Archive | August, 2014

English to Irish during the course of three rugby matches and four years

28 Aug


My metamorphosis from English man to Irish man took place between the ages of 10 and 14. In the early 1960s, my father brought me to my first England v Ireland rugby match in London. I was then supporting England but I didn’t mind if Ireland won because I did not want my father to be unhappy. It was a magnificent experience, one which has left an indelible impression on me. Our seats, which were just in front of the touchline, were positioned a couple of feet below the level of the pitch; as a result,  whenever play came near, the players seemed like giants, except for the English right wing. He was much smaller than his team colleagues.

Ireland, playing right to left, took the kick-off to start the second half of the match. The objective was to boot the ball high into the sky and land it a little more than 10 yards into the opposition’s half of the pitch. The high trajectory of the kick was designed to give the Irish pack time to get to the expected landing point before the ball hit the ground. If executed correctly, the move would result in an almighty collision between to the two opposing packs. On this occasion, either due to misjudgement or by design, the ball’s flight was slightly lower and longer than normal. Consequently, it sailed just above the grasp of the tall English forwards and into the arms of the right wing – so far so good for England. However, the Irish pack, being skilled in trigonometry, quickly calculated that the ball would not be caught by the English pack. Therefore it  reprogrammed its route across the pitch so as to avoid an unnecessary collision and proceeded directly to the point at which the ball would come to earth.

The English right wing probably compensated for his slight build by fast running, but on this occasion speed could not save him. At the moment he caught the ball, he was hit by an Irish combine harvester. It surgically removed the ball from his grasp, gobbled him up and deposited his mangled remains on the freshly cut grass, like a bale of hay.

I watched this spectacle surrounded by hordes of middle-aged Irish rugby fans. The memory of their warm personalities, coupled with the smell of whiskey and tobacco that they exuded, would stay with me forever. When I attended the next England v Ireland match in Twickenham two years later, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I felt English or Irish, and by the time the third match came around, my metamorphosis to Irishman was complete.

(Edited abstract from the book – London Irish Dublin English – for more information please refer to my website:-

Free speech is alive and well and living in Grogan’s bar (Dublin city)

20 Aug

Grogan’s Castle Lounge is located on South William Street. This is not a wide street but from its pavement grand stonework steps lead up to the magnificent eighteenth-century Powerscourt House. A few yards further down this street, on the other side of it, stands Grogan’s.

It was Saturday evening at around 6pm when I entered this fine establishment. This was twilight time – the crossover between the business of the day and the night. The space was shared by shoppers and regular drinkers. The shoppers were rewarding themselves after a hard day’s procurement. Many were single, professional-looking females aged between 35 and 65 years. These people were confident and not to be messed with. They sat, cross-legged, at small tables, with their backs to the wall and facing the bar. They drank gin and tonic or a glass of wine. A few eccentrics drank Guinness. Some smoked a cigarette. Others read The Irish Times or a book. Branded shopping bags rested neatly against their legs for both security and economy of space. The regulars sat or stood at the bar. They were old and young, intellectual and artisan, a very mixed bag. The inner sanctum comprised a loose group of eight to ten individuals, mostly male, located at the far end of the back, inner bar. They could all have been members of the Dubliners band – shaggy beards, woolly jumpers, some flat caps, a few thick, black-rimmed glasses and a couple smoking pipes. They were either finishing off a Saturday afternoon session or starting out on an evening routine. These two powerful groups, the regulars and the shoppers, seemed to co-exist very comfortably, with an air of mutual respect.

I edged my way to the bar and managed to purloin a small part of it on which to put my elbow. The shoppers had taken all the seats by the wall. There were a couple of larger tables by the window but these were taken by students and tourists who were determined to maintain exclusive possession of their valuable space. Paintings hung on the wall behind the row of seated single ladies. Each had a price tag attached to it. When a painting was sold it was replaced by another. During the summer season many tourists probably woke the next morning wondering why they had made such a purchase.

My attention was drawn to a young man who looked just like Bono. Short in stature with brushed-back hair and black wraparound sunglasses, he was clearly working hard to look cool. He passed by and went through to the inner bar. Only a minute had passed when he returned with a bunch of newspapers under his arm. The publication was The Socialist Worker. He walked around the bar repeatedly saying: ‘Buy The Socialist Worker – smash the boss class.’ No sales were made. He had just about completed his lap when he came to a small table at which two male drinkers sat. They looked like experienced session musicians, with lean, worn faces, aged 45 to 50 years, casually dressed in jeans and check lumberjack shirts. One had a long, white-haired ponytail reaching to the base of his back.  After the Bono lookalike had repeated his clarion call to arms, they both looked up at him. After three seconds silence, the guy with the ponytail spoke in a loud, clear theatrical Dublin accent:

‘There was a time (pause) when people in this pub (pause) did not need to be told (pause) how to think!’

His clear, firm voice had momentarily silenced the bar. All had heard his pronouncement. It was followed by a gentle murmur of approval and then the general conversational hum was reset to normal volume. Everybody went back to their own business.

I believe that moments like these are fantastic. They stay with me forever. It is as though I have been momentarily transported to an O’Casey scene from Juno and the Paycock or The Plough and the Stars. There are very good literary pub crawls arranged for Dublin tourists but, if you hang around the right pubs for long enough you could witness live, original material performed spontaneously! This is delivered in the best spoken English in the world – Dublin English – the rich, poetic and descriptive structure of the Irish language laid down in English.

(An edited abstract from the book – London Irish Dublin English)

Reality TV with Dick and Mary

10 Aug

Reality TV, these days, seems to involve paying people who cannot act, and who are quite boring, to live out their dull lives on our television screens. It was not always thus.

After settling in Dublin, back in the 1980’s, most Sunday evenings I would head off to the local pub at around 9.30pm. This timing was about an hour after the broadcast of a very popular weekly television soap which had consistently enthralled the nation for years. The main storyline for months had revolved around the marital difficulties of Dick and Mary.

Dick had been less than faithful and had been found out. Week after week, he made episodic and increasingly desperate attempts to repair matters. Every Sunday evening, when I arrived in the pub, there was the actor who played Dick holding court at the bar, a pint of Guinness in his hand. I had to resist the urge to walk straight up to him and say:

‘Dick, Dick, Dick drink is not the answer. Now leave your pint on the counter and go straight home to Mary. She’s very upset you know – only this evening she was on the phone to her mother in floods of tears!’

But I never did.

(Edited abstract from the book – London Irish Dublin English)

Moss Keane bids farewell (repeatedly)

5 Aug

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, I had religiously followed the Irish international rugby team. My heroes were the likes of Moss Keane, Fergus Slattery, Willie Duggan and ‘The Blessed’ Oliver Campbell.

Following my arrival in Dublin, in the mid-1980’s, I was absolutely thrilled to find that these legends, although past their best on the field of play, were still very much alive and out and about around the city. One beautiful May evening, I arranged to meet an old school friend in Toner’s pub on Baggot Street. Only a few feet away from us sat Moss Keane, Peter Wheeler (the former England captain) and a few others in their company.

After Moss finished each pint, his huge frame would rise off the stool and assume a standing position. He would solemnly put on his jacket and bid farewell to all. A process of persuasion would then ensue, culminating in Moss agreeing to stay for just one more pint. The jacket would be removed and was hung up neatly.He would then resume his original seated position. This procedure was to be re-enacted repeatedly throughout a very pleasant evening.

Note: RIP Moss Keane. When we have admired a hero from afar for many years, some of us might prepare ourselves to be disappointed if ever we were fortunate enough to be in their company or to just to see them in the flesh. “Surely Moss can’t really be that larger than life.” I would tell myself.

I am happy to report that he met all my expectations.

(An edited abstract from my book: London Irish Dublin English)