| Every urban area has its
"Characters". These were mostly itinerant handymen,
pedlars, street musicians etc., who decided, for a variety of reasons,
to "stay put." A number of them were just poor
unfortunates who had some problems, be they mental or physical, in
dealing with life. Some of these people lived from hand-to-mouth,
sleeping in the Men's and Women's Hostels and sometimes sleeping
rough. The rise of the Welfare State has all but done away with
these "Characters" but, up to comparatively recently, our city
had an unusually high number of such people. The list of
"Characters" is long and here is a sample. We also give
a brief description of some of them and to introduce the list here is
part of a
little poem, composed to immortalize them.
|The Boer, the Bat
& Tom the Rat
|Mugs Power &
|Chichity Dick put up
|And bid them all
We had "Mikie Moore, Mary the Rake, Ivy
Leaf, Billy the Bawler, Denny
the Hock, Whack Dunphy, Ankle Socks, Stab the Rasher, The Dummy Synnott,
Harry the Horse, Horse's Head, Who ate the dog's dinner, Holy Hogan, Pumphry, Matty
the Jennett, Christy Cooney, Hannah Mooney, Cock Up, Monkey Tricks,
Lackendarra, Polish 'em off, Slip me F'ippence, Musty Flap, Cuckoo,
Switchy Dick, Mug Power, Itchy Walla, The Boer, The Bag, Tom the Rat,
Spain, Popeye, Wexford, Bawdie Bess, Bala, Micky the Mauler, Indian Meal,
The Bird Man."
most famous of them all was 'Mikey'
Moore. He was
reputed to be a native of the Kilmacow area of south Kilkenny and he generally
worked with the farmers around the Knockhouse area. he was remarkable
for his sallies of wit, especially when he was in his 'cups.'
He drank all he could get his hands on, but he was a decent man
who worked when he could get it, was never abusive or crude and who
never cursed in his life.
day, whilst walking up Barronstrand Street, he saw two fellows painting
the top of Woolworth's shop. "What are ye doin',
lads?" he asked. One of them said, "We're paintin
the clouds with sunshine, Mikey!" and Mikey replied, "Well,
If I take away this ladder, ye'll be paintin "yee'r arses with
another occasion, during Lent, when Mikey was 'skint', he was standing on the 'Hill'
and two fellows approached him and asked, "Do you happen to
know where two fella's might get a drink?" "No",
said Mikey, "But I've a fair idea where THREE fella's might get
a dinner he got from a rather mean farmer (who had been over generous
with the cabbage water) Mikey declared that
"he had to wait
for the tide to go out before he could find any meat."
He got an occasional meal with the Sisters of Mercy in Philip
St. and he was asked, once, by a nun, how he liked his egg.
also frequented the Mental Hospital, where he got occasional work.
He was sitting on the hospital wall one day when two men came
through the gates with a horse and cart full of manure.
Mikey asked them what they were going to do with the manure.
The men, thinking to get a 'rise' out of Mikey, replied,
"Oh, we're going to put
the manure on the rhubarb. Why?
What do you put on the rhubarb, Mikey?"
which Mikie replied,
"Oh!, I puts
custard on mine!"
Mikey was once asked by a tourist as to how you
could tell the difference between summer and winter in Ireland.
"The rain is
warmer in the summer".
A local Baker tried to pull a 'fast one' on Mikey when he
went into his shop to buy a bun.
"They are gone up
a penny, today , Mikey",
said the Baker. "Right",
"I'll have one of
Another character was Hannah
Mooney, an old 'Bag-woman' who was always walking the streets
shouting and roaring at all and sundry, mostly when she had too much to
drink. One of her favourite
stands was outside Christchurch Cathedral (Church of Ireland).
One day a visitor to the city, guide-book in hand, asked Hannah,
this Christchurch?" to which Hannah replied, "It used to be, sir, but the Protestants own it now!"
'Mary the Rake',
who would sit on the steps of the shops in Patrick Street and curse the
daylights out of all her tormentors.
(from a persistent knocking on the doors in Alexander
'Ivy Leaf', played tunes by blowing through an ivy leaf placed in
his cupped hands,
who was once brought to the Tramore police station on suspicion of
stealing. The sergeant said,
"We have two
witnesses who saw you stealing the goods." "Well",
"I have ten witnesses who
didn't see me stealing them."
was a small man who seemed to have the gift of
bi-location. He could,
apparently, be in two places in the city at the same time, sometimes in three or four. He was
frequented the railway station and, for a few pence, he would drag your
luggage, all over the city, on his hand-cart.
He also attended every funeral in the city and he was never known
to miss one.
famous character was 'Holy Hogan',
who was seen, or rather heard, at all the Masses he could physically
attend. It was a common
sight to see 'Holy' running from church to church in his quest.
He had an incredibly loud voice and he would stand at the back of
the church - the best place to effect a quick getaway - and bawl out the
was Christy Cooney who had
what must have been the bandiest legs in the world.
You could put a beer barrel through them.
He wore a multiplicity of coats and he went around imitating the
following two items were extracted from the book, "Spring Gardens" by
Tricks was the most famous of all the street entertainers. He
was a rather exotic creature with his swarthy, Latin
colouring. He would roll out a large blanket on the ground and
then use a bull-whip to attract the crowd - a few cracks from it and he
would have a crowd in no time. Once he had got the crowd's
attention he would lie on a bed of broken glass and invite any two heavy
men to stand on his stomach. He would eat glass and bend nails with his hands.
He was a contortionist who could put his two legs behind his head and
one of his feats was to effect an escape from a padlocked straitjacket. His
area of operations varied but his preferred spots were the Applemarket
in the city and the Promenade in Tramore.
In our area there was a pub at the
back of Heery’s grocery shop, another one in Cullinane's and another
in Geoff Powers. We christened all the singers. There was "Larry the Pointer, who pointed at everyone as he
sang and "Fidgety Jimmy" who, on commencing a song would
proceed to open his shirt, close his shirt, pull his braces and fix his
stockings - about the only thing he didn't do was take off his shoes. But our favourite was a Mr. Quinlan. He was an old retired soldier who we christened 'Mr.A.'
He would sing 'There’s an Old-A, Mill-A, by the Stream-A,
Nellie Dean-A, Where-A, we used to-A, sit and dream-A, Nellie Dean-A." There was no end to the A’s he could put in a song
Another man was from Colbeck Street and we christened him
"Mr.that's what I'm saying.” He would always say, "’Tis a cold night tonight, I'm
saying ‘tis a cold night tonight”, and “Well goodnight everyone,
that's what I'm saying, Goodnight everyone.” But I've never since heard anyone like "Billy the
Tenor," - as we called him. He was a small man who prided himself on his ability to sing in
Italian. Apparently, he had
stayed one time, in Portlaoise, with an Italian who taught him the
language. Smith was his
name and he worked for the Clyde Shipping Company. When ‘sloshed’, he was liable to tell everyone that he had
learned Italian on his trips abroad. The fact that the ‘Clyde’ boats sailed only to England was
never questioned. It was
only years later when I discovered that Billy's Italian was home made. However, he was extremely popular and he would get the best of
order when called on to sing. He
used to look at the crowd and say,
“Tonight I am going to sing (pause), a lovely Italian ballad made
famous by the great Caruso, called (another pause), “Fantarto
Ballini.” The name alone
excite the audience and knowledgeable fellows would nod their heads,
muttering, “Begod, this is one of his best.” Billy would take a deep breath and then, slowly, as if from
the depth of his bowels would come a high pitched ‘F’, gradually
building into a ‘Fan’, before exploding into a “Fantarto
Ballini.” On he would continue, the veins in his neck would be bulging
over his collar, “Grastampo Gusanti.” The crowd would be going
wild, here was one of their
own, mastering a foreign language. This would last for about two minutes before the climax, which
was always the same two words, “Funiculi Funicula.”
He always got a standing ovation. Innocent days!