God Save The Queen
As the Republican border campaign, having begun with a bang, began to fizzle out in the North, due to lack of public support, a new anti-British campaign was developing in the South. This consisted of busting public house televisions. It began when some public house owners believed that punters would drink more if they sat at the counter staring at a snowy television screen rather than engaging in animated conversation with one another.
This sales tactic was several years ahead of its time insofar as it came into existence prior to the opening of an Irish television station. This meant that only B.B.C. television was available to Dublin pub drinkers, and this was a problem because that station closed each night after the news and weather with an image of Queen Elizabeth of England and a spirited rendition of the British National Anthem. It was customary, therefore, to switch off the television as soon as programming finished. Failure to do so could cause trouble as it was also consuetudinary for Republicans or politically conscious gurriers to toss a glass or a stool through the television screen if it continued to beam out triumphalist imperialist propaganda across Irish airwaves.
It was towards the end of April 1959 when a young Ructions Doyle bumped into Vincent Sexton, the horticulturist and member of the Republican Movement. Sexton was then almost forty years of age. He seemed quite agitated as he threw glances over his shoulder.
“Is everything alright Vincent?” inquired Ructions.
“I was just accosted by a young pup of a Branchman in Parnell Street,” complained Sexton.
“Did he try to arrest you?”
“Remember me Vincent,” said Sexton, imitating the Branchman, “Remember me, he says in a palsy walsy voice.”
“A congenial poxbottle,” observed Ructions.
Sexton’s voice became officious and haughty. “Should I know you Sir? I said to him. Ah c’mon Vincent, sure wasn’t it me who questioned you over the oul tele in Smith and Grogan’s.”
“The fucking cheek of him,” Ructions sympathized.
“Exactly,” agreed Sexton, “And did you impress me? I asked him.”
“That was putting him back in his cage,” said Ructions.
Just then Tommy Marsh, a Sinn Fein supporter, came upon them. He had turned up at a Cumann meeting to join Sinn Fein some months earlier but left immediately when he spotted an elderly woman at the back of the room darning socks. He now arrived with a story that sent a shiver running down Sexton’s spine.
He relayed how, a few days earlier at the Gardiner Street Labour Exchange, a big fellow with a Belfast accent had claimed to have busted eleven television screens in Dublin public houses. Sexton, who had smashed screens from Stoneybatter to Bulloch Harbour had also notched up eleven. He had presumed himself to be out of reach of the nearest contender.
“A Belfast blow-in,” he exploded, “and not even a member of the Movement.”
“This fella is a free marketeer with a big mouth. He was bawling it all over the kip.”
“If he was any kind of republican he’d have stayed in the North and taken on the B Specials or the British Army, and not elbowed his way into peoples’ dole money down here,” said Sexton.
“It’s the easy way out,” agreed Ructions. “I mean if he had any balls he’d leave the teles in the pubs alone and go up and attack an RUC barracks.”
“Oh decent people have come down here like Bob Bradshaw and Harry White. People who didn’t bat an eyelid about riddling RUC men, but this bum is trying to make a name for himself on our pitch,” complained Sexton.
“Were you ever in the Dockers’ pub on the Quays?” inquired Marsh.
“No,” said Sexton.
“There’s a tele in the lounge there, it wouldn’t be hard to get at it with a pint bottle and you could go back into the lead, couldn’t he Ructions?”
“He could if we were there to distract the barman, except that we have no dosh,” added Ructions, patting his empty trouser pockets.
Sexton’s eyes lit up, “Jeeesus lads, I’d really appreciate that, don’t worry about money for god’s sake, sure I’m deadheading roses in Enniskerry at the moment.”
“That’s agreed then, so we could meet there later on at about five o’clock,” said Ructions.
“Five!!” exclaimed Sexton. “Sure it’ll be six before I get out of the garden and then I...”
“There wouldn’t be any point in leaving it later than seven or we’d only be swannian out at closing time with a thirst on us.”
“Okay,” said Sexton, reluctantly, “seven bells so.”
It was ten minutes past seven when Sexton arrived. His thinning hair was covered with a cloth cap and he wore a white mackintosh. Ructions, whose beard made him look older than his twenty one years, was pacing up and down outside.
He was on his second pint when Marsh arrived.
“You look very snazzy,” said Marsh.
“He’s expecting the Press to take his photograph when he breaks the record,” joked Ructions.
“Slow down,” urged Marsh as they began the third round.
“Slow down,” repeated Ructions, “do you want me to belittle a man’s generosity?”
He gulped into the frothy pint. Sexton was drinking whisky and was beginning to blow a little as the lounge filled up.
By the time the Phil Silvers show had concluded and the news had commenced Marsh was noticeably slurring, and Sexton was looking around with a vacant stare in his eyes as if he was not sure why he was there or, indeed, who he was.
Now Ructions collared the barman for a last round and to hold his attention he was telling him about English landladies.
“You see they’re not Catholics like Irish landladies,” explained Ructions, “sure they’re not Tommy?”
“What religion are they Tommy?”
“Eh, pagans, I think.”
“Yes,” continued Ructions to the barman, “Pagans. You see it allows them to throw it about. Their religion allows them you see.” He winked at the barman.
“Throw what about?” inquired the barman.
“Throw everything about, right Tom?”
“Yeah, put it about, everywhere. Put it around,” Marsh concurred, as a customer further down the counter called for a drink.
“That fucker down there,” said Ructions, holding the barman by the arm, “that fucker has been staring into the same pint for the last half hour with a mush on him like a sow’s arse and not a civil word to a soul. Now he’s all fucking action.”
“I’ll give him action,” warned Marsh as he shuffled his shoulders.
“Relax Tom,” advised Ructions, “I’m just explaining to the barman here that the one thing nobody wants in a public house is a silent sitter. A fella like that would empty a premises in five minutes.”
“He would,” agreed Marsh. “A fella like that would spread despondency like wildfire.”
“A fella who’d say nothing is as bad as a fella who won’t shut up,” Ructions lectured on. “If you have one of each in a pub get ready to meet the receiver.”
“What were you saying about the English landladies putting things about?” asked the barman as he shouted down to the silent customer to tell him that he was barred.
“Putting it all around,” Marsh interjected, “the whole shebang, all over the fucken gaff. Sure where else would you put it,” he laughed.
“What I wasn’t saying is more to the point. You see the English landlady is up for it,” said Ructions giving the barman a series of winks.
“Up for what?”
“Up for everything, I said. Are you not listening to me? We’re talking here about lovely women who’d kick the salt out of holy water if you didn’t come across with the goods.”
“That’s it,” slobbered Marsh. He was now beginning to lose control of his mental faculties. “Lourdes, holy water, fucken cripples,” he shouted out.
“This landlady I had,” said Ructions, leaning across the counter, “used to call me her Oirish mickeen. Well this Friday evening I came in soaking wet. Possing to the skin. Is that you Mickeen she shouted out,” said Ructions as the television weather report was coming to a close. “It is, says I. You must be soaked to the skin, says she. To the buff, says I.” Ructions was now whispering into the barman’s ear. “C’mon into the fire, says she, an’ I’ll show you something. I’ll show you….”
The bachelor barman, who was already contemplating emigrating to London at the first available opportunity, was completely oblivious to the strains of ‘God Save the Queen’ rising in the smoky air.
“Go,” commanded Marsh, giving Sexton an elbow. Sexton grabbed a half full pint bottle of Guinness which belonged to a customer who had just sauntered off to the toilet. With a shout of “Up the Republic,” he pitched the bottle towards the offending television. Because the throw was rushed and because Sexton had more than the usual quota of whisky in his blood stream, the bottle sailed well wide of its target.
On the opposite side of the noisy pub, a sturdy drunken docker was telling two companions, in a most menacing manner, that Notts Forest would ‘kick the bollocks’ out of Luton Town in the English F.A. Cup Final to be played the following week.
The wayward bottle exploded on his forehead, and for an instant, the bemused docker thought that the whole of Wembley Stadium was after crashing down upon him. At the same moment Sexton slipped out of the pub and staggered down the deserted quays.
As the barman and a number of customers came to the aid of the disfigured docker, a tall fellow with a Belfast accent shouted “Tiocfaidh ár Lá,” while at the same time he tossed a bar stool which hit the television. It wobbled and then burst as it hit the floor to loud cheers.
It was a week later when Marsh came across Sexton. He was now wearing a trilby hat and had grown a thin black moustache as a form of disguise which prompted Marsh to inquire, “Is that a moustache Vincent, or did you just have oral sex with a black rabbit?”