Wednesday, April 01, 2015

IT’S been a while since I found myself in the environs of the capital with time on my hands. But just such an opportunity presented itself last week, when my other half had a work commitment in the vicinity of Lansdowne Road. It didn’t take me long to clear my diary and volunteer for chauffeur duty – a decision helped by the prospect of a dry, bright day promised by Met Éireann.

With my cargo delivered and the car parked up for the day, I stood just short of the top of Lansdowne Road wondering which way I would set out.

I decided to start my day with a bit of family nostalgia, making my first port of call the last house on the left before you come to the Aviva Stadium. Well, not really a port of call – rather, a walk-by the house that was once my uncle’s home.

Our visits to this house, though few, were memorable. The drawback for us lads was the fact that the house was populated with girls. This, and a manicured back garden, left little room for any meaningful games of cowboys and indians.

I can remember our first sight of that very garden – a narrow strip of green before the mass of concrete that was the back of the Lansdowne Stadium stand rose up to the sky.

I can still hear the girly giggles of our city cousins, as their country counterparts nearly leapt out of our skins when a train seemed to come out of nowhere, thundering around the back of the Lansdowne Road stand before disappearing on its onward journey.

It might have been a poor location for acting out the adventures of Billy the Kid and Geronimo, but at the time, we thought that having your very own train and a massive stadium in your back garden was hard to beat. The resident girls didn’t share our opinion.

A rugby fan might give his right arm to live in such a location, but my only recollection of any mention of the game in my uncle’s house was the hullabaloo at the time of the controversial Springboks visit to Dublin in 1970, and my uncle’s ire when he couldn’t get the windows of his house insured against possible damage.

On the occasion of that visit, a protesting crowd, variously estimated at 6,000 to 10,000, marched down Lansdowne Road on 10 January 1970. Charlie Bird, later a well-known journalist, was a participant in the march that day. He recalls in his memoir that, despite the large numbers present, the march passed off without serious incident. I can only vouch for the fact that my uncle’s windows remained intact, though I seem to remember a strong Garda presence and some baton charges taking place.

If you are interested, the match finished in a draw at eight points all. And while you will readily know the present-day heroes – Paul O’ Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Seán O’ Brien and Tommy Bowe – many of my heroes were playing in Lansdowne Road that day. Tom Kiernan, Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson and Fergus Slattery were just some of the giants of rugby back then.

My aunt and uncle are long since gone to their rest, and the house has just as long since gone out of the family. But, like all houses, it has many stories to tell about its various occupants down the years.

And it was this thought that occupied my mind as I made my way the short distance back up Lansdowne Road, making for the city centre. At the top of the road stands Lansdowne House. This nine-storey precast concrete structure has stood here for almost half-a-century, and its construction in 1967 gobbled up half-a-dozen of the original houses.

As I turned the corner onto Northumberland Road, I wondered about the houses obliterated by this progress. Alas, I have no family connection or insider knowledge on these houses but, while researching possible Queen’s County connections with this part of Dublin, I found House No 1 Lansdowne Road recorded in the1901 census. I also found Mary Curwin, a native of Queen’s County, employed there as a domestic servant.

I might not have looked much beyond Mary Curwin were it not for an error in transcription I found between the original handwritten census to the typed and digitised version. Mary’s employer, listed as a Charles L Townshead, got a little lost in transcription.

The digitised version is the basis for anyone searching the census. Thus, had I been searching the 1901 census for the Townshend family, I would have found 40 results countrywide. But I would not have found Charles L Townshend and his family. Instead, I would have been pointed towards Charles L Townshead and nine others of the same name, all equally mis-transcribed from their original Townshend name.

But I’m afraid we are deep in injury time at the end of this first half, so I’m going to kick for touch. Hopefully, we can restart next week and follow the convoluted story of Charles L Townshend and his household at No 1 Lansdowne Road.

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By Tom Cox
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