I am a retired librarian, born in Ireland but living in Wales where my family and friends call me ’Barry’ Tobin.
However, ’Patrick Finbarr’ Tobin is the name on my Irish passport and on the free bus pass I received in January 2003 following my 65th birthday!
I was born in Cork City on January the 12th 1938. My father was from Cregg near Rosscarbery and my mother was from Ballinagree near Macroom.
At that time it was all Cork with us!
I was baptised in the Lough Chapel because my parents were then living in a rented house overlooking The Lough, the famous lake in one of the most celebrated parts of that city.
Not long afterwards they moved to a place on the Model Farm Road before they managed to buy ‘Hollymount House’, on the Lee Road. It was there that I first became aware of my existence...
Eventually I became old enough to walk with my mother to the Sacred Heart Church.
My earliest memory of being at Mass there is of a place full of people, more people than I had ever seen before. The priest said something and the church filled with a terrifying sound. "Is it the thunder?", I asked my mother. “It is not”, she said, “it is the people praying.” Relieved, I relaxed a little.
Later, early in 1944, I was taken to school. On the very same day our mother took me, my late brother Brian, then aged 3, and our sister, Ina, then aged 4, all the way from the Lee Road to the Saint Mary of the Isles School. This school, then run by the Sisters of Mercy, is situated near the famous Beamish and Crawford Brewery and is overlooked by the Church of Ireland Saint Finbarre’s Cathedral, famous for its three spires.
My first teacher there was an elderly Mrs. Murphy. My brother Brian did or said something out of order so she called him up for a good slap.
Brian considered the whole thing a massive injustice so he defended himself by kicking Mrs. Murphy very vigorously in the shins. After a brief and unequal skirmish poor Mrs. Murphy wisely decided to let him go!
My favourite teacher, however, was Sister Aloysius. She was young, lively, smiled a lot and was never cross. It was she who prepared us for our First Confession and First Communion.
In 2002 I called at the convent near the school. There was a massive lock and chain on the iron gate. When I pressed the button I had to explain my business. I was admitted eventually.
I was ushered in to a reception area to be greeted by a few very old and rather anxious nuns.
I told I had come along to see Sister Aloysius to thank her for being one of the nicest and best human beings I had ever met.
I was told that Sister Aloysius Flanagan – I had never heard her surname until then – had died a few years before.
I felt very moved to see how pleased the old nuns were that someone had come along to praise rather than to condemn one of their number but I was saddened that I had left it too late for Sister Aloysius herself.
Before leaving I asked to see the little chapel where Sister Aloysius had taught us so much. I went in accompanied by the old nuns. It seemed to be exactly as I remembered it in the spring of 1945...
Not long after my arrival at Saint Mary’s of the Isle my parents bought the ‘Apple Market Tavern’ (now ‘The Brown Derby’) in nearby Barrack Street (‘Da Barracka’). In the yard out the back there were various outhouses. I remember sitting in one of them watching and listening as the local Barrack Street Band, practised their splendid repertoire. How gentle and kind they all were to me then!
In the summer of 1946 we moved back to Hollymount but my parents continued to run ‘The Apple Market Tavern’ until they sold it in 1948.
In the summer of 1994 my mother and myself called at ‘The Brown Derby’ to see where we had once lived. The fittings were different and the snug had gone but the shape and layout was just as it had been in the 1940os.
As we were having our drink an elderly gentleman came over. "Is it yourself, Mrs. Tobin?" he wondered quietly.
Forty six years fell away as my mother confirmed her identity. I was amazed and my mother was like a queen as she was introduced to staff and to customers alike.
We could have visited Sister Aloysius as well that very same day...
In May 1945, as peace returned to a shattered Europe, I made my First Holy Communion in Saint Finbarr’s South, more usually referred to as ‘The South Chapel’.
In late 1948 I received a welcome home to Hollymount that I will never, can never, forget...
In late May or June 1949 I was confirmed by Bishop Daniel Coholan at Saint Patrick’s Church, not far from Glanmire Railway Station.
In August 1950, very reluctantly leaving behind our very own Garden of Eden, we set out from Hollymount and ended up in Belton Park Road, Donnycarney, Dublin.
After numerous changes of address (by the summer of 1956 we were in our eighth house in Dublin, in Cork we had had four different addresses...) I passed my Leaving Certificate examination. I was 18.
In September I was one of thirteen students from my class alone who set off to become priests - about the current figure for the whole of Ireland...
I spent a year as a novice Carmelite (‘O.Carm’) in Kinsale. Then it was back to Dublin to their house in Dundrum, ‘Gort Mhuire’, in a lovely setting at the foot of the Dublin mountains.
I spent the next three years attending the University College Dublin in Earlsfort Terrace, not far from Saint Stephen’s Green. There I studied Latin, English, Irish and logic for one year before studying English and Philosophy for two years. I was no high flyer and graduated in June 1960 with 'pass' BA.
In September I was told that I was not considered suitable to continue my studies. I was given a new suit and a week later I landed in Cardiff. It was the 17th of September, one of the dates I have never forgotten.
In 1956 my father had left Dublin (we were then living in Leeson Street) to work in Wales. Eventually he bought a house in Clare Street, Riverside, Cardiff.
One by one the family had left Dublin to live there. I was to live there until 1974.
I worked for less than a month in the then ‘Tiger Bay’ in a small office heated by a coal fire. Being the junior it was my job to turn up early to light the fire!
Then I worked for then British Rail in the cash office at the Queen Street Station. It was there that I saw the beginning of the end of the age of steam. Then I went to work in an office at GKIS (Guest Keen Iron and Steel) at their works on the East Moors Road.
That’s it – so far so good!
March 1996: I’m the one who’s off duty (©: Anne and John Sweeney, Cardiff).
March 2001: I’m the one who looks just like me (©: Irene Parow, Cardiff).
November 2001: I’m the one with the yellow flowers (©: Irene Parow, Cardiff).
December 2005: Sitting pretty at a friend’s house (©: Áine Ní Cheannabháin, Dublin).
On holiday in July 2010 – nothing to do and plenty of time to do it! (©: me!).
If your surname (or your mother’s maiden name) is Tobin there is a chance that we may be related and there may even be a story there somewhere, depending on what county in Ireland your Tobin side came from, and of course when.
My father Stephen Tobin (1913–1988) grew up in Rosscarbery in West Cork and so far as we can tell there have been Tobins in those parts for a very long time. If your Tobin forebears were also from that area then we could well be cousins.
However, if they came from Tipperary, Waterford or Kilkenny (other Tobin haunts!) we could be more remotely related, from the time, about 1200 AD, when the first Tobins, then called ‘De Saint Aubin’ (or ‘De Saint Aubyn’), came from Brittany or Normandy after the Norman conquest of Ireland in 1170 AD.
When I have been to the north of France I have been impressed at the number of places called Saint‑Aubin.
In Ireland they soon spread out across the country and began to make a name for themselves. They became so influential in County Tipperary that in medieval times the head of the family was known as the ‘Baron of Coursey’.
In County Kilkenny there is a village called Ballytobin.
A branch of the family returned to their country of origin and became established at Nantes. The best known of this branch was Edmund, Marquès de Tobin (1692 – 1747) who was killed in action while in the service of Spain during the War of the Austrian Succession.
Another branch of the Irish Tobins settled in Newfoundland and have prospered there.
The spirit of those distant relatives of ours can be deduced from their family crest of oak leaves (try knocking down an oak tree!) and their Latin motto/war cry: “Noli me tangere” which means, I believe, “Do not touch me”, meaning of course that if you did you’d be sorrier and wiser after the experience.
But that was then and this is now — they say that the modern Tobins have become quite sweet, really!
Anyway, I am, for better or worse, a native speaker of English, Cork style!. My eight great‒grandparents were probably monoglot speakers of Irish. My grandparents were certainly bilingual.
My parents, though they could only speak English, knew many Irish words.
My own Irish, learned in Ireland because it was compulsory and later learned again to a very high standard as a direct result of learning Welsh, is my key to a priceless treasure chest.
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