CITY OF LIGHT

CITY OF LIGHT


A disused rail track in south Paris;
A dark tunnel;
Crawling, wading, through water
To a dank chamber with vaulted ceilings.
This is where the cataphiles meet;
Lovers of catacombs
And all things underneath.
The walls are covered with art
Awash with glow-in-the-dark paint,
Egyptian black-and-orange devil faces,
A multi-coloured parrot image.
One wall is encrusted with mirror shards
The centrepiece a glittering disco ball
The ghostly faces leering
Down the long subterranean hall
This is the City of Light
Where nobody sleeps at night
And where the remains of six million Parisians,
Transferred from Paris’ overflowing cemeteries
More than one hundred years ago,
Dwell.
Now artists prowl these same catacombs
Sometimes unseen
Ghostly in their movements
The spectre of real ghosts always in their slipstream. �3:1?�k

HOLOGRAMS UNITED

2 poems by Tom O’Brien

THE UNIVERSE AS A HOLOGRAM
I was happy as I am
Living in a hologram
Please don’t add to my confusion
Is my 3D space just an illusion?
Am I in mired in someone else’s dreams?
Well, fuck you buddy
Life just ain’t what it seems.

THE UNIVERSE AS A HOLOGRAM PART TWO
According to Einstein
Energy created the Universe.
I seem to have little of that these days
So my powers of creation are limited.
Should I try Vibrational Medicine?
Quantum Mechanics has the answers
Apparently.
Every cell, organ, arm and leg
Has an emergency frequency signature
Broadcasting whatever it needs
Moment by moment.
Now science is imitating nature
Creating a Holographic Universe
Where I can seemingly be in different locations
At the same time.
(a bit Doctor Who-ish, I know)
World-wide authentic native wisdom
Shares the sacred secret
In our understanding of the Quantum Hologram.
If it is not on the Quantum Hologram
It cannot manifest in the ‘real’ world
Quantum Hologram equals reality
And reality means
I am…
Something ��Z�

THE MAN WHO HATED AMERICANS

THE MAN WHO HATED AMERICANS by Tom O’Brien

I first met Paddy Woods in the grounds of a scruffy housing estate in suburban London. He was standing atop a grass bank reciting poetry to an audience of one. He was also very drunk and kept sliding down the bank, much to the amusement of his spellbound audience – a child of around seven.

          ‘Here’, he said to me as I tried to skirt around him when he slipped one more time, ‘where are you going with my whiskey?’, grabbing the bottle of Teachers I was  holding by the neck and clutching it to his rather muddy grey jumper. Momentarily surprised, I allowed him to accomplish this task unhindered.  I contemplated for a moment whether or not to wrest it back from hin, but decided against it.

He fell down again. This time I picked him up.

          ‘Good man…good man yourself’, he said, showing no inclination to let go of my bottle.  I soon established that he lived in one of the flats on the estate. Eventually, by half dragging half carrying him, I got him back to his abode.

          ‘Have a drink’, he invited, savaging the top of the bottle. He poured the golden liquid into two tin cups that he plucked from a plastic basin that lay festering on the draining board. Barely fit for human habitation was how I saw the room. The living area was littered with books and papers, the debris and the piled up junk of everyday living visible everywhere. A couple of old typewriters faced each other at opposite ends of a pock-marked dining table, both primed with blank sheets of paper.

          ‘I hate bloody Americans…don’t you?’ don’t you said suddenly.

I hadn’t really thought about it; they weren’t my favourite race admittedly, but I bore them no particular grudge. I nodded my head noncommittally.

          ‘Especially American women’, he added, helping himself to another generous slug of  my Teachers.

I guessed that he had suffered an unhappy relationship with a female from Uncle Sam’s fair land. Perhaps she had left him and the drink was the result. Or perhaps it was the cause.

          ‘I’m a writer, you know’, he said, as if that explained everything. The mess, the drunkenness, the general squalor.

          ‘Oh, I see’, I said, betraying an interest despite myself. ‘So am I…well…I want to be…’

          ‘What have you written?’  He almost bit me head off

          ‘Well…nothing  really…I’m just thinking about it’.

          ‘Thinking about it!’, he roared at me. ‘The difference between writers and those who want to write is that writers write, and those who want sit on their arses and think about it’. He bounded to the table where the typewriters sat.  ‘Look at these!’ he shouted. He grabbed a bundle of typescript and flung them to the floor. ‘That’s writing. Five pages every day. I’ve written more stories than Ray Bradbury – and all of them better than his…’ He attacked the whiskey bottle again.

          ‘You’re a published writer then?’ I enquired.

          ‘Published my foot!  I’ve had so many rejections I could paper this room with them. Do you know how many stories Bradbury wrote before he got published?’

          ‘No’

          ‘Well, neither do I. But it was hundreds. Maybe as many as five hundred. And look at him now. You know what he said about writing? ‘You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do – and they don’t. And he said this about inspiration; ‘My stories run up and bite me in the leg — I respond by writing them down — everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off’.

‘I read Fahrenheit 400 a while ago. I thought it was…cool’

‘I thought it was…hot myself’. He laughed at his little joke. ‘That was the only science fiction book he ever wrote, you know’.

          ‘I thought his stuff was all science fiction’.

          Nah. All his other books were fantasy. He said so himself. Science fiction is a depiction of the real, fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. Remember that when you are a real writer’.  He laughed mirthlessly, ‘The greatest story I ever wrote was stolen by a Yankee viper masquerading as my friend. She even sold the film rights to one of her countrymen’.

As he spoke he was rummaging through a stack of paper. ‘Ah! Listen to this. “She was a looker alright. No doubt about it. As soon as she stepped off the train I could see it. Her auburn hair, wavy but not ostentatious if you get my drift, fluttered ever so slightly as she looked around her. Her height alone set her apart from everyone else – a six-footer at least and statuesque to go with it – but it was something else, something less tangible that had my pulse quickening.  There was – I reached for the word – a wantonness about her. Yeah, that was it I decided. No luggage either.  That was good.  Well, better without than with anyway. Less for me to dispose of afterwards. She was looking for someone and the wave of her hand suggested she had found him or her. I switched my gaze quickly towards the exit barrier and found a middle-aged man returning her wave. She hurried towards him and kissed him perfunctorily on one cheek. Though I had never met this man I knew his face from countless magazines and newspapers, and numerous appearances on television. A mover and shaker, you could say. They disappeared quickly, headed for his chauffeur-driven limousine I imagined. I wasn’t too concerned about tailing them. I knew their destination”.

The opening lines to the greatest story I ever wrote – and she fucking stole them’.

          ‘But…she couldn’t do that!’ I protested.

          ‘Oh yes she could – especially when I sold it to her for a few hundred dollars. Lock, stock and barrel’.

          I looked at him incredulously.  ‘What…copyright and all?’

          ‘The whole shebang’. He looked at the half-empty bottle, ‘whiskey is a good friend but a terrible master. And anyway, it was only words’.  He waved his hand at the room. ‘I’ve got millions of them here’. He tapped his forehead with a forefinger, ‘and here’.

          ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I asked tentatively.

          He looked at me for a long time before answering. ‘From all around me, my friend. Listen to the stories inside of you. Look into the snake pit. Remember your dreams – and talk to them’. Then he lay down on the shabby mattress, clutching the whiskey bottle to his chest. ‘Now, my friend, I must sleep…’  The voice petered out and he began to snore.

I couldn’t resist taking a peek at some of his writing as he slept, and when I left I took one of his stories with me. I read it later that night and thought it was brilliant.

……………….

          The next time I saw him he was famous, and married to the Yankee viper. It must have been about a year and a half after our first encounter and I was still trying to write -unsuccessfully.

          He was being interviewed on one of those trendy art programmes on TV, and being lauded as the next James Joyce.

          ‘There was only one Joyce’, he told the interviewer, ‘and there will only be one Paddy Woods’.

It emerged that his new book about to be made into a film, and was already high in the best seller lists. His lovely American wife (close up of her nostrils) was collaborating on the film script with him, and when it was finished they were planning to retire to a remote spot in the West of Ireland and have ten children.

          The interviewer then asked him how he became a writer.

          ‘Here’s the story’, he said.  ‘I was born in a box in a backroom in Limerick city. My mother never knew my father, and used to beg in the streets so we wouldn’t starve. When it was too cold she would wrap up an old plastic doll in a shawl and pretend it was me. She wasn’t much of anything but she cared about me. There were men who came and went, but mostly we were alone.  When I was about seven she got very fat. Through my child’s eyes I saw her get bigger and fatter as the weeks went by. And the bigger she got the uglier she looked.   Then she got sick and took to her bed. The doctor came, and when she was well again she wasn’t fat anymore. With memories like that how could I not be a writer?’

          What happened to your mother?’ the interviewer asked.

          ‘She died when I was fifteen.  The hard life…and too much booze’. He blessed himself. ‘Thank God I never touch the stuff myself’.

          I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The Paddy Woods I had met was weaned on whiskey!’

…………………………..

          It was to be nearly two years before I saw him in the flesh again. I had taken myself off to the writers weeks at Listowel in the faint hope that some of its literary eminence might rub off on me. I still had not written anything. Paddy was still famous. – another book – and was a guest of the organisers. I was surprised that he remembered me.

          ‘The man who wanted to write’, he said, ‘did you like what you saw in the snake pit?’ If that wasn’t a Teachers he was knocking back then it was a fair imitation of one to me!

          ‘I saw you on TV a while ago’, I said, by way of letting him know that he wasn’t fooling me.

          ‘Ah yes’, he said, raising his glass. ‘It’s the real stuff alright. Sure I couldn’t write my five pages a day without it’. He looked around, ‘and if you’re looking for the Yankee hoor you won’t find her either’.

          ‘I’m curious’, I replied.

          He ordered a refill before answering me then began to elaborate. ‘When they stole my story – and steal it they did, for I was legless when I signed it away – and made it into a film they didn’t realise it was going to be such a huge success. It was tailor-made for a sequel, but they couldn’t get a writer to write a satisfactory one. You see, it wasn’t just a story – it was my story. It was me. Only I could write their sequel’.

          ‘To cut a long story short, I wrote the sequel – I already had it written to be honest – and took them for a lot of money. Then I told the hoor that I had five more stories like that, only better, and that she would have to marry me to get hold of them. To my surprise she did!’  He was watching me all the time, ‘We got married in Reno for ten dollars one weekend’. He laughed heartily, ‘they tell me that it costs thirty dollars to get a divorce there- – but they say it’s quick’.

          I was fascinated. I didn’t know if it was the truth he was telling or if it was a pack of lies. Maybe he didn’t know himself.

          ‘So what happened?’

          ‘Well, one night after the sequel flopped – which I had made sure it would – I bought three bottles of Teachers and poured two of them over all my unpublished work. Then I set the lot alight in her presence. ‘What are you doing?’ she screeched at me. ‘I know, it such a waste of good whiskey’, I laughed. Then I sat down and watched it burn, downing half the remaining bottle in the process.  I haven’t seen her since, thank God’.

          ‘But why burn all your work?’

          He laughed.  ‘For years everything I wrote was rejected. Suddenly I am famous and any old rubbish I submit will be published. If it wasn’t good enough then, why should it be good enough now? I can always write the same stories again – only better’. He ordered another whiskey, ‘beside, I don’t need the money now’.

          ‘All that stuff about your mother, and not drinking, what was that in aid of?  I asked.

          ‘Everything I said about my mother was true, God rest her. As for the drinking, I didn’t want the world to know that I was just another drunken bum. When you found me that first day I was on my way out. I was a bottle a day man’. He swirled the liquid around in his glass, ‘nowadays I can control it’.

          ‘Perhaps you saved my life, I don’t know. But when I woke up on that damp mattress with your empty bottle beside me, something clicked’. He looked long and hard at me   then stared to leave. He turned and his parting words still stick in my mind; ‘Oh, I knew it was your whiskey – but we both got what we wanted. I got the whiskey, you got the story’.

He then placed a box of matches in my hand. ‘You might need these later. Adios’.

          When he had gone I still couldn’t figure out whether he was referring to the story he had told me or the one I had stolen.

          When I got back home I burnt it.

End

JACK DOYLE – GORGEOUS GAEL

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1792060459

JACK DOYLE – GORGEOUS GAEL looks at the life and times of Jack Doyle, the legendary Irish boxer and celebrity of the ‘thirties and ‘forties. Known as “The Gorgeous Gael”, Doyle was a larger than life figure who earned enormous sums both as a boxer and entertainer. By the time he was thirty, he had earned and spent more than a quarter-of-a-million pounds – an enormous sum in the nineteen-thirties. When he died in 1978 he was penniless and shoeless. Asked once what his downfall was, he replied “fast women and slow horses”.He was an alcoholic, had been in prison, was a wife-beater, mixed with the high and low in society. In this respect there were parallels with Brendan Behan’s life. Indeed, the two were acquainted, having a shared knowledge of Dublin low life when they were down on their luck.This acquaintance is used to bring them together in an ante-room to purgatory. The result is an “examination” of Doyle’s life- as seen through the eyes of many of the famous people he mixed with – with particular emphasis on the women that shaped his destiny.To a lesser extent, Behan’s life is also explored – although the story is essentially Jack’s. Both were larger than life characters. Both pressed the self-destruct button.

buy now on amazon

 

DANCE-HALL DAYS

DANCE-HALL DAYS

It was with some amusement – tinged with sadness – that I read Gerry Molumby’s article about Brendan O’Brien. (no relation)  I hadn’t realized Brendan was dead; he was, as Gerry pointed out, one of the superstars of the Irish showband scene in the 1960’s.

Brendan O’Brien and the Dixies were up there with Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband, The Clipper Carltons, (the best in my humble opinion) The Plattermen, Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock and The Miami, and had legions of followers prepared to travel the length and breadth of Ireland just to watch them perform.

My amusement came about with Gerry’s description of them ‘threading the boards’; prompting visions of showbands furiously at work on stage with giant needles and thread!  They certainly treaded them Gerry, but ne’er a one ever ‘threaded’ them in my dancehall days!

Learning of Brendan’s death brought back long forgotten memories of the night we understudied the Dixies at the Olympia Ballroom in Waterford city. It was sometime in the mid 1960’s.  For yes, I treaded the boards briefly myself with a band called the Royal Dukes in those far-of days. And one of our first gigs was to play as relief band in the Olympia, while Brendan and his band had their ‘tae and sandwiches’ backstage. To watch Brendan belt out all the Buddy Holly classics, Peggy Sue etc, backed up by the demonic Joe Mac was indeed memorable.

Our own efforts in the Royal Dukes were more forgettable than memorable. I was the bass player for my sins; the other six comprised lead & rhythm guitar, saxophonist, drummer, trumpet, and trombone player.

Derived almost equally from two neighbouring towns, Kilmacthomas and Portlaw, it was a miracle that we formed an alliance at all, as most of the two towns get-togethers were usually wars of attrition on the football and hurling fields. I suppose it helped that two of us ‘Kilmacians’ worked in the tannery in Portlaw alongside our brass section.

We used to practice at the Rainbow Hall in Kilmac during week nights; weekends the hall doubled as a cinema/dancehall. One weekend you might hear The Cossacks or The Davitt Brothers, filling the air with the sounds of Lets Twist Again, or The Hucklebuck, the next it would be Audie Murphy or Randolph Scot chasing Indians across the Kansas prairie.  I dread to think what sound we filled the night with on our practice nights!

Practice makes perfect they say, but I don’t think the word ‘perfect’ every entered the vocabulary in the same sentence as ‘Royal Dukes’. I was certainly no musician; I don’t think I had a note in my body, and my bass playing depended on which chord our lead guitarist was playing at any given time. I just followed him; if he was out of key then so was I!

However, our biggest problem was our trombone player; every note he blew sounded like a jackass braying. In the end we decided he should mime it. (He was our lead singer so we couldn’t dump him!)  However, we had a competent trumpeter and saxophonist and reasonably concluded that his miming wouldn’t be noticed.

Despite these handicaps we had several things going for us; we were young, we looked good, and we moved well on stage. And we looked even better when we got our new jackets. Christ they were beautiful, those jackets.  Beatle style, they were rich blue with broad grey stripes running down them, with their gold buttons standing out like mushrooms.  You could die happy in them!

The Rainbow Hall was bursting on that first night. Curiosity I suppose. The Davitt Bros, who we were supporting, seemed bemused by it all. They were a competent band, who had been around the Munster circuit for years, and were, I suppose, used to sedate crowds of Macra Na Feirme and Muinter Na Tire supporters. Nothing like the high excitement that was in evidence here. As the dance began, and we listened to them play, we realized how much better than us they were.

It didn’t seem to matter. As they took their break and we replaced them, the crowd went wild. You would think we were the Beatles; they had solidified into one heaving mass, and were packing the dance area. It was obvious there would be no dancing; they just wanted to watch and listen.

Looking into the sea of faces I could see many I recognized; Jim Kiersey, his black hair slicked back, with a crease so sharp it could split timber; Vince Power, giving me the thumbs-up sign; Shirley Mulcahy, on shoes so tall she must have used a step-ladder to climb into them; Tony Casey, Elvis quaff dripping oil. I closed my eyes briefly and said a prayer.

We needn’t have worried. We could have banged tin cans together and they would have cheered. ‘I Can Get No Satisfaction’ was our opening number, and it nearly brought the house down. (The following Sunday our Parish Priest denounced the song from the pulpit, and tried to ban us from playing it again. At our next gig we played it several times, so I think he got the message)

Nothing ever quite matched that first night – though the gig with the Dixies wasn’t far behind! Soon we were playing regularly, once maybe twice a week, before dashing home in the early hours to snatch a few hours sleep, then dashing out again to work.

Something had to give – and with me it did. I crashed my Honda motorbike on my way to the Tannery one morning and woke up in hospital with severe head injuries.  It took me months to recover. And by then the Royal Dukes had found another bass player. A proper musician this time.

Over the years the band metamorphosed into other groups; some of them became full-time musicians; some are still playing after all this time.

As for me, within a few months I had swapped the ‘wilds’ of County Waterford for the concrete sprawl of County Kilburn. I can honestly say that I have never played the bass guitar since.

 

THE ROYAL DUKES line-up was as follows

 

Seamie Brien – lead guitar

PJ Kirwan – rythmn guitar,

Tom O’Brien – bass guitar

Tony O’Regan – lead singer/trombonist

Paul Gorman – Sax/clarinet

David Hallissey – trumpet

Brendan O’Shea – drums

End

XMAS PRESENTS?  ALL MY BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!

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POTEEN – a short story.

Guards

Poteen

by Tom O’Brien

I was weaned on country music, Elvis and large dollops of raw West-of-Ireland poteen. The indiscriminate lighting of matches in the vicinity of Hickeystown could have had a disastrous effect on the population had anybody but known it. Fortunately, no one gave it a second thought.

Poteen is the elixir that drives men mad and makes greyhounds run faster. It is also useful for easing rheumy joints in cattle, horses and other beasts of burden. Its madness- inducing properties were confirmed many years ago when my grandfather had a vision. In the vision he saw gold; large quantities of it, on top of Tory hill, an ugly limestone carbuncle that did its best to hide Hickeystown from the rest of civilization.

Two days of feverish digging – aided and abetted by most of the able-bodied men in the village – produced nothing except two rusty bicycle wheels, a dead sheep and a dozen bottles of poteen. Long afterwards it emerged that the poteen was grandfather’s. He had forgotten where he had buried it and dreamed up the scheme in an effort to locate it.

However, by that time the harm was done; madmen and poteen were synonymous.

That it made greyhounds run faster was undoubtedly true. I witnessed it many times with my own eyes. My uncle Jack kept a couple of them for a pastime, and when he wanted them to run faster at the flapping tracks he frequented, he always laced their water with a drop beforehand. This worked well for a long time before someone figured out his secret. In the end every dog was running so fast that- as he himself put it – they were meeting themselves coming back before they got there. He settled for a couple of Jack Russells after that.

Being illegal, it fell to the Gardai to discourage its manufacture. They knew who was making it of course – indeed they were occasional customers themselves – and periodically they would make a sweep of the outlying areas. When you saw them heading for the hills, wellies slung over their shoulders, an axe in their hands, you knew the hunt was on. This mode of dressing was particularly noticeable in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

 

…………………

Uncle Jack and my father chopped down trees for a living, and if they supplemented their wages with the manufacture of a little ‘moonshine’, sure what was the harm? Like all good traditions it had been handed down through the generations; making it was just as natural as going to Mass on Sunday. The back of Tory hill was the ideal location for their activities; a forestry plantation, remote, and with plenty of spring water gurgling its way downwards from a spring on the top.

Many’s the day I spent there, reducing the trees to manageable sizes with the aid of a chainsaw, hauling the logs down to the roadside with the aid of a horse. Here, they were removed to the nearby chipboard factory by more horse-power – a lorry mounted with a hydraulic grab. In time I learned how to operate the grab – and how to make poteen.

I am not going to reveal how it is made – some rituals are sacred – suffice to say that it involves the use of a propane burner, a worm (a copper tube coiled in a certain way), running water, and , of course, the ingredients. When the concoction is bubbling merrily it has to be watched and nurtured, and regularly monitored as to the timing and the proportions of the ingredients added. (Uncle Jack once got his calculations wrong and several bottles concealed in the saddlebag on his bicycle exploded as he was passing the Garda station. Luckily it was closed at the time).

However, finding spots inaccessible to the Gardai became more difficult as time went by.  There were only a finite number of places that could be utilized, and they would eventually run out. The use of decoy stills was successful for a while, but as well as the extra costs involved it was a time-consuming diversion. Eventually the day arrived when the Gardai marched past the decoys. The days of poteen-making on Tory hill were over.

Which brings me to the music. (ah, I hear you say, I wondered when he’d get round to the music). Country music, rock-n-roll and poteen, a potent mix when ‘played’ by dad and uncle Jack in their band ‘The Moonshiners’.

The band, too, was a tradition. The brainchild of my grandfather, it originally comprised of a fiddler, an accordionist and a bodhran player, and was guaranteed to liven up wakes, weddings and other social diversions.

It still did that, but had added a guitarist and drummer to its ranks, and had become electric instead of acoustic. This new ensemble needed a place to practice, and when the parish priest offered them the now-defunct Temperance Hall they were delighted. Afterwards they discovered that it wasn’t entirely generosity that had prompted the offer; the church was the only building in the village with walls thick enough to keep out the sound, and practice

 

night saw a big attendance at evening devotions. The hall was also only four doors away from the Garda station and that, too, tended to close early on rehearsal nights.

It was the discovery of an underground stream beneath the cellars of the hall that gave uncle Jack the idea. Now that Tory hill was redundant a new venue was needed for making the poteen – and where better than right under the noses of the Gardai? They could search the countryside high and low and they would find nothing. They did too, but for the next five years all their efforts were in vain.

Practice nights were still rigidly adhered to, but now the music that blared from behind the locked doors was usually pre-recorded, while my father and uncle were busy in the cellars. Their activities would probably still be undiscovered to this day if it wasn’t for the fire. The cause of the fire is still a mystery; a foraging wild animal knocking over the burner perhaps?  but it gutted the hall, destroying everything inside. What hadn’t burnt melted in the intense heat generated by the potent mixtures in the cellar. A heady alcoholic cloud hung over the village for the best part of a day, leaving nobody in any doubt as to what had been going on.

The Garda Sergeant took it in good spirit (I know, a pun) considering everything, but there wasn’t much else he could do when all the evidence had been destroyed. Still, nobody was surprised when he was moved to a new post shortly afterwards.

Father and Uncle Jack decided to quit while they were ahead, and they put what money they had saved into a fish farm. They are cleaning up these days selling fresh mussels to the best restaurants in Dublin and Cork.

And me? These days I front the band. We are still called ‘The Moonshiners’, though I guess our brand of heavy rock would have grandfather rolling in his grave if he could hear us. Still, it’s a living.

And I still make the poteen. Oh, not the illegal sort, but a carefully blended, beautifully bottled concoction that is made under license in the now re-built Temperance Hall.

The next time you stop off at Shannon Airport pop into the duty-free and buy a bottle.

It is called Uisce Beatha – Water Of Life.

End                            (c) Tom O’Brien

LIVIN’ IT UP IN KILBURN & CRICKLEWOOD ETC.

LIVIN’ IT UP IN KILBURN & CRICKLEWOOD

By

Tom O’Brien

 

 

When I first came to Kilburn in the mid 1960’s my residence was a less than salubrious double room in house that had seen better days, run by a certain Mrs McGinty in Iverson Road. It was the sort of place where you wiped your feet on the way out.

I was sharing the room with Vince Power – later of Mean Fiddler fame – with whom I had gone to school with in rural Waterford in a place called Newtown. Newtown comprised of a couple houses, the church, the school, two pubs, and a sweet shop, so the culture shock of walking down Kilburn High Road for the first time was quite something!

Within a few hundred yards I had seen two cinemas, The State and The Grange – monoliths of stone from a bygone era – an Irish dance hall, The Banba – and numerous pubs with names like The North London, The Black Lion, Biddy Mulligan’s, and so on.

There was also a Wimpey Burger Bar on the High Road, with a notice board just outside on the pavement which advertised rooms to let. It was here that I first read the legend ‘NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO IRISH’ It was also the first time I had seen black people in reality. I began to wonder what I was letting myself in for.

Vince was soon working as a floorwalker in Whiteley’s department store in Queensway, while I had got a job in the accounts department of Smiths Radiomobile factory in Cricklewood. In between times we listened to music from Vince’s collection of Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline records.

Cricklewood, too, had an Irish dance hall, called The Galtymore, and it was smack in the middle of the Broadway.  Big and bawdy It had two dance floors, one for modern music and one for Irish dancing, and was nearly always filled to capacity. And just a stones’ throw away was The Crown, even bigger and bawdier, and full of thirsty Irishmen washing the dust down after a hard day digging holes or pulling cables all over London and outlying areas.

Oh the crack was good in Cricklewood, but t’was better in the Crown

There were bottles flying and Biddies cryiing, and Paddies goin’ to town

Oh mother dear I’m over here, I never will go back

What keeps me here is the rake of beer, the women and the crack

The words of ‘McAlpines Fuseliers’, Dominic Behan’s homage to the expat shovel brigade, were regularly ringing in our ears as Vince and I danced our nights away at The Banba or the Galtymore. And sometimes our afternoons too; for there was a Sunday afternoon tea dance at the Banba, where hung-over Irishmen could sober up for the night ahead!

This was also the era of The Sunshine Gang, a group of expat thugs that plagued the area at the time. Said to have originated from the Longford/Westmeath region, they were into protection and other criminal activities. If bar and shop owners didn’t pay up they basically came in and smashed the place up.

The Banba, which was up an alley off Kilburn High Road was attacked during one tea dance while we were present; they wedged a Mini in the entrance, beat up the doorman, then started smashing up the hall inside. They were looking for Michael Gannon, the owner, who had presumably forgotten to pay his ‘subscription’.  They left after a few minutes, having no doubt been paid! They occasionally put in an appearance at the Galtymore as well!

 

We weren’t long getting to know the pubs in the area. Biddy Mulligan’s was a favourite of ours, as was The Admiral Nelson in Carlton Vale, owned by  Butty Sugrue. Butty originated from Kilorglin in County Kerry and was a Circus Performer cum-wrestler-strongman-publican-entrepreneur. He had toured Ireland with Duffy’s Circus, billed as Ireland’s strongest man and in Kilburn he had pulled red London buses up the High Road with the rope held between his teeth! A couple of years after we arrived, he had his barman, Mick Meaney, buried alive in a yard adjacent to the pub, where he remained for 61 days – a Guinness Book of Records world record. ‘Resurrection day’ saw thousands line the High Road as Mick was proudly paraded through Kilburn in the back of a truck.

There was always plenty of singing and dancing at The Admiral Nelson, and Jack Doyle was frequently seen at the venue singing for his supper. Jack had slipped a long way down since his heydays when he had fought for the British Heavyweight boxing title, or when he had been feted in Hollywood before marrying Mexican actress Movita, the couple moving to London, where they toured the country singing and performing to delirious audiences, and becoming the 1940’s  equivalent of Posh and Becks.

The bigger they are the harder they fall is a well known saying, and Jack eventually fell further than most. Whenever anyone asked him what caused his downfall he always replied ‘fast women and slow horses’. Some years later he would be found dead in a park in West London, penniless and shoeless. Listening to Jack and Movita singing together would send shivers down your spine.  Listen on the link below

 

 

Eventually Vince and I moved on to Harlesden where the 32 Cub in Harlesden High Street was the Mecca for the Irish population. Situated next to the Elm Tree pub on the High Street, in the building that was formerly the Picardy cinema, it was heaving every weekend.

By now Vince had met his first wife, Theresa, and before too long they got married and had a  child. Somehow, I managed to miss the wedding!

A few years later I was married myself (1971) and Vince was my best man wearing a suit borrowed from his brother-in-law! Yes, he was that poor!

In between times a lot had changed in our lives; Vince was now working in demolition, knocking down rows of terraced houses in the Willesden area, I had been a guest at Her Majesty’s pleasure for eighteen months, been deported back to Ireland and come back again, and had won a tidy sum of money with my regular Saturday bet on the ITV7 at my local William Hill’s betting shop!

 

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