By Ed Mullarkey
Every now and then something truly extraordinary comes to the attention of the Skerries Historical Society archivist. One such is a manuscript known as the ‘Blood-Smyth stories’. Billy Blood-Smyth was a solicitor living in Clontarf but as a child he, his parents and siblings holidayed in Skerries. Later he brought his own children here. Towards the end of his life, he began writing down his memories of the times he had spent in Skerries. The stories are charming little vignettes of how he saw life here in the middle of the last century.
Billy had intended to look for a publisher for his stories but life – or perhaps death – intervened and the manuscript got tucked away and forgotten about for a long time. Eventually it was passed to a member of Skerries Historical Society where Ed Mullarkey seized on it and said he would make a presentation of it. So it was that ‘Extracts from the Blood-Smyth stories’ became the first talk of 2023.
There’s a huge amount of material in the manuscript so Ed chose a few ‘chapters’ and abridged them. Then he let Billy’s personality shine through his own words.
The family must have been viewed as eccentrics by the locals – perhaps not at first, but certainly after it was discovered that Billy’s mother kept the bread in the coal bucket. Although they might have been more understanding if they had known that it was a brand-new coal bucket purchased at the same time as the loaf of bread. And why not use it as a shopping basket?
There was the time that the Blood-Smyths decided to bring their hens on holiday with them. Twenty-one leghorn pullets and a cockerel, six Rhode Island reds, twelve pigeons, two cats and a dog all made the trip out to Skerries. They stopped off in Swords for petrol where the local children were convinced that an off-shoot of a circus had come to town. Finally arriving at their destination, the white hens went to roost in a little coal shed. Not surprisingly, in the morning they emerged black but otherwise unscathed.
Another anecdote had Billy’s father greatly impressed by a diving platform he saw while on holiday in Wales. Being a man of action, he sketched the platform and set his children to work, scampering all over the platform with measuring stick in hand. Back in Ireland, he sent off notes and sketch to an industrial firm to get an exact copy made. Locals shook their heads and prophesied that the edifice wouldn’t last a winter. But ‘the girder’ withstood at least fifty winters before the county council decided that it contravened health and safety guidelines and had it taken down.