New book reveals 101 items to remind us of the way we were

Dan McCarthy takes a trip down memory lane with a book that charts 101 items from our recent popular history from TV show Wanderly Wagon to the Aran jumper to the ‘I shot JR car sticker’    

New book reveals 101 items to remind us of the way we were

Our recent history is replete with names that trip off the tongue. In the political sphere, Collins and De Valera; Pearse and Connolly. In the literary sphere, Yeats, Beckett, Joyce.

In the industrial sphere Model-T, Aer Lingus, Sony. Multiple other arenas provide the iconic names by which we negotiate our lives. But there is much more. There is the daily stuff that may last for just a few years or even months but with which we still formed a connection.

Damian Corless has filled this cultural gap with a wonderful compendium of stuff we know we knew but have maybe forgotten. Wanderly Wagon, the Black Babies Box, the thatched cottage, the Aran jumper, Tayto. This is, or was, the stuff of our lives.

Here is a random selection.

No 18 is a double: the penny coin and the quiz programme. The coin was the lowest prize on the famous Quicksilver presided over by the iconic Bunny Carr. He once received the answer ‘Goosey Goosey’ to the question ‘what was Gandhi’s first name?’

Corless takes in the wonderful Just a Minute Quiz hosted by the incomparable Larry Gogan on RTÉ2 Radio. One highlight being ‘What type of person would wear a tutu?’. “A bishop’ came the profound answer.

Finally, he wraps this slot up with an anecdote from Ray D’Arcy’s Blackboard Jungle when security men had to break up a fight between the parents of opposing teams. Testing times indeed.

No 27 in the list is the diddley-i special beloved of American tourists – the thatched cottage. It dates from only 350 years ago as opposed to the mists of time. It was as much a fashion statement as a vernacular design, says Corless as the Irish began to adopt the new house style of the planters.

There was a time when most households would have had a sacred heart lamp in their home.

At No 41 on the list, Corless says it was one of the first things in people’s houses to be wired-up to the mains as reported by the ESB at the time. He goes on to point out that the lamp/symbol didn’t exist for the first thousand years of the Catholic Church.

One of the most recognisable brands in Ireland is of course Tayto at No 52 on the list. As countless emigrants would attest, it is one of the images and products they most associate with the country. It has evolved as not just the logo of the eponymous crisp but Mr Tayto has his own theme park in Ashbourne, Co Meath.

The company was set up by Joe “Spud” Murphy in Dublin in 1954. Tayto neon signs became part of the urban landscape and the crisps were an overnight sensation. Corless tells us three decades later that Irish people eat an average of three packets of crisps a week – most of them Tayto.

No 63 is the Safe Cross Code. Times may have been more innocent but many adults can recall at least some of the code that was designed to help them cross the road safely.

The campaign was fronted by the “fluffy mutt” fondly known as Judge from Wanderly Wagon. This was part of a wider public information film series that included Good Manners in Church (1960s) and Mister Careless Goes to Town (1949).

Ah, dear, old Wanderly Wagon. No 72. The sinister Godmother who looked more likely to chop you up and put you in the pot than make you a nice Irish stew. The lovable vagabond Fortycoats, and the mysterious Rory.

The sly Sneaky Snake, the crafty Crow and the drip, Judge. The flying wagon itself; long before ET was ever heard of that battered old shopping trolley carried our dreams over the clouds. Among the nostalgia trippers was Neil Jordan who actually scripted one episode.

At No 75, Clery’s Clock has long been the rendezvous for paramours exchanging billets doux and much more. If anything outside what is generally regarded as cultural artefacts can be called iconic it is this clock.

We are told Dubliners have been shopping at that spot for 200 years and the clock became popular as a meeting spot at the time of horse-drawn trams.

What TV-watcher from the 80s can forget JR Ewing and his ten-gallon hat? At No 80, the ‘I shot JR car sticker’ will strike a chord with many who were obsessed with the identity of the would-be assassin of the Texas oil baron from TV land.

A hot topic of conversation of the day, or in contemporary parlance, a water cooler moment. The JR sticker evolved from many other types of sticker such as the Bring Back Jack (Lynch) which was plastered over many cars in the 70s.

Poor JR got shot and the country ached to know who dunnit? Viewers were kept in suspense till six months later in the autumn – 1.8 million viewers tuned in in 1980 to find out the culprit: his mistress Kristin Shepard.

At No 82 is the harp. It was adopted by the Free State in 1922 as an insignia but the Government never registered it so as a to avoid a case with Guinness which also had used the harp logo – though its was right-facing as opposed to the left-facing one of the proposed other.

Corless has recorded 101 items from popular history. Maybe most belong in the dustbin of history but the nostalgic out there will treasure some as playing an important part in their lives.

There is a lot more in this book to take you on a trip down memory lane: the Jacob’s biscuit tin; the pioneer pin, the Mass card; the Jack Charlton mug, the MGM lion. Makes you wonder what our era will offer to future historians. The smart phone?

From Clery’s Clock to Wanderly Wagon: Irish History You Weren’t Taught at School; Damian Corless; Collins Press. €10.39.

Three foods we once loved ...

Fry’s Chocolate Cream

Reached national popularity when Fry-Cadbury sponsored radio dramas which first aired in 1955. They occupied a place in the national conversation that has no counterpart in today’s fragmented multimedia world, says Corless.

Kerrygold butter

A ‘rare experiment in direct marketing’ from the Ireland of the 1950s. The name was chosen to capture ‘sun-kissed pastures’ with romantic Ireland as the selling point. Launched in 1972 with the catchphrase ‘Welcome Home Kerrygold’ the brand is still going strong.

The Irish coffee

It ruined three perfectly good drinks said a connoisseur: coffee, cream and whiskey, Er, okay. Much more famous outside the country than in Ireland, though Co Clare could pass as a foreign country in this case.

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