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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


“A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man.”

That is the only William Hazlitt quote that I have difficulty agreeing with. Who could argue with his, “Of all eloquence a nickname is most concise; of all arguments the most unanswerable”?

“My own nickname was, and still is, Sykie. There is no point in asking the derivation of it because I haven’t a clue. All I know that I’ve worn it for more than half a century. And in the same period I have come across many another’s nickname, some of them very clever.

Shan Mohangi , a black South African, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 1963. There was an old woman contiguous to my home who believed in God but not in soap and water. (And this was before any water-charges.) She was promptly named “Mohangi’s mother.”

Thomas Paine claimed that titles are but nicknames and every nickname is a title. Families whose nicknames , such as “Informer” or “Souper” have travelled down the generations are not proud of their “title.” And I’m sure the “alternatively motivated” family who were known as the “stand-idles” weren’t all that impressed. Of course some people were pleased with their handle. There was a man of my acquaintance , who was in a supervisory position and was known as The Rat. No need to describe him; suffice to say he was very proud of his moniker. I once knew a man who, because of an elaborate posterior, was known as, “Big Bum.” The initial of his surname was “C”, so the sobriquet progressed to “BBC.“ When his son joined the same company there was BBC 1 and BBC 2. A man in the same employment was always on the touch and he was called Red October (because he was always looking for a sub; it had to be explained to me too.)

I can’t be credited with coming up with many nicknames myself but I did make a few feeble attempts. One of my supervisors once reported me to the Divisional Manager because I was missing from my post for three minutes. It didn’t take me long to come up with The Egg-timer.

Tom Murray, a Dublin bus-driver was known as “The Jet.” Why? In the early days of Telefis Eireann, when the man in Marino had left his T.V aerial down on the road while he tried to establish where Kippure was. Pressure from the wheels of a No. 24 bus driven, by Tom , ensured that there would be no Tolka Row in that house for a while. The less than pleased the DIY man pursued Tom to the terminus and informed him; "You are after breaking my television aerial". Tom's truism; "*7^£%! buses don't fly" earned him the immortal nickname "The Jet" Murray.

And there was an ultra- conscientious Bus Inspector who had a penchant for hiding in doorways. And sure he had to be re-named “Milk Bottle.”

I knew an Operational Support Manager who was known as, Jock Strap and a woman who was called “Doorbell” for reasons that I won’t go into.

Then, there was the fellow who must have been a barber’s nightmare because of the high and unique neck-shave that he always insisted on. He did, of course, become known as “Saint Anthony.”

I once worked on a building-site where one particular travelling-foreman would appear out of nowhere and it didn’t take much imagination to name him The Ghost and another who was continually forecasting doom and gloom; he was known as “Dark Cloud.”

The coining of a nickname would, at times, be a “family affair”; a neighbour of mine had sixteen children. He gave each one a nickname, not all of them complimentary .

Then there was the man who died at a very advanced age and brought the name Cold Poker to the grave with him. The name had survived eighty years. As a young fellow he got a job in the local quarry as a “nipper.” It was customary for pipe-smoking stonecutters to send the nipper to the forge to redden the poker in the fire and bring it to them to light their pipe. Of course when the new nipper was asked to “bring me the poker”, not knowing the drill, he grabbed a cold poker and brought it to the pipe-smoker. And the rest, as they say . . .

Another stonecutter had a lumber peculiarity, the clinical term for which is, Lordosis. He was known to all and sundry as “The Hollow-Backed-Lad.”

Do you know how the famous “Pecker” (Patrick) Dunne got his nickname? He used to ride horses for Major Packard and his younger sister couldn't pronounce 'Packard' and would say Pecker. The name stuck and became known from Newcastlewest to Nashville.

A man of rural Irish background (a Rus-in-urbe) who worked in Dublin was called “Knorr”, a cryptic term if you weren’t familiar with the advertising slogan, “Thick country vegetable.”

Nowadays you hear the term “cool nickname.” Now, I know nothing about the temperature of nicknames. And I know even less about the advice to “adopt a nickname.” If I (or you) decided to come up with our own a nickname do you think it would catch on? I don’t think so.


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