the price of a dance and I was away like a flash . “

Many of Kathleen’s best memories are of the little simple things she did most every week . She went on ,

“Dancing in Ardoyne Hall , sitting in Fusco’s fish and chipper over a coke all night .“

Summer nights in Ardoyne saw many young faces aglow , couples walking together hand in hand up and down the wee streets in the long twilight hours . Pubs packed until closing time when the patrons split out on to the streets of Ardoyne where they lined up for a pastie supper or a chip maybe . Then there were those who waited for a bag of sherbet lemons or a
Quarter of Merry maids from Rocks corner shop where the craic was always good .
As summer always drew people out on the streets so did it draw people away from the district . There were many who went abroad or to the holiday resorts . Kathleen herself loved to get away to Butlins with her friends in the summer . Many of Ardoyne’s young ones went across the border to popular spots like Salthill and Dundalk . Freedom was an innocent week away with friends in the hope of meeting somebody new .

Kathleen had a great affection for the Bone area and it’s there where she met John from Ardilea Street who would become her husband .
After John and Kathleen were married they were blessed with four children and the entire family of six emigrated to Australia .

Kathleen recalls ,

“There we all stood in Melbourne , myself , John , our four kids and 14 suitcases . It was hot . The buildings looked funny . Everybody spoke with an accent except us of course . We were tired and I said to myself , Oh my God what have we done .“

For people who have never had to make the big step it’s hard to imagine just how it feels . The enormity of it all being there but not really being there at all . It’s like you’re stranded not knowing what to do next . It’s a terrible feeling that comes over you when you’re a long way from home and you feel lost and alone . I’m sure there are many migrants who must have felt this similar thing arriving in a big country for the very first time .
That must be what links so many absent friends together . The feeling of finding the unknown and confronting the challenge ahead . But like so many other absent friends we have made a new life in Australia and many other lands . We have fitted in and made our contributions to society .

John and Kathleen soon settled into their new way of life . John secured a job with the Government as a technical officer and Kathleen got a job in a bank as well as teaching Irish dancing . Their children soon grew into their new environment and started taking up studies in new schools .
Kathleen started up her own dancing school in Australia and her daughter Catherine won many Irish dancing competitions at festivals here in Australia . Kathleen and John’s other children Ann Marie, Michelle and John . have made good friends and all have steady jobs . Their futures look very promising . The Somerville family from Ardoyne all enjoy good health and wish everyone who reads this the same . Another Absent friend leaves us with a positive statement .
Good luck and may God bless you wherever you are .

THE END

By Paul McCann





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Reviewed by Frederick Rodgers
Great story Paul, I always enjoy tales from Belfast and of the people who lived there.
Reviewed by Kathleen Donnelly (Reader)
Ya know Paul, it's always nice to read all the stories of the people who left Belfast for a better way of life. Have you ever taken a look at Joe Graham's site. I think you would really enjoy it, he has many memories of the old Belfast...I mean the one that we have all left and which is forever frozen in our minds. Slaite, Kathleen from the Falls
PS I always make it a point to check your latest poem and go through your stories.!!
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