Rostrevor Folk Enjoyed 'Last Of The Summer Wine'

`LAST of the Summer Wine’ was the affectionate tag attached to a popular trio of Rostrevor residents, - the father and father-in-law of President Mary McAleese, along with Jim Curran, who celebrated his 90th birthday in 2003.

Normally, people have to hit the century mark before receiving a telegram of congratulations from the President of Ireland and/or Queen Elizabeth. But the legendary Jim Curran was the recipient of a hand-written letter from Aras an Uachtarian on becoming a nonagenarian.

The Irish head-of-state wrote: “My dad says you are 90 to-day. It sounds like defamation to me, for you don’t look a day over 60. We all join in wishing you a wonderful birthday, and are sorry we can’t be with you, to join in the celebrations.”

That threesome of Charlie McAleese (RIP). Paddy Leneghan and Jim Curran first came together in 1984. Employed at Shorts plant in Belfast for 40 years, Charlie had gone to live with his son, Martin and wife, Mary, on the death of his wife. They moved to Rostrevor, about 18 years ago.

Meanwhile, Paddy Leneghan. who had taken over the Corner House Bar on the Square from Jim Flynn in 1972, later sold it, and was a part-time barman at St Bronagh’s GFC Social Club.

Those droll personalities were familiar figures around the area, especially at weekends, when they would drop into such hostelries as Brian O’Hare’s, St Bronagh’s Club or Annie Parr’s “Top of the Town.” The craic would be mighty indeed. They would also go on holidays together, to Donegal, Sligo, Achill Island, Carrick-on Shannon or Paddy’s native county of Roscommon.

Jim Curran was born in Water Street, Rostrevor, close to the home of Ben Dunne, who later established the Dunnes Stores empire. In fact, he was a close friend of Ben’s brother, John, an Insurance agent like himself. They had a common interest in billiards, fishing, coursing and shared ownership of a record-breaking greyhound.

Incidentally, Ben Dunne began his career at the family’s shoe-shop, and was also involved in gardening and the sheep-business. His son related on RTE Radio how Ben (senior) had applied for employment at Quinn’s the Milestone grocery store on Hill Street, Newry (now Dunnes Stores.) He was turned down and, on leaving the office, told the manager: “One day I will buy you out.” Which he did!

Tragedy had struck the Curran family in 1916, when Jim’s grandfather, Joseph Curran, was drowned when the passenger vessel, `Connemara,’ collided with the collier `Retriever’ on Carlingford Lough.

Jim’s boyhood days were spent at St Mary’s primary school, where his classmates included Danny Tinnelly, Pat John Mulholland, Paddy and Eddie Cole, Peter McCann, John Sloan, Paddy Fearon, Willie Farrell, Francis McNally, John Fearon and Redmond O’Gorman.

Young Curran’s first job was helping with the family’s poultry business, collecting fowl from all over the Mourne area, often by bicycle. And he would assist his father in ferrying tourists across Carlingford Lough, sometimes by rowboat.

Keen “doggie” men, he and John Dunne would go greyhound racing, along with Paddy Duffy, Barney Lambe and Paddy Rafferty from Newry. Indeed, Jim and John were joint owners of “Lone Swift,” which won races at the Newry “Flapper” track, as well as Shelbourne Park in Dublin and Dunmore Park in Belfast, establishing a record at Celtic Park.

Also keen on billiards, Jim was in the Rostrevor INF team, along with Eddie Cooper, Tom Sloan, Michael Murphy, Patsy and Bernard Cole. And he played football for the St Bronagh’s GFC, of which he is now President. Jim was a cousin of the late Terry McCormack, who played for Down. His sons are Donal, GAA County Secretary; Fearghal, a prominent Newry accountant, and Ruairi, who runs the family construction business.

Jim’s nephews include Val Murphy, long-time player and official with St Bronagh’s, Mickey and Eugene Cole, who played for Down. Indeed, Eugene’ wife, Christine, is on the staff at Aras Na Uachtarainn, having been employed at the McAleese residence in Rostrevor.

Large families were common in the early days, with seven children in the Curran household, while their neighbours, the Connollys and Tinnellys had ten each. Jim’s brothers were Walter, Henry and Eddie, while the sisters were Mrs Florrie Cole, Mary McEvoy and Mrs Gertie Murphy, who still survives.

John Tinnelly was a member of Newry and Mourne district council, while George was a long-time chairman of the GAA County Board. The others were Leo, Charlie Dan, and Kathleen, Josie, Evelyn, Sheila and Emily.

Jim Curran described how, during the war years, the Kilbroney area was host to British and U.S. soldiers, who were billeted at Ballyedmond Castle, as well as Carrickbawn Castle, now the Sisters of the Apostles’ Convent at Rostrevor. The Yanks were particularly welcome, bringing presents of chocolates, chewing-gum, nylon stockings, etc.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008