It's a Long Way from Penny Apples

It's a Long Way from Penny Apples

by Bill Cullen

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Tis better to be born lucky than rich....

There are many ways to confront tragedy and hard times. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's tragic—and ultimately uplifting—tale of how one man overcame adversity and found happiness in the New World is a compelling story that has touched thousands of readers.

It's a Long Way from Penny Apples is another view of the Irish experience, another man's journey out of the grinding poverty that held an entire generation of Irishmen in its thrall.

Poverty and its ills can rend a family apart and ruin countless lives, leaving individuals on their own to find their way, if they can, out of that despair and on to a new life. But not every family gives in to defeat. Sometimes the choice is to not leave anyone behind... and out of that love, a family can come together, using all their talents to bring all of their loved ones to a better place.

Bill Cullen was lucky enough to have one such family. Born and bred in the rough inner city slums of Summerhill in Dublin, Bill was one of fourteen children. Selling on the streets from the age of six, be it fruit, flowers, newspapers, Christmas decorations, football colors, or programs, was a means of putting food on the table for Bill and his family. He finished school at thirteen to go on the street fulltime. In 1956 Bill got a job as a messenger boy for a pound a week at Waldens Ford Dealer in Dublin.

Through hard work and unrelenting determination, Bill was appointed director general of the company, in 1965. Bill went on to set up the Firlane Motor Company which became the biggest Ford dealership in Ireland. In 1986 he took over the troubled Renault car distribution franchise from Waterford Crystal. His turnaround of that company into what is now the Glencullen Group is a business success story-the group now has an annual turnover of 250 million.

Bill Cullen's story is an account of incredible poverty and deprivation in the Dublin slums. It highlights the frustration of a father and mother feeling their relationship crumble as they fight to give their children a better life. It's a story of courage, joy, and happiness—of how a mother gave inspiration and values to her children, saying to them, "The best thing I can give you is the independence to stand on your own feet."

It's a Long Way from Penny Apples is nothing less than a modern-day Horatio Alger story, told with humor and love; a heartwarming tale of redemption and overcoming adversity by one of the most famous self-made men in Ireland

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765310439
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/01/2004
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 813,195
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Bill Cullen is a director of the Irish Youth Foundation and in 1998 was a recipient of the Lord Mayor's Award for his work with disadvantaged young people of Dublin.

Read an Excerpt

It's a Long Way from Penny Apples

By Cullen, Bill

Forge Books

Copyright © 2004 Cullen, Bill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780765310439

Chapter 1
The Germans Bomb Dublin
Billy Cullen was heading back to bed when he heard it. A faint drone, but slowly getting louder. A bloody air plane. He took the clock from the shelf to the window and saw that it was twenty-five past one in the morning. Listening carefully, he guessed the plane was down in the south docks area, around Ringsend. Heading up the River Liffey. As the drone faded to the west, he sat on the chair and realized that it must have been the plane's second time to go over, as he had wakened about ten minutes before. Pulling on his trousers, he went over to the bed and shook his wife's shoulder.
"Wake up, Mary," he said, and she was awake like a shot. "I'm going out the back because there's a plane mooching around up there. Remember they accidentally dropped a bomb in Terenure a few months back."
He lit the oil lamp and moved to the door while Mary hopped out of bed and put her shawl around her.
"Mind yourself, Billy," she whispered as he let himself out.
"I'll be okay," he said. "Just bolt this door behind me and open it on my five taps when I get back."
Billy stepped down the stairs in his bare feet and out the back door, to the scrubland behind the Summerhill tenements. On the way, he heard scuffles and murmurs from the spunkers in the basement and thought they'd have no chance down there if any bombsfell. When he got out to the yard, he saw the dockland searchlights weaving patterns in the sky. That would happen only if they had no information from Collinstown Airport on the passing plane. It could be a lost British bomber trying to get home, but he should be heading east to the British coast, not west into the Irish midlands. If it was a German, he too could be lost and might mistake Dublin for Belfast, or even a British city, if his instruments were faulty.
In the moonlight, he could clearly see the old stable buildings at the end of the yard stretching over to the Twenty-seven Steps, where his wife's brother, Bob Darcy, had his horse and cart stabled. Just when he was thinking he could go back to bed, he heard the aeroplane again. The noise was louder now, definitely down by the docks but on the north side this time, and suddenly he saw the plane picked out by the searchlights: There was a German swastika on the side. He turned and dashed up the back stairs. He gave his "shave-and-a-haircut" taps and Mary opened the door.
"Get dressed, get the kids up," he said. "We'd better get out of here; it's a bloody German bomber up there."
The words were hardly out of his mouth when he heard the crump, crump, crump of bombs landing. He pulled Mary to the floor. There was another crump, crump, and then the noise of the aeroplane filled the room as it passed overhead. As the noise faded, Billy thought he heard another crump before everything went quiet. But the silence was broken now by the sound of shouts and screams. Mary picked up the two girls: Rita, who was four, and two-year-old Betty. The baby, Vera, was still asleep.
"Don't touch any gas taps, Mary. Only use this oil lamp. And get the girls down to Molly's," he said, as he pulled on his boots and gansey. "That's bombs the bloody so-and-so dropped, and it's not far away, either. I'll have to report to the Local Defense Force in Rutland Street School."
Mary had herself ready and was dressing the girls. "It's okay, Billy," she said. "I'll take care of things here and check out Mother Darcy. You make sure you get Big Bob with you down there, so give him a shout first."
As Billy turned to leave, the door burst open, and Missus Carey from upstairs came in, crying, "Jesus, Mary, and Holy Saint Joseph, Mister Cullen, they're going to murder us in our beds! Himself is after dropping on the floor with the fright."
Mary put her arm around the old dear and said, "Off you go, Billy, I'll look after all this. Take care of yourself."
Billy moved out the door with his usual "You too," and he threw a dabble of holy water on himself from the small font nailed to the wall under the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Down the stairs he went, moving a few people aside on the way, and when he got out onto the street he saw his neighbor Tommy Farrell on the footpath.
"It's down toward the Five Lamps, Billy. We'd better get moving to the school. Here's Bob," said Tommy, pointing down the street, where Big Bob Darcy was coming up the middle of the road. He was fully dressed.
"Bejaysus, a fella can't even have a bit of a hooley with his pals but either the guards hoosh us out of the pub or some bloody German in his aeroplane tries to blow us all up. This is some state of affairs," said Bob, and it was obvious from the white froth on his upper lip that he'd still been scooping Guinness when the bombs fell.
Billy looked over at Bob Darcy, his brother-in-law. A big tough man he was, a full six feet four inches and over 250 pounds: He wasn't called Big Bob for nothing. While he was a gentle sort of fella, he was known to be fond of the Guinness and with the drink on him would take on any man in a fight. Billy Cullen didn't touch the drink--in fact would never go into a pub--and from that point of view he had little time for Bob Darcy.
Billy knew that no matter how much booze Bob had in him, he would never show it. He had seen him outside the pub after a night's drinking, still able to outfight a younger, sober opponent keen to be able to say he'd floored Big Bob Darcy. For tonight's work his size and strength would be needed. Billy felt a shiver down to his boots as he saw the smoke and flames in the distance.
Up Summerhill they went, with people calling nervously from the hallways. Men with only their trousers on and the women in shawls.
"What's up, Mister Cullen, are we in for a hiding?" someone shouted.
"No, it's okay," said Billy. "It was only one aeroplane, and it's off home by now. Go back to bed, the LDF boys will take care of things."
As he was saying this, they could hear the clanging of fire brigade bells not far away. They came to the door of Rutland Street School--called the Red Brick College on the Hill by the locals. Jimmy Corbally was at the door. In they went, to find Captain Bolger and about twenty other men in the large hall.
"Well done, lads," Bolger said to the new arrivals. "We're just ready to head off. The word on the phone is that the houses up at Newcomen Bridge on the North Strand Road have been severely hit. We're to get up there fast and help the fire brigade lads, so grab your kit and double up outside and we'll move into Killarney Street and up to the Five Lamps. Let's go."
As they came up to the Five Lamps, they could see that there was chaos. People were running in all directions, some in their nightclothes, many others arriving half dressed. Fire brigade units were already in action. Billy couldn't believe his eyes: The houses on both side of the North Strand Road up to Newcomen Bridge were in ruins.
"We'll have to set rope cordons to hold back the crowds," said Captain Bolger, "and then we'll need every man we can get to help remove that rubble."
Billy looked at Bob, who was now grim faced and quietly sober. "We've some night ahead of us here, Billy Cullen, and that's a fact," Bob said, looking at two battered bodies lying in the rubble just a few yards ahead.
* * *
It was Sunday evening at six o'clock. The whole of Summerhill Parade and the North Strand Road had been blocked off since Friday night. Only emergency crew members were let through. The ambulances had been ferrying people to hospital for two days. Mary Darcy was listening to the six o'clock news on the wireless. It was hard to believe that thirty-four people were dead and hundreds were injured in hospital. The rescue work was coming to an end, and wives could expect the crews from the emergency forces to get home soon. Mary had left her children down in Number 17 with Mother Darcy and had the coddle simmering away on the hearth.
Outside on the street, she heard a shout of "Here they come," and she stuck her head out the window. Sure enough, a bunch of lads was trudging down from Rutland Street, looking like coal miners. They were filthy and unrecognizable, except Big Bob, who stood out a mile in any group because of his size. And her Billy, who still walked like a soldier on parade, with his chest out and his head high. She rushed down the stairs to the hall just as the group were passing, and Billy and his pal Tommy Farrell turned in to the footpath.
"See ya later, Billy," said Bob. "Mind him, now, Mary me girl, he's knackered."
Billy said, "So long, lads," and walked quickly into the hall. The smell of decay hit him and he shook his head sadly.
Mary put her shawl around his shoulders. "Come on, Billy," she said, "let's get you cleaned up. I've some hot water on the boil upstairs."
She stripped off his gansey and shirt, his boots, socks, and trousers. They were filthy and she saw cuts and bruises all over his arms and legs. His hands were in a terrible state, bleeding and gashed, with some of his nails broken. With a clean cloth and the Sunlight soap, she washed the grime from his body, then sat him down and let him steep his hands in a fresh basin of hot water. He was quiet as she gently cleaned his hands finger by finger.
"We'll need something for these. Just as well I've got some Germolene." She rubbed the pink antiseptic cream into the cuts and scrapes.
"Where are the girls?" he asked.
She smiled at him. "They're down with Mother Darcy. She's minding them tonight. You know poor Martin was to make his Confirmation yesterday but it was canceled by the archbishop? So they've been playing together all day and I'll pick them up in the morning." Martin was Mary's youngest brother. He and his sister Angela, who was fourteen, together with Big Bob, lived in Number 17 with Mary's widowed mother, Molly Darcy.
He looked up at her and gave a wry smile. "Well, at least young Martin will have his day later," he said, and she felt the desolation in his voice.
"Come on now, Billy, and have a plate of this coddle," she said and busied herself serving the stew. He got stuck into the coddle with his big spoon and ate three platefuls without a word from him.
At last he sat back. "That's the finest meal I've ever tasted, Mary," he said.
"Hunger is the best sauce," she said. "Put on this clean vest and get yourself into bed before you pass out."
She went out through the curtain, and as he pulled the vest on over his head he heard her bolting the door. He was sitting on the edge of the bed when she came back, and she sat beside him and put her hand on his. There wasn't a sound as they sat together for a while, and then she felt him shudder.
"It was horrible, Mary," he said. "Poor women, old men, and children all blown to bits. I pulled out Tommy Carroll and he'd no legs. Doris Fagan had her head blown off. Not a scratch on it, but the rest of her missing. And Harry Browne is dead, and so is his mother, his wife, and their four lovely children."
The tears were streaming down his face, his chest was heaving, and he just couldn't get any more words out. Mary pulled back the bedcover and moved him into the bed, pushing his legs under the sheet. She undressed and quickly slid in beside him and held him tight as the tears flowed down her shoulder.
"It's all right, Billy," she kept repeating, "It's all right," and slowly the spasms subsided as she held him fiercely to her. She pulled him down to her breast as she slowly lifted the end of his vest.
* * *
Almost nine months later, on a cold day in February, Mary Darcy gave birth in the Rotunda Hospital to a wee boy she named after his proud father: William Patrick Cullen.
Copyright 2001 by Bill Cullen


Excerpted from It's a Long Way from Penny Apples by Cullen, Bill Copyright © 2004 by Cullen, Bill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note and Acknowledgments11
1.The Germans Bomb Dublin17
2.The Lucky Baby: Born in a Caul25
3.Food Rations: The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes31
4."May She Rest in Peace"45
5.A Boy with the Girls in the Nuns' School53
6.So That's Why the Germans Bombed Dublin61
7.The Lord Mayor Gets the Da a Job69
8.Mary Beats Off the Eviction Bowsies75
9.Hiding the Mountjoy Jailbreaker81
10.Louis Copeland Makes the Communion Suit95
11.The Widow Woman: Molly Darcy101
12."Will Yiz Go to Ballyfermot or Donnycarney?"109
13.Good-Bye to the Hill121
14.A Christmas Bonanza137
15.Mischief at the Picture House153
16.Where Do You Sell Flowers?159
17.Alfie Byrne: A Friend for Life169
18.Can Pigs Swim?175
19.Whistle a Happy Tune185
20.The Belvo and the Bru195
21.Charlie Haughey Comes for Tea215
22.A Street Education225
23.Working for Jam235
24.Croke Park--and Uncle Arthur243
25.A Room of His Own and Night School, Too255
26.The Brothers Fly the Nest265
27.A New Freedom275
28.The Young Businessman289
29.Full Steam Ahead299
30.The Bigger Picture311
31.When the Going Gets Tough315
32."Fairlane" Ford323
33.Renault for a Quid331
34.The Ma Leaves Her Legacy337
35.Business as Usual345
36.End of an Era353
Epilogue: Echoes of the Past359
Glossary of Dublin Slang of the Forties369

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It's a Long Way from Penny Apples 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bill Cullen shows in his book 'It's a long way from Penny Apples' that being raised in material poverty is no barrier to happiness or the ability to climb to the very top of the business world in Ireland. This book will prove inspirational, educational,entertaining and motivational to readers in any part of the world. It will have a particular appeal for people who may have lived in Ireland in the early 50's. Although Bill Cullen is now a millionaire he has not forgotten his roots and all royalties from the best-selling book are being donated to The Irish Youth Foundation. I sent a copy to an Irish priest living in Cape Town SA who is preculded from travelling back to his native Dublin because of ill health. He described reading the book as feeling as if the clock had been turned fifty years to the the City he had grown up in - 'an absolutely brilliant read'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bill Cullen's book is not only touching but an inspiration to its readers. The passionate story he weaves is real yet humble, with many elements that draws the audience: deep elements of compassion, dedication to hard work, love and respect for your family, and belief in the community. An excellent book I would recommend to anyone who would like to be inspired. This book reinforces the belief that anyone can be a success in life - no matter what your background -- with hard work, determination, a great family background and an education.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Its memior about his life living in the city of Dublin, Ireland. His family poor and so on. I feel this book was a really great read because I felt he had so many obstacles, but past them. I have so thoughts thats its a long hard to get in them into sentences. I hope the author realizes this book will a excellent movie as well. Thank you.