MUSIC SHOP MEMORIES: “WILL WE GO LOOK AT THE POSTERS?”

Seeing as the last few nostalgia blogs about growing up in Letterkenny during the 1990s / early 2000s went down so well – one on teenage disco days at the Grill and another on weekend cinema trips – I thought I’d stay local again this week. I won’t lie though, I was struggling for an idea to write about until I recently took an early morning walk past what used to be The Music Centre.

Those of a certain age will recall there used to be two of these shops in town. One on the second floor of the Courtyard and the other on the Main Street, nestled just on the corner of the Market Square. While I do marginally recall the Letterkenny Tapes store down at, what’s still sometimes called the ‘Old Quinnsworth’, it was the old building by the Square that sparked my inspiration. 

One morning last week, just before the mayhem of school-run traffic congestion took over the town, I was dandering down past the redbricks of Mount Southwell Place. I’d gotten a bit tired of the same songs on repeat funneling through my earphones and thought it might be time to hit a random playlist and see what comes up. 

In essence, the song could choose me rather than vice-versa. 

Anything, and I mean anything, could’ve come on but, low and behold, I was more than content with what did. It was an old 1979 rock (and some might say, ‘oddly romantic’) song by Kiss. You might remember them as the old metal guitar band who dressed up in black and white face-paint, with wild untamed jet black hair and often performed with their tongues poking out.  

Main Street, Letterkenny.

While it’s a look that’s more suited to dodgy Halloween attire these days, it doesn’t take away from the great toe-tapping and air-guitar inducing riffs that they played. So there I was, humming along to “I was made for loooving you baaaybay. You were made for loving meee! And I can’t get enough of yooou, baby! Can you get enough of meee?” 

Guilty pleasure, yes, but sure why not!

That’s when I spotted the old sign on the side of the wall where the music shop once stood. The fact that it was an advert letting customers know that they had PlayStation 2 and MP3 players in stock is a time capsule in itself to how quickly technology (and time) has moved on since they ceased trading; presumably well over a decade by now, but open to correction on that one. 

Inevitably, this led to flashbacks of school lunchtimes or Saturday afternoons when we’d occasionally loiter about the steps of the Square on days when the weather was half-decent. And maybe because we’d been told to not hang about the Four Lights or Abrakebra unless all of us were eating. 

Every now and again, the question might occasionally arise: “Will we go to the Music Center and have a look at the posters?”

More often than not, you might take a wander in and flick through the big slider they had of wall posters. Obviously, being a music shop, you’d have bands, singers and pop-groups that catered for all tastes. It could range from one of Kurt Cobain wrecking the stage after a set to one of the Spice Girls posing for ‘Girl Power.’ Popular movies and album covers were also a prime feature.   

On the other hand, you might unearth one of some random male models showing off their six-packs while splashing around in the ocean; pictures that looked like an advert for an after-shave product. Then, maybe, a close-up one of a rather alluring Jennifer Aniston – aka “yer doll Rachel from Friends” – giving you a reassuring, subtle and somewhat flirty hint of a smile. 

“That’d look well on my wall, but sure what would me Aul Pair say, hiy?” That was the dilemma. 

Invariably, the question over equal rights between male and female sometimes cropped up. Usually from the perspective of moany boys, by the way. 

“See my wee sister, hiy? She has loads of pictures up on her wall of boy-bands that she gets from her Smash Hits magazine. My Ma says nothing about it, but then if I stick up one of some foxy looking chick standing underneath a waterfall with her head tilted back and her eyes closed, I have to hear about it! I mean jeeeez, like!” 

The mysteries of life. 

Obviously the shop sold much more enchanting products than just posters. Traditional Irish instruments like bodhráns, tin-whistles and accordions were found up on the higher shelves behind the counter. Us being teenage boys though meant that getting a nosey at Cindy Crawford’s or Pamela Anderson’s legs was just a bit more important at the time. 

Having said that, it wasn’t all poster-gazing and ogling. Occasionally, we did actually buy something. 

This was back in the days when you’d count down the days to when your favourite artists were releasing their latest singles. With no internet access to hand, knowing when a song was going to hit the shelves usually relied on what you heard from the chart shows on the radio or if the Top of the Pops presenter mentioned it in the Thursday evening broadcast. 

Being something of an indie rock fan in those days, I still vividly recall putting a bit of pocket-money aside so that I could get my hands on CDs (remember them?) that the likes of Oasis had released. When I’m asked the question about the first record I ever bought, I’m still pretty sure it was a song called ‘Perseverance’ by an alt-rock group called Terrorvision. Don’t ask why.

Then again, as Den TV was mandatory viewing for all children who were growing up in Ireland, it could just have easily been one of those dodgy tracks that Dustin the Turkey released. 

In research for this article though, friends of mine have since told me that they did the same with their limited funds for groups like Eternal, All Saints, 5ive and Robbie Williams amongst others. Artists that are probably now considered ‘ancient’ by kids today. The cheek! 

As the nineties wore on, and into the new millennium, there was something of a change in trends. Seemingly out of nowhere, purchasing vinyl records – the ones that you used to see under the gramophone at your gran’s house – became all the rage. Dance music was thriving thanks to Fatboy Slim, Binary Finary and Judge Jules etc so a new era was getting underway.

Older students in school, the senior lads who had scruffy facial hair and who always seemed way taller than they actually were, played guitars and drums. The slightly younger generation were investing in decks and the notion of bringing turn-tables to a “free gaf” when someone’s parents were away became the new popular music fashion. 

Mind you, parties like those, probably deserve an article of their own one day. 

View from the Square

Music, as we know, is invested in very differently nowadays. A monthly subscription to Spotify grants you instant access to any song you want any time. There’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The more headphones you see on walkers and joggers means that the popularity of music has grown rather than decreased. 

Still though, one wee final trip to the record store would be nice all the same. 

@johnnyfoley1984

GROWING UP IN DA’ HOOD!

LETTERKENNY MEMORIES: SOME HAVE GONE AND SOME REMAIN.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in June 2021

Letterkenny is ever-growing with newer faces, more diverse ethnicities and more modern ways of doing things. In a previous article, I wrote about how the best place to see this is by taking a walk through the Town Park. Sometimes though, places in this great town also changed forever but maybe not always for the better.

This town, the place I happily call my home even though I’ve not always lived in it, has produced an abundance of marvelous writers throughout the years. One of those who has stood the test of time is Patrick McArt – a colleague with us here at theLeader and an uncle to a lifelong friend of mine – and his piece in last month’s edition of this paper struck a chord with me. 

Mister McArt penned a brief but nonetheless poignant column about how he can’t quite shake feeling nostalgic about the way Letterkenny used to be. He wrote about a time when certain shops and stores lined the Main Street, cafés where locals sat outside and, generally speaking, a time when everyone seemed to know everyone. In short, he misses that era. Understandably. 

It got me thinking though about how much this town has transitioned since I was born. With that, a Spotify-headphoned walk around the streets and backroads of the town was required. Starting off closer-to-home and for the purpose of this article’s word count limit, I’ll stay focused on my more local surroundings in and around Gortlee and Ballyraine for this one. 

Seeing where myself and the neighbour kids used to play football on the green outside Knocknamona Park was a start. Back in those days, being the youngest, I nearly always landed with the responsibility of being the goalie – whether I wanted to or not was immaterial – and there was no final whistle. The game only ended when the kid who owned the ball was called in by his parents or when the street-lights went on. 

We used to have this big wooded-tree area along the roadside that we called ‘the Territory.’ During our games of ‘Block’, it was an ideal hiding place before attempting a dash across the road to free all the prisoners. 

Neighborhood kids

It was also once home to a treehouse and an underground den. It was where we gathered tires for the Halloween bonfires every year and it was also where we had a genuine beast of a rope-swing. A couple of the older lads used to bring along a battery-operated cassette player and rock out songs by the likes of Nirvana, Guns and Roses and a bunch of other angry-but-cool-sounding vocalists.  

Nowadays though, you would never know any of it was ever there. Some time back, the green where we played three-and-in until all hours was cut down in size to make way for a bigger pavement. As for the Territory, that land was bought up and it’s now the site of a huge house with a long, stretching garden while other places we used now belong to the Beinn Aoibhinn or Whitethorn Park estates.

It’s not that we really minded when this Gortlee facelift took place. After all, we were getting older and were starting to find new ways to keep ourselves entertained. The new houses that came along meant that new neighbours, with kids of their own, had a place to settle, to play and make memories of their own. 

So, in that case, Letterkenny moved on for the better but it doesn’t mean you can’t reminisce about the way it was. The places where you scored that wonder volley to win the match just before the call from mum on the back porch signaled the end of the game. When you knew where all the other kids were as soon as you saw all the bicycles were lying down and as I ventured into my adolescence, it was also the place I got my first ‘shift’ with a girl who lived in the back-row of houses. 

Sure didn’t I just tell you we were getting older, didn’t I? 

Sadly though, some places in the town didn’t age as well. Growing up in the 1990s, visits to the PinTavern down by Ballyraine was just a mecca of fun. The synthetic noises and flashing lights of the arcade games, clinks from the air-hockey table and of the rolling sounds of bowling balls crashing into pins. It’s no wonder every kid wanted to have their birthday party there. 

As I moved forward into my teens, ‘The Pin’ was still there. Only this time, myself and a group of secondary school friends would use the outside facilities where you could play 5-a-side football on the astroturf pitches. Games were always good fun, but they were quite competitive and on some occasions, a flare-up over a bad tackle would arise. Handbag arguments that quickly blew over, but maybe it was a sign we were just getting a bit more serious with age. 

Caged off

Last week, after a period of about twenty years had passed, I snuck around the back of the Pin’s building and it was genuinely sad to see how so much of the place had become dilapidated, crumbled and overgrown. Rusted barriers caged up the playing fields and the building where we used to play bowling and spend all our pocket money on the arcades resemembled a bomb site. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with business owners packing up and moving on; it’s part and parcel of life. I suppose there is solace to be taken that maybe this mantle was just taken up for younger kids to make their memories just over the road at Arena 7 or maybe at the newly-developed, state-of-the-art football pitch, just along Orchard Grove at Ballyraine FC. 

Discarded goalposts

I get it when people say they miss things about the way things used to be in this town. Heck, I feel that way about places in my own neighbourhood! On the other hand, nostalgia can only get us so far and things just change naturally, sometimes for good and sometimes not. After all, if you ever listen closely to the words of ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles, that’s exactly what they did. 

This article got me thinking though … Maybe next time, I’ll have to explore my memories of The Grill! Now there’s a venue of Letterkenny history that makes you think about times when things went good and sometimes not so good!

MIDNIGHT IN LETTERKENNY (Aug 2018)

“NOW THAT I RETURN AGAIN, MANY CHANGES I HAVE KNOWN”

Originally published in August 2018

After a busy few days at work recently, I opted to take up the opportunity for some ‘me-time’ with a relaxing wander through the Town Park.

Usually it’s just a place I pass through as a shortcut between Sentry-Hill and Gortlee and one I’ve done countless times before.

During a moment’s pause and with a sit-down on the steps, the observations I took in were intriguing and much to my surprise .

By Jonathan Foley

Amid the cooling air of a warm day and with an aura of pleasence in the atmosphere, I looked outward upon the other people in the park. People conversing, laughing and having fun.

Children playing happily and others out doing laps of the rounding paths with their tunes playing through their earphones. Nothing out of the ordinary at first, I thought. At first anyway.

I became surprisingly captivated by how multicultural and socially-diverse those in and around the park were. With the echoing noise of the evening traffic in the distance, everyone – through a multitude of languages and fashion styles – seemed uninterrupted by this as they continued to enjoy their free-time with their partners, their children, friends or even persons just in their own company.

It triggered the question within me about how and, maybe more importantly, why did my hometown evolve so much in its identity over the last few decades and was it possible to consider that maybe it happened so fast – that myself and maybe others – didn’t even really notice. 

I’m very proud to say that I was born and raised here in the town of Letterkenny but I’m the first to admit that, going by family connections, I’m not what you might call a typical ‘townie’ compared to so many others who have lived here. I am, in fact, the son of a ‘blow-in’ family with just one other member of our entire family tree – my brother Alan – being of actual Donegal birth. 

With a surname like ‘Foley’, that shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.

It’s a name that is much more commonly heard in parts of Connaught and Munster as opposed to up here in the northwest.

My mum and dad moved here around the time they got married after leaving Sligo to start a life for themselves when they bought their first house in Ashlawn before moving a few hundred yards up the road to Carnamuggagh Lower in the mid-1980s shortly before I was born.

Dad has since passed away however but during his lifetime, he had never lost his Cliffoney-accent and even now, it’s the same for mum who speaks in a way that would make you question if indeed she had ever even left her native village of Mullaghmore. 

Although I may take after both of them in terms of some physical features and mannerisms, the same can’t be said for my accent as I adapted the dulcet tones of a fully-fledged Donegalian with my ‘Ayes’ and my ‘Wee’s’ and my ‘We’ans!’

So much so that at family gatherings in Sligo, my poor wee granny – originally from County Down – was sometimes the only one able to decipher my oral diction.

Having said that, my parents may not have been born here, but they certainly did become immersed and a part of the community upon their arrival.

Dad worked for years with the Gardaí and was always involved in things like local pantomimes and the ongoings out at the golf club in Barnhill while mum worked in the banks. Suffice to say, she has essentially become an honorary local here at this stage.

That’s just a minor glimpse into my background and the reason for my being here, but after attending a meeting held by the Letterkenny Memories group a few years back, questions of a wider nature began to flourish.

On that night, they were hosting a reunion of the 1967 St Eunan’s county championship winning team. The speaker told that in ‘67, the town’s population was a mere 5,000!

I nearly fell of the stool, I was that shocked.

I just couldn’t envisage a town – to which I call home and am proud to be a part of – being so small in population less than two decades before I was born.

The speaker enlightened me that my native Gortlee was basically just a field that didn’t even have Ashlawn, Oaklands or Knocknamona as part of its make-up for a further ten years.

I suppose I had to remind myself though – or maybe it was more so a case that I was made to be reminded – that my family didn’t come from here.

So maybe that’s why so many of the black and white photos I see of people or places from Letterkenny’s past don’t always strike a chord of resonance with me,

Understandably so too, I hope, because I can never spot family members or distant relatives in them.

On a more comforting note, however, I then remember that Letterkenny’s population is now around 20,000 and that ultimately means that those descendant of a ‘blow-in’ ancestry are in huge numbers here.

And that’s why I like to think there are so many people here nowadays that are perhaps not a part of the town’s historic past, but certainly part of its present and its future.

In my (almost) 34 years in this life, even I have seen how much the town is changed. Back in the eighties, I would go to my childminders, Nan Curran’s, on Eunan’s Terrace and my first ever trip to a cinema was when I was taken to see ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ on the Port Road. Moving on, I played soccer at Ballyraine and gaelic football at O’Donnell Park on into the nineties.

I had my first ‘shift’ by a wall in the newly-built Beinn Aobhinn estate in the mid-to-late nineties and faced the realities of dole-queues and emigration through the 2008 recession era.

I’ve seen the Oatfields factory and the old swimming pool disappear while I’ve also had to see many friends move away, but even with that, I’ve seen newer faces, newer buildings and newer opportunities come to the surface on the town.

And just like my parents, so many others have come here and made lives for themselves and the rich variety of cultural integration from that was there to be witnessed on that simple evening walk through the park.

My descendancy may belong elsewhere and that’s to a quieter and more suburban environment in Sligo, but this is will always be my place-of-birth and my this will always be where I call home.

I was educated and made my friends and neighbours here and I always like to feel that it’s good to be – not just something – to be a real part of something: a team of teachers so as to help the next generation, a team of coaches to help generate an interest in sports or, in this case, a team of writers and newspaper people who gave you something to (hopefully) enjoyed reading this week. 

In a nutshell, not all of us were a part of the town’s historical past but hopefully we can be a part of what Letterkenny is now and for what it will become.