My Greengage Memories

Published in Growing Up, Personal History

I could never have imagined that a shopping trip to the market of Antibes in Southern France could have triggered dormant memories of my childhood days in the village of Blanchardstown in the 1950’s. Specifically, I remembered a summer holiday spent as a companion to the son of the Master of St Vincent’s Hospital on St Stephens Green and owner of Warrenstown House, then situated in the countryside about a mile from the village.

What, one might wonder, is the connection between Blanchardstown and far off Antibes? Well, the answer is a fruit and one in particular, the greengage, which is a member of the plum family. Now Warrenstown House was a place like no other in the Parish in my memory. It was indeed the local ‘ big house ‘. Its road entrance had a gate lodge occupied by Dan the gardener and his family. About half a mile up the drive was the house itself, with it’s manicured tennis and croquet lawns out front, stables out back and, most memorably, a walled orchard that contained more fruit than the Garden of Eden, at least that’s what I thought as a chiseller! It was the real Mc Coy, with fruit and vegetables of all sorts, apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, plums, peaches, glasshouses with green and black grapes, tomatoes sand cucumbers and, for the first time in my young life, I saw greengages. This abundance of fruit amazed me because, in those pre-supermarket days of the 1950’s, the most exotic fruit in our house would have been Jaffa oranges or bananas purchased by our mother on her occasional shopping trip to Moore Street in the city centre.

While my natural tendency was to follow old Dan around the garden as a ‘volunteer taster’, there were plenty of other activities for two young boys to fill in their summer days. It was there that I learned to play lawn tennis and croquet, and to feed oats with linseed oil to the horses in the evenings.Besides the garden, my curiosity was caught one day by my companion’s tuck box in the pantry which, he told me, would be filled with sweets and goodies on his return to boarding school each September. The nearest equivalent in our house was a shoebox where every Lent uneaten sweets and chocolate bars were deposited for safe keeping until Easter Sunday! That was the theory, but in truth, our box gathered more dust than sweets!But it was not only to scrumptious fruits that I was introduced to that summer. Tasty lunches were served in the dining room via a hatch from the kitchen and a mandatory hour’s rest upstairs in the bedroom followed, before launching into our afternoon games! It took me awhile to get used to this resting requirement but reading my friends up to date comics was some compensation! The family dinner at 7 was always a formal evening dress affair, with the sounding of the gong in the hallway calling them to eat ……. and it was also my signal to go home!

One final memory of the house itself was the elegant drawing room across the hallway from the dining room. It had four French doors leading out to a patio and the garden. However, for me, the room’s piece de resistance was a tiger’s skin, complete with head and fangs on the floor in front of the fireplace. Even skinned, the tiger looked ferocious and I always gave its gaping jaws a wide berth! Which brings me back to greengages. Since my boyhood trips to Warrenstown House, I never again ate a greengage over the next 50 years, until I started visiting Antibes. I was in the public market there one morning and, amidst the locally produced fruit and vegetables, I saw boxes of greengages and promptly bought a kilo or two! Happy memories came flooding back of my days in Warrenstown House those many years ago.Sadly, however, the House and lands were compulsorily purchased in the 1970’s and only the House itself remains today as a secure HSE in-patient Unit. The adjoining lands have long since been developed for housing and industrial use. Time has certainly marched on but I never thought that my first greengage tasting experience there would be followed up over 50 years later by a second tasting in Antibes! It was worth the wait… and the memories!

Comdt. Frank Russell is an ex Air Corps SAR pilot and a retired Inspector of Air Accidents.

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