Published list of non fiction and fiction by Peter McNiff
Ted Veal's War & Peace
Small Town Parade
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Small Town Reporters
Anecdotal History of Greystones, Co Wicklow
When I started the research for Stories from a Small Town, my intention was to capture the essence of how life was in an old Irish fishing village, before change swept away so much of its past. Nor did I wish to be confined in my search by the town's boundary. What interested me but the range of experience of each individual, where they were born and the lows and highs in their past. The mind makes no such distinction so why should I. What seemed necessary was to create the broadest possible view of the world from inside a small town.
Over the space of two years I recorded a large collection of stories from a wide range of the town’s elders, engineers, plumbers, milkmen and parlourmaids, seafarers, captains and engineers and even a judge who in his youth had managed to escape a future as a grocer by following his father into law.
That all of them had lived through hard times was plain but in looking back, their stories emerged with dignity and humour. There was a vibrancy in their stories that would have simply been lost when they died. Sad to say, a great many of them have gone to their graves since I published the book in 2004.
Nellie Green’s tale of a parlourmaid's life among the wealthy people of Greystones has moments of great hilarity. It included her confession to a priest about her complicity in the theft of coal from a vicar to bake bread during World War II. The priest enjoyed her story, too.
There is Judge, who tells of his escape from a life as a grocer by taking up studies for the law. Guy Edwards, a salesman, golfer and mid turret gunner tells of his parachute escape from a Wellington bomber as it fell from the sky in flames over Germany.
And Frank Doyle, remembers being so close to starvation that they came to an arrangement with a cook at a large guest house who wrapped leftover food and left it on top of the bin kept for pigswill.
Even deeper in history Dr Leslie Doyle, provides wonderful historic facts about his family. John Doyle built the first trading ship in Greystones and many of its first houses.
Tommy O’Mahony, firefighter and plumber has some astonishing tales to tell of how his parents were made to kneel and say the rosary by the the female hotel manager at the La Touche Hotel. And so the stories go on.
I was fortunate from the beginning in the introductions that were made for me by Derek Paine, a collector of the town’s old photographs; and the sponsorship of the Greystones Town Council, Wicklow County Council and Ireland’s Heritage Council.
Our town was the virtual invention of the Railway – even though a fishery was in place employing four hundred people at least half a century earlier. The paradox is resolved when you realise that most of the fishermen lived in the hills surrounding Greystones, and mixed their employment with with work for the great landlords, among them La Touche, Brabazon and Tottenham, you realise just how seasonal fishing was. Only a dozen cottages are listed in the neighbourhood of the harbour in Frazer’s survey, 15 years before the railroad arrived.
The La Touche family had tried but without success to raise funds to build a harbour. While that was going on, ‘the father of Irish Railroads’ William Dargan was struggling to interest investors in the further development of the Dublin railway to Bray south to Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford. By the skin of his teeth he succeeded with the help of Vignoles and Brunel. But his victory was Pyrrhic. He died penniless, though not in debt.
Much new information has been discovered about those early railway engineers, as well as many local stories. The opening of the train station at Greystones in 1855 brought a great rush of visitors and soon the town began to expand as it rivalled with several other Irish coast developments as a seaside resort.
In summer many of the town’s local residents moved their families into godforsaken shacks at the bottom of their gardens. Each year their houses were refurbished and rented to visitors. In this way they made a living.
There were several accidents on the line but the worst was when the train crashed off the line at Bray Head and two people died. The story is told in full in Railway Encounters.
This memoir of my days as a newspaperman in Dublin in the Sixties grew out of a friendship with three friends who were reporters at Independent Newspapers during my time. In fact, Sean Duignan and George Devlin arrived in the same batch. Liam Kelly started at the Indo as a copy boy before working on two provincial newspapers and then returning to the reporting staff.
Liam went on to carve out a career in Fleet Street as the Ireland Correspondent headquartered in Dublin. George Devlin, Sean Duignan and yours truly moved to RTE. George became the station's medical correspondent, Sean was appointed political correspondent and for a time was seconded to Government as Press Secretary to Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.
My own career moved on rapidly from my first contract as a researcher reporter to producer-director, anchor, programme editor and executive producer mainly in current affairs and as a documentary maker.
Small Town Reporters is well illustrated and works for me more as a scrapbook of those days, to which have been added commentaries about the time and the movies that had some bearing on the values that were prevalent then.
The story of an British airman's survival in World War II and his afterlife as a mining engineer and resident of Wicklow Town.
Ted Veal was approaching his nineties. He is also one of the most sublime friends I have. He is highly active and meticulous in the way in which he enjoys life. We first met in 2003 when I got serious about painting and discovered Kilmantin Arts, a small community of artists that runs a gallery in Wicklow Town.
Ted's account of his life grew from that friendship. The fact that he had kept his past well documented in a brown folder and that he graciously turned over to me to examine and use as I wished led to what I referred to in the book as a documentary.
I discovered that Flight Lieutenant Edward Veal had survived the Second World War as a navigator in the RAF. That he had baled out of an aircraft when its engines failed in Italy's Abruzzi. The Baltimore aircraft was returning from a bombing run of bridges.
THIS IS HOW THINGS WERE IN 2007
Tino Cassoni bakes our daily bread in Bray and delivers to his Greystones shop every day. He has done this with occasional holiday breaks, six days a week for thirty three years.
“My alarm goes off at half five in the morning,” Tino says. “We are at work in the bakery by six.” In Greystones he takes breakfast with his wife, Clare, who runs Tinos Deli shop with her daughter, Emma and an assortment of immigrant workers from Asia, Eastern Europe and locals.
He finishes work at the bakery between one and three o’clock in the afternoon depending on how busy or seasonal work is. Then he goes home ‘to do my accounts and occasionally a bit of work in the garden’.
Just before the family put up the shutters on the shop I did a photographic shoot at the bakery. The book is a documentary of stills of one of his last bakes.
A portrait of Greystones, County Wicklow, on St Patrick's Day, 2009.
In time all photographs, and in particular collections that target a moment in history increase in value according to age.
The older we are, the more likely we are to look back with nostalgia and to seek out those mementos that have poignancy. We remember taking part in our first parade, and parents, friends and neighbours who were there to support us. Or we simply recall some sight or sound on that that day that stands out in the mind.
It was with this in mind that I spent two hours on March 17 2009, capturing the town parade on the Feast Day of St Patrick.
©Copyright Peter McNiff 2013
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Copyright Peter McNiff 2013