Memories of the former Czechoslovak Consulate General in Dublin
25.04.2013 / 15:07
Pat Costello recalls her childhood, growing up in the neighborhood of the post-war Czechoslovak Consulate General in Dublin. Here is a transcript of her memories, broadcast on RTE1's Sunday Miscellany programme on 24th of February 2013
RAGLAN HALL, MADAME RUZICKOVA AND ME
I am a bit of a hoarder and recently, I decided a tidy-up of our attic was badly needed. After hours of sorting family memories, old birthday cards, school reports and early artistic attempts into plastic boxes, I sat back on my heels to survey my work. And then I spied a gold-coloured biscuit box with a white sticker on the lid. When I retrieved the tin I could see it read ‘might be of interest’ in my mother’s handwriting.
Inside there were her references from UCD where she studied science in the thirties, photos of her wedding outside the Hibernian Hotel, correspondence from her brothers, letters from her friend Sheila about our good behaviour when she and my father went to London for a few days in the fifties. Imagine anyone nowadays writing letters during a four day trip!
They brought me back a pair of roller skates with rubber wheels, the first anyone had seen in our little group of Wellington Road roller skaters.
In the box, there were also photos of me and my brother. One photo I hadn’t seen before. It was 1950 - I was 4 years old and standing on the weed-free gravel in the front garden of a big double-fronted house. Behind me, over to my left was a huge greenhouse which I never remember having glass.
The house is Raglan Hall, on Clyde Road, now just up the road from the American Embassy in Ballsbridge which wasn’t built then. In the forties, Raglan Hall was a majestic residence and the Czech Consulate. We lived, completely separately, downstairs in the garden flat. The wide granite steps led upstairs to the embassy and home of Major Pavel Ruzicka, the Consul General and his wife, Madame Ruzickova, (the Czech language uses ‘ova’ for the feminine form of a surname). They represented the Czechoslovak Government in Ireland from 1947.
I have a strong memory of being in their book-lined drawing room, and Major Ruzicka’s desk with letters and papers which I must not touch. I sat gingerly on the antique furniture, sipping bitter lime cordial and eating homemade crunchy ginger-nut biscuits, nervously trying not to drop crumbs on the carpet.
1950, the year I was photographed in the front garden must have been a year of turmoil for the Ruzickas. They had spoken out vociferously against the Communist regime, imposed two years earlier and finally the Czechoslovak legation ceased to function and Major and Madame Ruzicka moved to Sandymount. Before they left Raglan Hall the Ruzickas gave us the black and gold hand press which the consulate used to place the address on the top of letters. I still treasure it.
With the Czech legation gone, the gardens, only half an hour’s walk from St. Stephen’s Green, became wild and untended - a place where my brother and I built huts, climbed trees, gathered chestnuts, slid down haycocks and found handbags which bag-snatchers flung over the wall when they had stolen the contents!
If you look at the house today, you will see a block of flats to the left where the greenhouse was. The main house is now divided into several apartments. On the right the vegetable and fruit garden which Madame Ruzickova kept is now tarmacked for cars.
During my childhood, although it became overgrown, the trees produced endless supplies of hard-fleshed, sweet apples - shiny bright red and green – good enough to tempt any Snow White. We clambered through briars to reach them, often too impatient for them to fully ripen.
In this garden too, we feasted on loganberries and down in the corner we picked Jerusalem artichokes for our mother to cook.
With the political upheaval in Czechoslovakia, Madame Ruzickova began to make her living from her little kitchen in Sandymount, supplying Magill’s, one of the earliest delicatessens in Dublin - in Clarendon St., just off Grafton Street. We used to visit her in Sandymount and would come home laden down with liver pâté, ox tongue, potato salad, her own mayonnaise and of course coleslaw – and best of all the white Vienna-style loaf she made - with poppy-seeds all over the top- exotic foods in those days.
We always called her Madame. I remember her energy. She was constantly rushing about, cooking, gardening, mending, reading and writing letters; she had lots of friends and continued to be an important contact for Czech exiles after 1968.
She put her good health down to cold showers and swimming in the sea which she declared in her slightly accented English - were ‘good for the organs’ an expression which my brother and I thought was very funny.
In my mother’s golden biscuit tin, marked ‘might be of interest’, I found, cut from the Irish Times, Madame Ruzickova’s obituary, written by Karel Bacik. Major Ruzicka had died in the early sixties but Madame Ruzickova died on the 20th February 1983, thirty years ago this year. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílís.