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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

The Clay Pipe

A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man. It is a bugbear to the imagination, and, though we do not believe in it, it still haunts our apprehensions. William Hazlett.

I grew up in an area, in West Wicklow, where even the livestock had nicknames. Each and every person had a nickname stuck on them . . . and then they were stuck with it . . yes . . I have one . . never mind . . it’s not fit for human consumption . . you’re too young. One of my neighbours (his name was Tom) was called the mouse . . for reasons that I won’t go into here. Well . .. he had a very big family and he had other talents too. The most evident of which was the ability to obtain intoxicating beverages in almost any circumstances. Even in times of recession his ingenuity and prowess would yield results . . for instance there was the Good Friday that the two Dublin fellows who took a No. 65 to Blessington.

They had failed to find a hostelry in the capital that had the bolt drawn So. For some unknown reason they thought Licensing Laws would be less strenuously applied in the Wicklow . Still, they had no desire to be stranded in outer suburbia should it turn out to be a "dry run" so to speak. So they didn't alight but remained on the platform while the bus was turning. One of them addressed a question to the solitary figure of "The Mouse" standing at Miley Cullen's Corner; "Do you know anywhere two lads might get a drink?" "Begob I don't" says "The Mouse" equal to the challenge "But I know where three lads would get a drink".

During the Holy season of Christmas he would always manage to get his hands on a stray dog. Restrained by a makeshift least of binding twine or an old tie the canine would be brought to any house within a five mile radius where there was a chance of a bottle. The householder, who would in most cases have had a similar visit in preceding years would be politely asked, “did you, by any chance, lose a dog? Or “I found this fellow an’ when I saw the well-fed look of him I thought of yourself;” Says I to meself “who else would own him?

Wakes, of course, were a fairly good source of lubrication but unfortunately in periods of high mortality such as the bad winters of 1947 and 1963 money, and consequently gargle was scarce. Still the upside of the situation was that there would at times be two or sometimes more wakes in progress simultaneously . So with a bit of strategic planning and careful logistics the appropriate toing and froing between wake houses would ensure that the mouse would get more than his quota . . so to speak.

Election days too were a Godsend. His modus operandi on such days, be it a bye-election or a general election, didn’t change. As early as possible he would make his way into Blessington where he would call to the licensed premises of one James C, Miley, and a Fianna Fail counciler.

The “what are you having, Tom” would be followed by, “Yell give me yer number one.”

When the liquid bribe had been consumed transport would be provide to take the mouse to his local polling booth. . the school in Lacken where he would cast his vote. He would then be conveyed back to Blessington by the loyal party worker.

This time he would pick a different watering-hole, where the faithful of another political party would be handing out pre-election promises for farther orders.

“Did you vote yet?” would get a resounding, ”No”. A promised vote, More porter and another trip to Lacken would ensue. Once again he would enter the polling station followed by another return-journey to Blessington. This Pilgrimage would be repeated several times during the day and each candidate would be assured of his loyal support.. I suppose you could nearly say that the mouse was a trend-setter in the “vote early vote often policy.”

Bottled stout was his preferred libation but in cases of emergency other forms of beverage would suffice...

But to my mind the time that his alcoholic acumen came into its own was on one Tuesday morning . . it was after a Bank holiday weekend and he was badly in need of a hair of the dog. (As far as I cam remember that was the morning he said to his own dog, “bite me if you like but don’t bark”) On the morning in question his total finances amounted to one solitary English truppeny bit. Do you remember them. A good few of you hear remember them anyway . . and the ploughman pounds. Anyway the English truppeny bit was brass and twelve sided. There’s a word for that. An oul schoolmaster told me once. It’s Dod . . dod . . . me oul head is goin. Dodecagonal. Dodecagonal . . A certain person lately made a very unkind remark. He said that the last time I paid for a drink that there was a trupeny bit in the change. But I digress . . an’ I’m rambling too. Where was I oh yes. The mouse an’ the truepenny bit. Now, even though things were cheap at the time it would take five shillings, or a half a crown at the very least to make any impression on a hangover. So what could a man do with a truepenny bit? I couldn’t do anything with it. An’ I bet you couldn’t do much with it either. But the mouse had a plan. The price of a clay pipe, at the time, was trupence. So . . he went to Burke’s shop, in Lacken, an’ he purchased a new clay pipe.

Head splittin’ . . . mouth like the inside of a septic tank and the nerves in bits . . and now . you are going to ask me what good a clay pipe . . even a new one . .would be to eleviate such a condition.

Well . . .at the time it was believed that a clay pipe had to be seasoned (or Saysoned) as they’d say up our way. The favoured method was to fill the pipe-bowl with whiskey . . . something that even the most parsimonious publican couldn’t very well refuse to supply.

Armed with his new pipe, the mouse headed for Blessington and into Hennessy’s where he asked the barman to fill his pipe with the necessary amber liquid which he promptly sucked out through the stem. He visited Miley’s, Powers and Dowlings with the same request. Sand then he crossed the street to Mullally’s and the Gunch Byrnes. He got a bonus in the Gunches . . he managed to get a fill” in the bar and the lounge. Now those of you with a mathematical turn of mind will know that the bowl of a clay pipe would hold approximately 8mill and if you were paying attention you’d know that he got it filled seven times which would amount to a sum total of 56 millilitres of whiskey. I won’t bore you with the exact conversion to imperial measure, most of you went to school longer than me but . . the total alcohol involved amounted to slightly more than a small one. Hardly enough to make inroads into a severe, seasonal, hangover. But it was a start . . and . . as luck would have it the Mouse got a lift to Naas where . . at the time, there were thirty seven pubs.

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