Back in the Fifties there were basically three ways of getting around – foot, bus or cycle.
Cars were a rarity and even though were were one of the fortunate few to own a car, it was generally only used for “special occasions” such as goint to Mass or going for a Sunday Drive.
Walking was the preferred method and as a child it was perfectly normal to walk miles to the shops and back. A local “grown up” girl (she was probably nine or ten but was in a “big class”) used to call for me and a group of us would walk the mile or so to school. At lunchtime we would get the bus home and back. There was a special lunchtime fare for children of one penny on the buses. I can’t remember the normal fare but it was probably three or four pennies.
After graduating to Primary School, the distance was too far to walk so I had to use two bus routes. One route was to Rathgar where I would change buses and catch the next one to Milltown while the other meant a change of buses in Terenure to get to Churchtown. Either option meant a long walk at the far end. It was decided it was time I cycled.
I was already a proficient cyclist having taught myself in the back garden. I was given my brother’s old bike and sent off to school on it.
Cycling wasn’t without hazards. One was tram-lines. Trams had ceased operation before I was born but many of the tramlines remained as a nasty trap for the cyclist. If your wheel dropped into a tram-line there was no way you weren’t going to fall on your ear in the middle of the road.
There other two hazards were punctures and the chain. Punctures were quite common and most cyclists carried a puncture repair kit, usually in a little saddle bag. The chain was another matter. For some reason I had a lot of chain problems. Usually I would be accelerating, standing on the pedals when the chain would suddenly come off. This was extremely painful as I usually cracked my ankle in the process and usually tumbled into the road as well. I would then have to upend the bike and replace the chain which meant I ended up covered in black oil up to my wrists. Teachers got used to this as I turned up late and dirty, with bloody knees and ankles and would just send me off to the toilets to clean myself up.
One day I was brought into Rathmines to buy myself a new bike. It cost £16/12/6 (sixteen pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence – around €450 in today’s money). It was a beauty as it had three speeds (the famous Sturmey Archer) and a dynamo. The only problem with it was that the odd time I wouldn’t change gears properly, it was go into neutral suddenly and I would crack my ankle and fall off again.
Roads were very different in the Fifties and Sixties. Cars were a bit of a luxury so there weren’t that many around. You were far more likely to be run down by a mob of girls cycling to work in Terenure Laundry or by a messenger boy on his shop bicycle with the large basket in front and the shop name on a panel under the cross-bar. Road surfaces tended to be a little hazardous in places too as a lot of roads were made of huge concrete slabs which either cracked or became uneven – another trap like the tram-lines.
One of my favourite tricks on the way to school was to find a milk float. These were battery driven miniature lorries carrying crates of milk bottles for the morning deliveries. The trick was to cycle up behind the float and grab the back for a free ride. Some drivers would yell at you, some didn’t notice but most were used to it. Most milk-floats picked up a couple of cyclists on their journeys as main the dairy was not far from the school.