Men. Pubs. Violence. The narrative triangulation that is my constituency. This was the first story I had published, in “Printer’s Devil,” issue J in 1998.
Eight o’clock Sunday night. The bar’s heaving; tables sag with empty glasses furred by brown rings of oxidized stout. The carpet is cigarette ends and the jukebox plays It’s A Long Long Way from Clare To Here, The Wolfe Tones version, loud. Me, Micky and Danny still sat at the same table since opening. Six pints down and we’re getting red eyed, yawning, leaving bigger butts, hungry, thinking about going on the shorts. Came in for the hurling: pub was split fifty-fifty. Culchies all supporting Tipp like us and the Dubs. Big mouthed gobshites, couldn’t give a fuck about GAA except when their teams on.
There’s gangs of blokes in hurling, Celtic, Ireland, soccer and rugby, and the odd Man United shirts. Old guys, been here since the 50s, from Wexford to Connemara, in their suits, smoking Carroll’s Number 1. Until about six, everyone is in there for the game only. No women. Copies of The Sunday World and An Phoblacht, unread and frayed, on the bar, behind the phone and splayed out across the window sill. The game’s getting exciting, so there’s blokes up on the seats and tables banging on the roof, shouting Just take the bleeding point! Hit the fucker.
Down the corridor, someone’s thrown his guts up in the bogs. After the whistle, we’re watching Hill 16 bathed in blue and gold. Dubs pissed off and sheepish, go back to talking about the Premiership. Culchie boys battling to be heard: some on Sean South -:
‘Twas on a dreary New Year’s Eve,
As the shades of night came down.
A lorry load of volunteers
Approached the border town.
There were men from Dublin and from Cork
Fermanagh and Tyrone,
But the leader was a Limerick man,
Sean South from Garryowen.
Others were giving it everything on Rifles Of the IRA -:
We’re not free yet, but we won’t forget
Until our dying day
How the Black and Tans like lightning ran
From the rifles of the IRA.
Half an hour later and there’s middle aged women drinking halves of lager here now. Hauling their blokes down from the tables. Blokes in Sunday best, cuffs rigid with beer slops, ash on their trousers, taking the women to a dance for the weekly night out, shamble unsteadily through the door. Young ones, throwing it down their necks before ten thirty closing, not like at home. Not worrying about tomorrow and the buildings or the shops .The diaspora is on the piss.
Danny’s fading: slumped forward, eyes on his shoes, concentrating on keeping it all inside him, with his fag burning away and pint gone flat. His da’s still singing loud, waiting for the wife to drag him home for a wash, then down The Shamrock. Micky’s getting Danny straight, two bags of nuts and a line of Charlie, then we’II hit the rest of the High Road.
The bar’s still as full, but the crowd’s changing. Less Paddy; more Brit. Students and advertising executives slumming it, drinking Magner’s and talking about weekends in Temple Bar and Dingle. Danny’s up off his stool, back against the wall, eyes rolling, eating crisps, looking pissed off. He’s going nowhere yet. His ma turns up for his dad, screaming she’s sick of him making a show of himself at his age. She may as well take Danny home also.Says he’s going to the bogs to do the toot and disappears. This blonde twenty something piece in a Panic At The Disco tee shirt grabs what she thinks is the spare stool, beckoning and shouting for her gang to come over. We’re not consulted. There’s about a dozen of them: middle class wankers. Micky starts grinding his teeth and talking in a stage whisper about The Provos which makes Panic turn around and look nervous.
Ten minutes later, just when we’re starting to think he’s copped out and fucked off home, Danny comes back from the bar with the pints; stopping short when he sees his seat’s gone. Putting the drinks down, he turns to her, in a voice half slurred, half tinged with coke; Excuse me, that’s my seat. Could I have it back please? She looks at him as if she’s been shit on by a flock of starlings.
I don’t think this is your seat, I mean it doesn ‘t have your name on the bottom.
Yeah very funny. I’m a regular here, I always sit there, I’ve been sitting on it since twelve o’clock so move, now.
Well, there wasn’t anyone here when I arrived. Anyway if you’ve been sitting all day, you could probably do with stretching your legs.
Look sweetheart, I don’t want any bother, I just want my cunting seat back, so fucking shift.
There’s no movement from either side. She’s sitting there as if nothing’s happened, drinking her pint and holding her fag up like a shield against him. Danny’s about to lose it. He’s trembling and starting to clench his fists. She won’t have any teeth left soon. I put my hand on his arm, pointing out a space on the couch against the wall, where his old man was standing, before he got hauled out while Danny was at the bar or snorting a line or whatever the fuck he was doing. Danny sits down and glowers at the Brits, but they’re not taking any notice. Halfheartedly, I try and explain maybe she was trying to be funny or even flirting with him, knowing that in the same situation I’d have put her face through the window. Micky shouts in their direction.
If these cunts bowled into a Yardie bar and started taking the piss like that, they’d get a fucking bullet in the back. Just because we’re Paddies they still think they can treat us like shite.
Micky seems calm, unlike Danny, but he’s building up to exploding big time. The student gang are self-consciously huddled round Panic and talking in whispers. They look frightened. I go to the bar, stopping off for some fags on the way. Coming back with a tray, I see my seats been kept, but the other bastards have got a new member in their company. Some six foot ginger cunt in an England soccer shirt, hunched over Panic’s bar stool. He ‘s inviting a slap with that on. Obviously he’s her boss as she keeps calling him sir, in a piss takey sort of way and offering to buy him drinks if he’ll promote her. She really wants to fuck him, just for the prestige. He’s loaded, swaying around, spilling slops from his pint and showering ash on people, most of them too pissed to notice or even care. He staggers off to the jukebox and returns with a shit eating grin when Three Lions On Our Chest kicks in, proudly announcing he put this on and grabbing Panic up for a dance. There’s no space to move, never mind dance and they keep bumping into people. Their friends, feeling safe now clap hands, clunking Magner’s bottles against each other. They’re fucking laughing, enjoying themselves in our bar. Micky and Danny grab me on to the couch and we’re on our feet, out singing the jukebox with Broad Black Brimmer -:
There’s a uniform still hanging
In what’s known as father’s room,
A uniform so simple in its style.
It has no braid of gold,
No hat with feathered plume
But me mother has preserved it all the while.
One day she let me try it on,
A wish of mine for years,
“Just in memory of your father son” she said
And when I placed the Sam Brown on,
She was smiling through her tears
As she placed the Broad Black Brimmer on me head.
It’s just a Broad Black Brimmer; it’s ribbons frayed and torn
By the careless whisk of many a mountain breeze,
An old trench coat all battle stained and worn
And britches that are done for at the knees.
A Sam Brown belt, with a buckle big and strong
And a holster that’s been empty many a year, but not for long.
The men who gave Ireland freedom and ones chosen to lead them
Wore the Broad Black Brimmer of the IRA.
The whole bar joins in, up on the seats, punching the air, apart from the dancers and the strangers who shut the fuck up realizing The Boss has made a big mistake in his choice of record. He couldn’t have dug a deeper hole if he’d burst into God Save The Queen or The Sash My Father Wore. Most of the Brits leave, apart from the dancers and two other women who have another drink. Ordinarily I’d have made a beeline for them, but that’s not advisable right now. Then the fight breaks out.
Micky’s wound up that they are still in our bar, but doesn’t seem on the verge of starting anything, He just sits there, snarling. Danny’s toot has kicked in and he’s chatting up this bird from Glasgow in a Smash The H Blocks tee shirt, talking about Celtic and trips up on the 7 AM from Euston. She’s not interested but flattered. I’m sitting watching PatD and her boss, who are engaged in heavy duty snogging. He breaks free and tries to get to his feet, obviously needing a piss. Pausing at the table, he lights a fag and then tries to wander off. Then Micky leaps up, screaming invective. He’s had his ear burned by the fag. The Boss looks confused, dulled by beer he doesn’t understand. Micky’s jabbing a finger into his chest, calling him all kinds of cunt and demanding this gets sorted. PatD steps between them, whilst Micky shows off his burn, then takes The Boss outside. Danny joins us and we follow the newest couple in NW3 on to the High Road. The Boss obviously decides he’s got to impress her and throws a Holsten bottle at Micky twenty yards behind him, who deflects it with his forearm. The bottle smashes on the pavement, people walk around it and around us, not wanting to intervene.
We’re standing five feet apart, not knowing what the fuck is going to happen next, when PatD breaks the ice, screaming at the other two women to phone the law. We react badly to this. Micky sticks one on him and The Boss goes down. He’s big, but soft as shit, and curls himself up into a ball, lying still as we get in a circle, kicking and stamping on his head, back and legs. The odd shot in the balls, you know how it is. Micky’s the worst, involuntary grunts every time he lands another kick. PatD is in hysterics, tears and snot pour out as she tries to wrestle Micky away, calling us IRA bastards. We laugh and leave the cunt, moaning on the deck, with her bent over him, wailing and smoothing his hair. Danny turns round, looks at the cunt and shouts; Tiocfaidh Ar La. Up TheRa. Then he spits on the bastard. Sirens fill the air and we dodge the traffic across to The Shamrock , where the band is just finishing The Boys Of The Old Brigade -:
Where are the lads who stood with me when history was made?
Oh gra ma cree I long to see the Boys Of The Old Brigade.
There’s massive cheers and full on applause. Mick’s laughing now, pointing at his ear as an ambulance stops opposite, saying it didn’t really hurt; he just wanted them out of our bar for good. He fancied a go, get rid of some tension. We go up the stairs and see Danny’s dad, pissed out of his box, trying to sing Men Behind The Wire with the band -:
Armoured cars and tanks and guns came to take away our sons
But every man must stand behind the men behind the wire.
Through the little streets of Belfast, in the dark of early morn
British soldiers came a running, breaking little homes with scorn,
Heedless of the crying children, dragging fathers from their beds,
Beating sons while helpless mothers watch the blood flow from their heads.
He’s hopeless; forgetting three quarters of the fucking words, letting the crowd fill in the gaps. Danny’s ma’s laughing now. Micky swans over, sweeps her up and they’re on the floor, singing along with every other fucker. It’s my turn for the drinks again.