CASTLEBAR residents of my vintage will have fond memories of Mai Leonard and her neat little sweet shop on Castle Street, writes Tom Gillespie.
It was a port of call for youngsters from all over town and Mai knew all the kids by name and all of their parents.
With the close proximity of St. Angela’s national school and St. Joseph’s secondary school, Leonard’s was the place to visit for a few pence worth of sweets.
I was a pupil at St. Patrick’s National School on Chapel Street and we lived in Marian Row, so I had little occasion to visit Mai's shop.
This all changed on Thursday, February 28, 1957, a morning in Lent when the boys' school burned down.
The building was destroyed and, much to the delight of the pupils, classes did not resume until the April 3, 1957, when the school was temporarily transferred to the Military Barracks, blocks G and H.
This brought us in direct contact with Mai as we passed her shop on four occasions each school day on our way to and from school.
You had gob-stoppers, two a penny, slab toffee and all sorts of chewy treats.
Mai’s shop was tiny, with a small wooden counter and the selection of sweets in rows of jars on the shelves behind.
Once Mai got to know and trust the school children she allowed them go behind the counter and selects their own sweets.
Ofter there was a queue of youngsters outside Mai’s as four or five would have taken up all the room both inside and outside the counter.
In 1959, building commenced on the new boys' school located on a site overlooking the remains of the old St. Patrick’s, and it was officially opened on the November 9, 1961.
We were the first sixth class to occupy the new building and this brought us out of daily contact with Mai Leonard, always wearing her blue house coat as can be seen in the coloured photo.
But on Sundays we usually went to the matinee in the old County Cinema on Spencer Street and we had to stock up in Mai’s.
Usually the two gob-stoppers lasted the entire show. So for five pence - four pence for a seat in the pit and the penny for sweets - we had a fine afternoon of entertainment and chewing.
Later when we progressed to attending the night-time films, Mai’s was still the place to get our quote of sweets.
A particular film ran for two nights, with a one-night showing on Sunday as well as the matinee.
Generations of school children were customers of Mai, including my own children. Unfortunately, Mai passed away in 1991, ending a proud tradition.
On occasions we would also buy sweets in Shane Rodger's on Spencer Street.
One Sunday I had made my purchases there and after exiting, an English threepenny bit I got in change slipped from my hand and down the nearby drain.
All I had left was one penny - three pennies short of the admittance fee to the matinee.
Not to be outdone, I gathered my thoughts and remembered that my father, Dick, was part of a band playing in the nearby tennis pavilion for an old folks' party. I made my way there and told my tale of woe and was given the extra three pence for the matinee.
I rejoined my mates in the queue outside the cinema just in time as Willie Ainsworth opened the side door that led to the pit.
Once we deposited the four pence in a tin on a stool we all ran down the long corridor in search of the best seats.
In those days there was a short film shown allowed by the main feature. The Sunday matinee specials were usually black and white B movies that scared the life out of us, the likes of the Abominable Snowman and creatures rising from the deep.
Western serials were also screened so you had to come back the next week to see how the cowboys got on.
As I mentioned in other articles, we practised our reading by reading all the credits which rolled before the film. Mind you, some of the Hollywood names got the better of us and we would skip over them.
Each week The Connaught Telegraph used to print posters as to what was showing in the cinema. These were posted at several sites around the town by Jack Cassidy, as well as appearing in the newspaper.
Nearer home, at Marian Row, there were several shops nearby. The closest was Hamrock’s, then Brett’s, and Brian Hoban’s and Mrs. Carney’s on Chapel Street, where the House of Plates restaurant is now located.
These were all family-run shops and they all remained opened until late into the evening. Brian Hoban’s opened earliest in the morning for eight o’clock Mass-goers to purchase their daily papers.
Across from the cinema was Goldern’s shop and bakery and Nora Lyons' shop.
At the interval in the film the cinema-goers would rush to either of the shops to stock up. In those days it was possible to purchase loose cigarettes in Golden’s and it bothered no one that a fog-like cloud of smoke rose to the ceiling in the cinema.