Newtown:'The Parish of Saint Paul’s'

They called it 'Little Ireland','The Wearing of the Green',
All good friends and neighbours, the like you’ve never seen.
None of us were wealthy; the riches passed us by,
Our policy was not to take, but to give or just to try.
That was the spirit of Newtown, I don’t mean whiskey or gin,
But to fight against adversity and have the will to win.
And win they did, against all odds, those people of Saint Paul’s,
Because, as the old folks used to say, “If God don’t send, He calls.”
Rosemary Street and Ellen, North William Street and Tyndall,
Roland Street and Pendoylan, now my adrenalin starts to tingle.
Those six streets were Newtown, surrounded by railways and walls,
And here are some of my remembers of the Parish of Saint Paul’s.

Saint Paul’s Church in Tyndall Street, where we all went to pray,
Hymns singing so devotedly with the organist Mary O’Shea.
Everyone loved Miss Mary, she was held in high esteem,
As the children gathered around her you’d think she was the Queen.
The Bob Tail was our playground, the Canal our Empire Pool,
Our Lido was the Feeder, where we went swimming after school.
I remember the bookies on the corner, where we had our little flutter,
And cries of “Span!” and “Knuckle down!” as we played marbles in the gutter.
A game of ‘Gobs’ or ‘Kick the Tin’; picking winkles down the Leys:
Our pleasures were few and far between, but they were happy, happy days.

I remember too the threepenny Hops, our very own Pavlova,
The girls done up in their Toni perms, looking for the Dance Floor Casanova,
The boys all in their Sunday best, their hair brushed to a sheen,
And with hair oil so expensive they just used margarine.

Then there were our Rugby teams, Crusaders and Saint Paul’s,
And the arguments and discussions over lineouts and on mauls;
The inquest on the Saturday match, what went wrong and why,
And what they called the referee when he disallowed our try.
I listened to those arguments around the old Welsh walls,
And vowed that after leaving school I’d play Rugby for Saint Paul’s.
What about the game of ‘Pitch and Toss’, two gambling schools at least,
With Larboes on the lookout for the coppers and the Priest.
Some worked to a system, which they said never fails,
As a youngster, to my mind, it just meant Heads or Tails.

Who could forget the corner shops, with Auntie Emm in the middle?
At Carlson’s and Duffy’s you served yourself, and anything else you could fiddle;
Ellen Healy’s and Memmie Daley’s were the Tesco’s of our day,
Where the weekly groceries were on the book till Dada got his pay.
Those corner shops were our life blood, whichever way you look –
Our Access card the kiss of life to those who were on the book.

I am very often reminded of all our Public Houses,
Where we had better entertainment than any Liverpool Scousers.
We had Master Mind and quizzes before they came on telly,
Every Saturday night in the Crighton Arms, run by Billy Fitz and Nelly,
And how about the good old Duke once kept by Peerless Jim.
Then we had the ‘Ockers’, Tommy Burns and Tim,
Dai Kelleher only lived next door, not far for him to roam –
But at ‘stop tap’ on a Saturday night he’d have a taxi home!

The unloading of the spud boats in the now defunct West Dock,
The Dockers swearing, sweating blood, in a race to beat the clock,
The women on the landing stage, stitching, weaving, stacking,
And Doty O’Loughlin watching out, to ensure there was no slacking.
No room for skivers on this job, those Dockers had their pride,
The Captain’s promised a bonus, if they get him out next tide –
The dockers in the West Dock Bar, to get a wet inside.
I have very often heard it said, a rumour I shouldn’t repeat,
That when that pub was busy the dock water went down two feet!

How about the ‘Irish Wakes’, all good clean fun and laughter,
They sometimes had the funeral first and held the wake just after.
It was best to have it that way, the old folks always said,
For the singing and the dancing was enough to wake the dead.
No one was ever turned away, it was an ever open door,
Come in me boy and sing us a verse of 'The Hat Me Father Wore,'

Or 'Danny Boy,' or 'Mother Macree', or about 'Killarney’s Lake'.
And I’ll tell you of the tricks they played at Steve O’Donnell’ s wake,
When Rafferty, with no respect for the dead, Took the corpse and put it in to Spinster Riley’s bed.
O just come in and have a tot
Or a little pinch of snuff,
Push Murphy under the table there
– I think he’ s had enough!

I remember the mystery writings on the bridge we crossed to school,
Such as “Mary C loves Johnny D,” and “Josie M’s a fool.”
Some writings were real nasty and friends were torn apart.
Dan Murphy said, “Its the Leprechauns who write on the walls,
They’re out to cause trouble,” he said,
“Between Saint David’s and Saint Paul’s.”
“Not the Catholic Leprechauns, of course, it’s the Protestants,” he said,
“They creep out on the bridge at night when you’re asleep in bed.”
Those writings caused many a tear, of that I have no doubt,
Nobody knew who the culprit was, it was always signed, “FIND OUT!”

The characters and the nicknames are remembered to this day,
Who could forget Liz Ripper, if they ever passed her way?
Or Butcher O’Brien and Kyker, Mush Clements or Bosheen,
Golly Eyes, Bratcho, Pablo and Tagneen,
Tommy Uko and Our Lord, Dutchy Reagan and the Troupe,
Dibby Doora and Consta, our very own disco group.
Jumbo and the Little Flower, Towta Daley and The Skinner,
John O’ Shea The Tipster – who never tipped a winner!
Dan the Liar and Oxo, Stagger Juice and his Dog,
And Rafferty and McKeon, who came over from the bog.

Then there was little Danny Reardon and his brother, Nick the Grip,
When asked, “Where’s the urinal, mate?”, he thought it was a ship.
“How many funnels has it got?,” said Dan,“if its got two it's in the Queen’s Dock,
But you’ll have to hurry up,” said Nick, “it went out at three o’clock!”
Remember Billy Navo? and his elder brother, Pats,
When Navo let his pigeons out his neighbours had no cats.
What a character that Navo was, Newtown’s Davy Crockett,
It was said that he could peel and slice an orange in his pocket!

The memories still remain of those far off happy days,
A good community now split up and all gone different ways.
The MacCarthys and O’Briens, the Murphys and Ahearnes,
The O’Sullivans and Dwyers, the O’Loughlins and the Burns,
The Collins and the Walshs, O’Shanahans and the Bradys,
The Flynns, the Reagans and the Doyles, the Careys and the O’Gradys,
The Whelans and the Barrys, O’Keefe, O’Shea and Quinn,
Sestanovitch and Nikovic – Sestanovitch and Nikovic? – don’t know how they got in!

We had a surplus of O’Briens and quite a few O’Learys,
So we gave some to Saint Peter’s, and in Canton, to Saint Mary’s.
We also sent MacCarthys to Saint Alban’s on the Moor,
And taught them the art of Rugby – their team was very poor.
Then we sent out Missionaries to build a parish called Saint Jo’s
And gave them talks on Rugby, just to keep them on their toes.
Our Mission was successful, beyond our wildest dreams,
Now they have a Church, a School and four good Rugby teams.
So raise your glasses, I’ll give you a toast, to those Newtown Men of Vision,
Who did so much for others and thus fulfilled their Mission.

A gentle shake, a whisper, my grandchildren are gathered near,
They’ve been listening to my ramblings and I wipe away a tear.
“Wake up, Grampy, you’ve been dreaming and talking in your sleep,
About a place called Newtown, and you’ve had a little weep.
You’ve laughed aloud and shouted, and made a lot of noise,
And sang a song that sounded like ‘We are the Newtown Boys’.
So Grampy, please, when you have time and finished all your calls,
Will you tell us all about Newtown and the Parish of Saint Paul’s?”
Indeed I will, I’ll tell them all of our laughter and our joy,
So that when I’m gone they’ll be proud to say, “My Gramps was a Newtown boy!”

Now Newtown’s gone, demolished, to me a sinful pity,
A part of Cardiff gone for good – we were a town within a city.
But you won’t find any Epitaph, or a plaque set in the walls,
To say that this was Newtown, the Parish of Saint Paul’s.
But remember this – there must be a place up there,
Without any Railways or Walls,
Where the people of Newtown meet up again

©: Tommy Walsh. Recorded in 1988 and transcribed, with his kind permission, by Mary Sullivan, Chair,
The Newtown Association

Born at 2 Pendoylan Street, Newtown on 15 April, 1914, Tommy Walsh was the eighth of the ten children (6 boys and 4 girls) of Patrick and Mary Ann (née Driscoll). In his youth Tommy was a noted amateur boxer and held the titles of Welsh A.B.A. Champion, Western Counties and Southern Counties Lightweight Champion. He married a “Newtown girl” – Elizabeth (Lily) Collins, on 14 January, 1939 at St. Paul’s Church, Tyndall Street. They had three children, Thomas, Frances and Joseph Patrick. Tommy died 18 months after Lily on 13 August, 1991.

It was these verses, more than anything else, which led to the setting up of this association and which inspired their great project to erect a Memorial Garden in the area.
This fine memorial was unveiled and dedicated on Sunday 20 March, 2005.

St. Paulís New Church, Tyndall Street
Solemn Opening by H.E. Cardinal Vaughan.

Published in The Green Dragon No 2, March 1997

A shortened version of this poem has been set to music by Frank Hennessy and has been recorded by 'The Hennessys' on the CD 'Homecoming', released in August 2000 by HFG Records, 1 Victoria Park Road East, Cardiff CF5 2PR, Wales.