1951 and a Commercial Traveller sets off round Southern Ireland

Jimmy set the manual choke and cranked his old Austin 7 into sputtering life. It fired third time and muttered away in the style of venerable vehicles with violent vibrations and some misfires, before it settled down to a regular ‘putter’ ‘putter’.  (the ‘Commercial Traveller’ was my Irish grandfather who retired in 1953.)

Jimmy’s job as a commercial traveller took him away from home each week. His wife Sarah, dropped him off at Dublin’s Connolly railway station at 7 a.m. every Monday and off he went for the week with his treasured samples case. He returned on Friday evenings and Sarah picked him up at the station at 6 p.m., regular as clockwork.

“Jimmy”, she called, “are you ready, it’s time we left for the station”.

“Ah now, I’m as ready as I will be”, he answered.

She dropped him off at the station entrance, they gave each other a peck on the cheek. She wished him a grand week.

The ticket inspector greeted him at the gate – “how’re you doing then Jimmy, off to Cork again?”. “I am indeed Billy”, he replied. “Is the train on time?” he asked.

“Isn’t it always”, the inspector chuckled.

He started his week in Cork and either worked his back up the East coast through Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow or the West coast through Limerick and Shannon.

He walked down the platform to his favourite carriage. This was going to be a grand week with new contacts.

Dublin Station

He arranged his bag and samples case carefully on the rack above and plopped down on the comfortable velour seat.

Moments late his old pal Pat opened the door.

“Top of the morning Pat, did you enjoy the week-end?” he asked as Pat settled his cases.

“Ah Jimmy”, Pat said, “I had a lovely time”. “I took the boy to Lansdowne Road* to watch Jackie Kyle and the lads trounce the English on Saturday”.

“Herself wasn’t feeling too strong so we listened on the radio”, said Jimmy, “Jackie’s penalty won the game”.

“Oh it was, it was” said Pat. “Old Jackie’s still a bobby-dazzler, with the sidestep of an angel and the speed of two horses”.

Jackie Kyle

“So what’s your route this week?” Pat asked.

“Well I’ve got Cork, as usual, today and then to-morrow I’m off to Ballingary to meet the manager at the new food canning factory”.

train in Eire

He’d changed jobs at the end of the previous month and he was enjoying the new products.

When he’d met his old chum Pat on the train he mentioned that he had a new job.

“And what are you doing now?” Pat had asked.

“I’m working for Jeyeses” he’d said.

“Oh Mother Mary have you found the religion then” Pat had asked in surprise.

“Ah no”, “it’s Jeyes Fluid that I’m working for”.

They’d had a good chuckle at that one.

“And how’s Jeyes’s doing?” Pat winked at him. “Are you getting any divine inspiration with the new products?”

“Ah now stop your coddin’ Pat. There’s new factories opening up in the South West and I am in at the right time. Disinfectant’s all the rage”.

They chattered cheerfully about this and that until the train pulled into Tipperary where Pat alighted.

“Have a great week then Pat, I’ll see you on Friday”.

Soon enough the train pulled into Cork and Jimmy set off on his sales round.

He normally stayed at the ‘Arms’, but had decided to try a new traveller’s hotel, which had a livelier bar.

He checked into ‘Casey’s Hotel’ at about 6 p.m., settled into his room and went down to the bar for a plate of stew and a couple of beers. He wanted to be on top form to-morrow for the new manager.

The bar was alive with talk and tall tales. He noticed a gnarled old timer sitting in the corner with his feet in a bowl of hot mustard water.

“What’s the auld fellow doing?” he asked the landlord.

The landlord, the proud owner of a bulbous red nose with a well defined road map of broken veins, said “Ah him. Isn’t he a shepherd. He comes in twice a week for his pint of porter. He walks 7 miles from the sheep, so we give him a bowl of mustard water for the feet and the 7 mile walk back”.

He had a pleasant enough evening swapping yarns with fellow travellers, some of which even had an element of truth.

Up bright and early he went down to breakfast. He loved the hearty breakfasts at the traveller’s hotels. Poached eggs, sausages, bacon, kidneys, mushrooms and black puddin’. A couple of cups of strong coffee and he was well set for the day ahead.

He hurried off for the station and bought a ticket for Ballingary.

He boarded the train at 7 o’clock and settled down for the 3 hour journey.

He got chatting with his fellow traveller and soon discovered to his surprise that he had boarded the non-stop express to Limerick which didn’t stop at Ballingary.

Jimmy, always a resourceful fellow, didn’t panic. He considered his options. If he stayed on the train to Limerick and then caught the 11.45 back to Ballingary he would be an hour late for his very important appointment.

Quick as a flash he had a solution.

He decided to walk up to the front of the train and ask the driver to stop for a moment at Ballingary.

He bounced from side to side of the passage as the train rocked merrily along. When he reached the driver’s compartment he knocked on the door.

The drive opened a small window and asked “can I help you sor?”

Jimmy explained his dilemma. “You see, I have a very important meeting at the new canning factor at Ballingary and I have boarded the wrong train. Is there any chance you could stop for a wee second at Ballingary for me to jump off?” he asked.

“God no” said the drive, “they’d fire me for such a thing”.

The driver thought for a moment and said – “here’s an idea sor”.

“If I hold you out over the platform and slow down, you can get your little legs pumping like mad and when you are up to speed I’ll drop you onto the platform”.

“Capital” said Jimmy as he scampered off to collect his bags.

Back in the seat behind the driver he waited for Ballingary to hove into view, and there it was up ahead.

The driver let him into his compartment and Jimmy squeezed in beside him with his bag and samples case. The driver opened the door and slowed the train down. Once they were alongside the platform the driver held him out and shouted, “now then, you get those little legs of yours running like Jackie Kyle”.

The driver dropped him onto the platform where he made a safe landing.

He was slowing down as the train gathered speed when a brawny arm scooped him up off the platform “ah bejaysus sor, you nearly missed the trayan”, said the beefy guard as he drew him into the guard’s van.

“Oh mother of Mary, this can’t be happening”, said Jimmy in anguish. He was going to be very late for his meeting.

As soon as they drew into Limerick, Jimmy leapt off the train, scurried off to buy a ticket back to Ballingary, made a very unctuous phone call to the new manager at the canning factory and sped off to catch the train to Ballingary which was just pulling out as Jimmy scrambled aboard.

As Jimmy hoisted his case to the luggage rack the penny dropped. He sank to the seat in despair.

“Oh Jaysus”, he said “I’ve left me samples behind on the Limerick train”.


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Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Semi-retired baby boomer, part time gout sufferer, occasional curmudgeon and website dabbler.

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