Old Moll – The Milk Market, Limerick

Standing She travelled almost unnoticed through the bustling Saturday morning crowds. Her tall thin frame, slightly bent with age.

The chiselled crevasses that outlined her weather-beaten face told the story of a life lived with hardship and the clothes she wore belonged to a different era. Her only expression of uniqueness was a well-worn stylish Easter hat that sat proudly on her head.

Ninety-four summers had come and gone since she first stood on these cobbled stones as a frightened young child. She recalled, how, back all those years ago, the vibrant sounds of the Milk Market had un-nerved her so. With solemn clarity she remembers the crowded presence of puffing horses effortlessly drawing carts that were laden down with goods and people of all shapes and sizes scurrying around busily on their only form of transport, a bicycle.

In truth, she preferred those sounds much more that the roars and splutter of the new-fangled motorcars that these days, polluted every lane and street. In the intervening years, she had willingly rolled the dice in the game of life. She has laughed and she has cried. Experienced love and suffered great loss. She had succeeded and she had failed, but more important than all of that, she has persevered.

Though born Mary Jane White, to those that knew her, she was affectionately known as “Old Moll”. She was a quite woman and a creature of habit who attended the Milk Market every Saturday without fail. In her mind, this place echoed with childhood memories as she walked with the ghosts, that were her last remaining link to an almost long-forgotten time. To anyone who took the time to converse with the soft-spoken nonagenarian, she would proudly tell them that her mother was born but a stone’s throw from this place, just after the Milk Market first opened its gates in 1857. Old Moll was a child of the unfortunate people born during the Great Famine which killed over one million people in Ireland, and she understood what real hardship was. She owned very little but possessed character and decency in abundance. Though her possessions were few, she was willing to share what little she had with those less fortunate than herself.

As she blended effortlessly with the impoverished Easter shoppers, she went about securing her provisions for the coming week, mindful of the few coins she possessed in her worn red leather purse. Her first stop was to buy four large floury Rooster potatoes from the farmer who traded his fresh vegetables from the open boot of a battered Morris Minor. Then on to the rounded old woman who sat perched on a three-legged milking stool, to buy half dozen large blue duck eggs. ‘Them eggs are full of iron to give you strength’ said the old trader in a rasping voice as she proudly displayed the open box. ‘The Limerick hurling team swear by them. Sure, Richie Bennis himself was around here only this morning for a few dozen’ she added with a knowing nod, as she handed the box over and accepted her payment in return. ‘I told him, with them eggs inside them, an All-Ireland will not be out of their reach next year’ she added confidently.

Old Moll thanked the kind woman and made her way to the final visit of the day, to Paddy O’Connor, the happy butcher, who hummed a constant repertoire of Nelson Eddy tunes as he hacked and chopped his way through the day. Fumbling to find her last few merger coins, she asked the smiling meat seller for a small cut of green Limerick Ham. ’That will do me for a few dinners’ she said gracefully as she packed the ham carefully in her old string shopping bag that was handed down from her mother. Her mission complete, she walked soundlessly around the fringes of the market, nodding at people as she passed by on her way back to the main gate that led out into Limerick city. Before making her final exit, she stopped under the stone arched gate and gazed back over the ancient Milk Market. She loved this place. It was her last contact with the life she once knew. At her age, she appreciated that she had more yesterdays than tomorrows and the wise old woman was insightful enough to realise, that this Market, this Country and these people were on the cusp of change. The world that she inhabited, like her, would soon be but a distant memory in the minds of the next generation. She wondered what the world would look like in fifty years’ time. She smiled, as she turned to make her way home. One thing she knew for sure, was that no one would ever remember, the life of Old Moll.

The Milk Market, Limerick. Easter 1972