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Waterford's Characters.

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    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 & Itchiewalla
Chichity Dick put up his stick
And bid them all 'Good Morra.'

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."

The 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.  

One 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 iodine."  

On 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 one."   

Describing 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.  Mikey replied, "With another one".  

He 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?" to 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. Mikey replied, "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", said Mikie, "I'll have one of yesterday's".   


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, "Is this Christchurch?" to which Hannah replied, "It used to be, sir, but the Protestants own it now!"

There was 'Mary the Rake', who would sit on the steps of the shops in Patrick Street and curse the daylights out of all her tormentors.

'Knock Hard' (from a persistent knocking on the doors in Alexander Street), 

'Ivy Leaf', played tunes by blowing through an ivy leaf placed in his cupped hands,   

'Billy the Bawler'. 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", said Billy, "I have ten witnesses who didn't see me stealing them." 

'Harry the Horse' 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 everywhere.  Harry 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.  

Another 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 hymns.  

There was Christy Cooney who had what must have been the bandiest legs in the world.  You could put a beer barrel through them.  

Another was Davey Daw.  He wore a multiplicity of coats and he went around imitating the cuckoo. 

The following two items were extracted from the book, "Spring Gardens" by Eddie Wymberry.

Monkey 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 would 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!

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