IRISH GO DOWN (an excerpt)


Tom O’Brien

I sin for a living. Not venial sins, oh no, but big black mortal ones.


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 chauffer-driven limousine I imagined. I wasn’t too concerned about tailing them. I knew their destination.


I met The Greek in a tiny Italian cafe across the road from the Gaudi Cathedral. Sagrada Famila; one of the many legacies dotted around Barcelona of the great Catalan architect who must have been more than a little bit crazy judging by some of his designs. It was said that he once hoisted a donkey up the facade of the cathedral building to see how it would look in a sculpted nativity scene. He never finished it in his lifetime, and it was only now, one hundred and thirty years later, that it was beginning to look less like an abandoned monstrosity from a deranged mind and more the stunning building of his imagination. I had come outside with the canned ecstasy of the Hallelujah Chorus still ringing in my ears and spotted Kostas twitching in his seat and checking his watch. You can wait you fat bastard.

‘I am a busy man’, he stood up to greet me.

‘I needed to say a few prayers. Never know when I might need them’. We shook hands. ‘ Why not a Greek place?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t eat that shit anymore,, he said and slapped me on the back. ‘I gotta good job for you, Irish’.

‘ Irish? Why do you call me Irish?’

‘You look Irish’.

‘Ugly, you mean’.

‘Nah, not that. You mean you aint?’

‘No, I bloody ain’t. Never even been there’.

I forgot to say that I am good at lying too. Well, what this Greek slimeball doesn’t know won’t bother him.

‘Funny, I thought I heard someone say you was a Paddy once. Well, it don’t matter a shit anyhow. Your nationality is your own business’. He paused to order two cappuccinos from the kiosk window. ‘You followed her?’


‘And she met him — Jellicoe?’


‘You know your trouble, Irish? You talk too much’.

‘What do you want me to say? I followed her like you asked. She met the guy’.

‘You know what he is?’

‘I know who he is’.

‘Everybody knows who he is, not many know what he is’.

‘Is that right?’ I sipped the coffee slowly. Not bad at all. ‘I expect you’re going to tell me’.

‘He is a paedophile. A fucking paedophile. He do things with little girls’.

You look like one yourself, I almost said. ‘Thank heavens for little girls, eh’

‘Thass not funny’.

to be continued….



We had a party the other night. A kind of fancy-dress do, where everybody came dressed as a pub. There were several Red Cows, three Spotted Dogs, a Lord Nelson, a Duke Of Wellington, several Queen Victorias and a Pig And Whistle. And of course a Black Lion. This, naturally, being the guvner himself.
Then John The Butcher arrived. He was carrying a placard which read, ‘repent all ye who enter here for the end of the world is neigh’. He was also carrying a bloodied parcel, which he slapped on the counter in front of the guvner.
‘There you are. Five pound of the best tee-bone.. Tender as a baby’s bottom’.
‘What would you know about babies?’, someone in the crowd piped up. John was a confirmed bachelor.
‘Plenty’, he said, without averting his eyes from the pint that was being poured by one of the Red Cows. ‘I was one once’.
The guvner, meantime ,was dividing his time between sniffing at the parcel and studying the placard. Eventually, satisfied with the meat, he shoved it out of sight and rescued a tenner from the till. This he shoved grudgingly in John’s direction, indicating the placard as he did so.
‘Am I missing something?’
John waited until he had lowered the froth on his pint to below the half-way line before answering. ‘Ha, ha. Got ya there, haven’t I?’ He flicked a hand at the sign. ‘It’s the world’s end’.
‘Is it? Not right this minute I trust? Not in the middle of my busy time’. He looked closely at John. ‘You gone religious or sumthin’?’
‘You berk. The World’s End. It’s a pub.’
‘Never heard of it’
‘It’s a pub I tell ya. Down the Kings Road’.
‘He is right. I myself have been there many times’. This was Artic Alice. ‘I can vouch for its existence’.
Alice always spoke in a clipped, formal way. A legacy of her upbringing undoubtably, which, it was rumoured, included some of the best finishing schools in the land. Alice herself never confirmed (or denied) these stories, but there was no doubt she was well-educated, and, from the way she conducted herself in company, well-bred.
Alice never got drunk. She was content to sip Martinis in her favourite corner, poring over a crossword or a book, being polite to everyone, never opening her heart to a soul. She participated in the occasional pub quiz ( at which she excelled), but she was still as much a mystery woman as the day she first appeared about five years ago. Hence her nickname.
‘There. If Alice says it exists that should be good enough for you’. John finished his pint and signalled for another.
‘Not so fast’. The guvner wasn’t going to concede as easily as that. ‘Anyone can invent a pub. How do I know it exists?’
I forgot to mention that the reason for dressing up is this competition the guvner dreamed up, in which the winner can drink as much as he or she is capable of over the weekend. It occurs to me he might have a good reason for not wanting John to participate. With his capacity for unlimited guzzling he might easily drink the place dry.
Alice, who was to be the judge, wouldn’t be denied. ‘Of course it exists.’
‘That may well be. But it still isn’t proof’.
‘Proof you want, is it?’ It was the first time I had heard Alice raise her voice. ‘I’ll give you proof’. She snatched her handbag from the counter and rummaged through it for a few moments. Eventually, she produced a cutting, dog-eared, and yellowing ,and spread it out before us on the counter.
‘Hey, that’s Georgie Best’. The guvner poked a finger at the picture staring up at us. A look of something approaching awe appeared on his face. ‘Is that you pulling him a pint?’
‘It certainly is me. I was much younger then of course. What does it say on that banner behind me?’
We could all see it now, in letters that must have been a foot high. WORLDS END PUB …GRAND OPENING BY GEORGE BEST…FREE BEER ALL DAY
‘I knew I could rely on you Alice’. John clapped her on the shoulder. ‘You deserve a large drink after all that’.
‘Thank you John. My usual will suffice’. Alice carefully folded her cutting and placed it in her bag between the pages of a loose-leaf note-book that looked filled with notes. ‘By the way, the word is nigh’.
‘The end of the world is nigh, John, not neigh’.

More tales from the Black Lion soon…


26-01-2014 12;51;02

Upcoming review:

SHORT STORIES REVIEW The Missing Postman and Other Stories

The Co Waterford-born novelist and playwright, Tom O’Brien is still on a very productive streak, and not only has he had two plays produced in London this year, but he has brought out another novel, a book of three Waterford plays, and now a new book of short stories – The Missing Postman and Other Stories. His output is impressive and the work paints a wonderful picture of an Ireland that is quirky and malevolent, as well as giving a wonderful sense of place and time. I am surprised he is not a tourist attraction, and that no Waterford theatre company has scheduled a production of his. What is it about a prophet and his home place?

These stories read like notes to plays, and some are charged with characters and menace, as in the novella-length, The Missing Postman, that looks at the crazy world of Zeb and Zoe, who come to Ireland (Co Waterford) to avenge, separate, unhappy childhoods, and go on a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ robbery spree. They hide out in a curious cottage of Martin Og, who has surprises in the house of a high-tech nature.

In a chilling exploration that is full of tension and foreboding, the mysterious disappearance of Martin Og’s brother – The Postman of the title is remembered.

In Johnjo’s Tale, we get the sense of emigration and isolation, laced with the sickly nostalgia, for songs of an era of regret, heartache, and rights to property, keeping emigrants forever looking back to the old homestead. This notion of family possessions is forcefully brought home in a very short -The Dispossessed – where the message is driven home (pardon the pun) – you can never go back. Home is not and perhaps, never was, what you desperately wanted it to be.

The Homecoming, is another pithy story where the landscape of memory and the physical landscape of a Hill was quarried away to create a sense of false prosperity. For those who will come to know (and I sincerely hope so) Tom O’Brien as a fine playwright (which he is), these short stories will be viewed as source material into his themes and motivations. But they read as stories in their own right, full of human and bitter honesty, and full of dramatic tension and excitement.



The following is an extract from my book of short stories THE MISSING POSTMAN AND OTHER STORIES.


Chapter One

Seagulls screech at the sound of the approaching car, and its headlights pick them out wheeling away into the darkness. Martin Og shakes a fist at them as he drives to a stop near the front door of the weather-beaten cottage.

‘You might be the souls of dead fishermen but that won’t stop me blowing your bloody heads off the next time I get a clear shot at one of you’.

The only response is the inevitable splat on his front bonnet, before they vanish into the twilight. He gets out and slams the door, slinging his knapsack on his shoulder, and, ignoring the mess on the car front, limps to the front door.

He inserts a key and opens it, listening for a few moments before reaching in and switching on the room light

‘Blackie! Blackie! Where the feck are you gone to now?

The lights reveal a room that is in a terrible state; rubbish and stale food litter the table and chairs, bags of waste and empty whiskey bottles are stacked high against one wall. The paper on the walls is peeling, the photos and pictures faded. In fact the whole room looks as if it hasn’t been tidied for many years.

Against the back wall is a dresser, adorned with some faded willow-pattern crockery. An old fashioned radio sits on the dresser. Some hunting gear – a mixture of nets and traps – hang on one wall .A large square net, of the kind that sea fishermen use, hangs suspended from one half of the ceiling There is also a battered acoustic guitar and a ten-gallon hat hanging on pegs either side of the passageway. Two armchairs are situated in the shadows, one at either end of the room, their backs facing Martin Og.

He looks at them in puzzlement, first one then the other, but his puzzlement is almost immediately superseded by a look of grief when he spots the body of a dog lying between them. The dirty black beret he wears is whipped from his head, revealing a shock of white hair beneath. He lets the knapsack fall from his grasp as he hobbles towards the body.

‘Ah Blackie. Ah Jesus, Blackie…’

He picks the dog up in his arms and cradles it for a moment, then sits on a bentwood chair rocking the dog in his lap. He uses the beret to wipe the dog’s face.

He doesn’t notice for a moment as the two armchairs swivel round to face him. When he looks up he sees two figures seated in them

Both are in their early/mid twenties, and both are dressed in the trendy, designer-conscious manner of their peers. The man is cradling a shotgun in his arms; the girl has a metal strongbox resting on her lap, a handgun in her hand. She taps the box with the gun.

‘We need the key, Martin’.

‘Martin?’ He pauses. ‘Did you kill my dog?’

He was old’

Martin rises. ‘You killed my fucking dog…..’ The man raises the shotgun. ‘Be careful with that, it’s …not insured’.

‘Not insured, he says!’ The man laughs. ‘Look at it! What’s to insure?

I’ve got insurance. Lots of insurance’

Fire insurance?’

Yeah, fire insurance’. The girls looks around the room. ‘You got any fire insurance, Martin?’

‘Martin?’ You keep calling me Martin. Who are you people?’

The girl smiles at him this time, a big mouthful of pearl-white teeth. ‘Sorry. We should have introduced ourselves earlier. I’m Zoe. And that specimen over there is Zeb. Zeb and Zoe’. She smiles again. ‘Now, you got any fire insurance?’

Martin is beginning to think he must be in the throes of a nightmare. Surely he will wake up soon? ‘No. No fire insurance’.

‘Pity. Then you could burn the place down with impunity’

‘Why would I want to do that?’

Another laugh from Zoe. ‘Well, I mean…look at it!’

‘Impunity. That’s a good word.’ Zeb laughs softly

You like it, Zeb’.

Yeah, it’s cool. Burn the place down with impunity…I like that.’

Bet it all goes up like a bonfire’.

You reckon?Maybe we should…’

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