A Nostalgic Glimpse into Youghal’s Marksmanship Glory: John “Boots” Harris Reflects on 1953
In the heart of Youghal’s Sarsfield Terrace, a photograph from 1953 captures the triumphant spirits of three friends—John “Boots” Harris, Paddy “Waxer” Daly, and John Barry Troy. United by their roots and a shared passion for marksmanship, these young men had just clinched victory at a rifle shooting competition held at the Rifle Range Youghal. The winning cup in hand, they stood together, proud volunteers of the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCA), the local defense force.
As time weaves its intricate tapestry, 89-year-old John Harris remains the sole living guardian of the memories etched in that photograph. With a twinkle in his eye and a heart warmed by the tales of yesteryear, he takes us on a journey back to the days when the world was a playground and camaraderie was forged in the crucible of shared adventures.
“We used to meet up at the old military barracks at the top of Cork hill, where Dermot Hurley Est., is now,” recalls John, his voice carrying the echoes of a bygone era. “As young fellas, it was an adventure to join the FCA – Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, the local defense force.”
The nostalgia-laden journey continued down the new line, past the Blessed Well, leading to the firing points in the Ballyvergan Marsh – The Bog. Amidst the sprawling beauty of the bog, these three comrades would transform into expert marksmen, competing from the 100-yard line to the 800-yard line. Behind concrete bunkers, a pulley system raised and lowered the targets in front of colossal numbered signs atop ‘The Butts,’ a massive mound of earth designed to halt the bullets fired during training.
John vividly recounts the picturesque scenes, where soldiers with red flags guarded either side of the butts, ensuring the safety of beachgoers and fishermen pulling their salmon nets on the seaward side. Those carefree days of youth were the crucible in which lifelong friendships were molded, and the FCA became the canvas upon which their shared adventures were painted.
“We were young and carefree,” reminisces John, “and great lifelong friendships were formed during our time in the FCA. The photo brings back great memories of my hometown from the 1950s.”
In 1947, the sands of change swept through, disbanding all reserve forces. Rising from the remnants were the First Line Reserve (FLR) and the Second Line Reserve – An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCA), the local defense force that would etch its mark on the annals of Youghal’s history.
As we linger over the sepia tones of that 1953 photograph, we catch a fleeting glimpse of a time when laughter echoed through the bog, camaraderie flourished in the firing points, and three friends stood tall, champions with a winning cup in hand—forever frozen in the warm embrace of John “Boots” Harris’s cherished memories.
In November 2023 John Harris is hale and hearty, still a regular swimmer and with a memory of past times still as vivid as ever. He remembers sailing on the d’Wadden, one of the tall merchant sailing boats which sailed up the Blackwater and across to England and Wales.
It was “dog rough” says John. There were no cooking facilities on board. With your penknife you might cut a skeilp of beef from the barrel of brine and make a sandwich. There were no toilets and no cabins for the crew!