Call my bluff

Amusements on Fair Green, Shercock, September 1945. Jack Murphy was small in stature. He usually wore a dark overcoat and brown felt hat, even when serving in his shop. His dark attire and trim-greying moustache gave him a sombre dignified appearance, which belied his affectionate and kindly nature. He was popularly known as ³ByG² because of his habit of prefacing his remarks with the words ³ByG² to emphasise a salient point in a discussion. By: Brendan Murray

Jack’s nine children held him in high esteem. On occasions they would inform the rest of us kids of their father’s great achievements. For instance, if my pal Donal said, “My father caught a 14lb pike yesterday,” one of Jack’s sons would respond, “One time my father caught a 28lb pike.” On these occasions, some of us would knowingly whisper, “Ah, but that was onetime; in the days of yore, and of course he put it back in the water before someone saw it.”

We all knew, in our hearts of hearts that Jack Murphy could not be, or have been, the best fisherman, the best shot, and the best of everything in town. That would be impossible because he was smaller than most of our fathers and on occasions his hands tremoured slightly due to some ailment.
One Saturday evening when I entered his shop, Jack was speaking in low confidential tones to a friend of his, Peadar Reilly.

“You shouldn’t fear either of these two gents,” he was advising.

He turned to me as I approached the counter and said, “Well, young man and what can I do for you.”
“A Kennedy loaf, please”, I replied.

“Fine”, he said and he continued to speak quietly to Peadar as he took a loaf from under the county and commenced wrapping it in a sheet of newspaper.

“As I was saying Peadar,” he continued, “Those two gents are troublemakers. On that Sunday morning 25 years ago when the whole town was at 12 o’clock mass, the two of them were standing at Hoey’s ‘Corner, over there.” (He nodded his head in the direction of Hoey’s Corner, which was opposite his shop) “when I was returning with a few duck in the bag that I had shot at lock Silan. ByG, I was a great shot in those days,” he added as he continued to wrap the loaf, accentuating his remarks as he hit and folded the edges of paper at the two sides of the parcel before folding them upwards and reaching for a piece of string. His hands tremoured as he tied at the centre of the parcelled loaf.

“As I approached”, he continued to Peadar, “the big fellow shouted at me; What’s in the bag Murphy. You didn’t shoot it because you couldn’t hit the back of a bus; so you must have stolen it.”

“I tried to ignore them” said jack “but as I passed them the big fellow gave me a push and said: ‘Are you calling me a liar; maybe you’d like to fight, say one of us at a time; I’ll go first, ‘ and he laughed and winked knowingly at the other fellow and he repeated: ‘One of us at a time’.”

Jack now handed me the parcelled loaf saying “Here you are sonny” and I gave him 101/2 pence, which was the price of it at the time.

As I went towards the shop doorway I could hear him say to Peadar. “That got me.”
I lingered in the doorway in an effort to hear the outcome of his encounter with the two troublemakers and I could hear him say:

“Well, I left down my gun and bag and ByG, I buttoned my coat and I took my stance and a bit out from them and I said:

‘What do you mean, one of you at a them, ByG, Come on the two of you.’”

You’re bluffing, said the big fellow, a twirp like you, we’d kill you.’ Call my bluff, I replied.

“Then the big fellow came swaggering over, full of confidence with the other fellow lagging behind him. I gave the big fellow a dig in the stomach, which brought him down to size and I followed it with a right to his gob, which landed him on his arse on the ground. Come on, I said to the other fellow, but he turned and ran, and up got the big fellow and ran after him. ByG they had no guts then and they have no guts now - Where would they get them in the meantime,” concluded Jack.

T’was then, I saw my best pal Donal approaching.

“Donal”, I said: “I heard Mr Murphy say that he was a great fighter and a great shot.”

“Don’t believe that, ‘ByG’ has a great imagination - that ‘s what my mother says and she’s related to him,” Donal replied, and he added questionably: “How could he have a great shot with those shaky hands of his?” Then changing the subject Dónal said: “Some amusements came to the fair green yesterday. They’ve a slot machine that’s easy to best.”

“How do you know it’s easy to best,” I enquired.

“It must be,” he replied, “because Ignatius (his small brother) won on it yesterday and he’s only 5. It’s a penny a go on it. All you have to do is to catch a ball in a small boat thing and you win six pence.”
“I know the sort of a machine it is. I saw one like that one time,” I replied.

“Can you meet me there tomorrow and we’ll pool a penny each and split our winnings?” asked Dónal.
I agreed to meet Dónal at the amusements on the following day, Sunday, at twelve noon. At that time most of the people in the town would be at Mass.

On Sunday, I met Dónal as arranged. The amusements consisted of the one slot machine and one uncovered shooting gallery, which was painted red and yellow. We immediately inspected the slot machine.

“You put a penny in there at the top,” Dónal explained: “The ball comes out of that hole there and drops down. It bounces off those little nails on the way down and if you catch it in this boat thing - see it moves over and back like this,” he demonstrated. “A token with 6pm written on it, comes out here (he pointed to a small silver receptacle at the bottom of the machine) and the woman in the caravan (he pointed to the caravan) will give you six real pence for it.”

The one solitary dull looking caravan indicated that the proprietors were far from prosperous.
“Fine, Dónal, you go first, and I’ll see how it’s done,” I said.

Dónal put his penny in the slot; out came the little silver ball and fell downwards bouncing off the little nails that projects in numerous places in its path. Dónal vigorously manipulated the boat leaver but failed miserably in his efforts to catch it.

“I thought it was easy,” I said to him.

“ByG”, he replied with feigned flippancy, imitating Mr Murphy. “It’s not as easy as it looks. How did Ignatius do it yesterday and he’s only five?” At that moment, Ignatius appeared with four of his pals in tow. No doubt he intended to demonstrate to them his skill at beating the machine and becoming a six-penny millionaire.

“Give your penny to Ignatius and he might win for us,” Dónal said to me.
Ignatius glowed with pride at the honour bestowed on him by his big brother in volunteering him for this mammoth’s task, and he took on the responsibility of risking my last penny with the utmost confidence.

“I have a penny myself but I’ll play yours first” he said and added “for practice before I risk my own.”
“This is serious; it’s not a bit of practice,” said Donal to him.
“I’m only joking, its easy,” he retorted showing some offence at his big brother’s sudden doubts about his ability.

Ignatius inserted my penny into the machine and we watched the small silver ball bounce downwards. Ignatius slid the boat leaver in one movement to the right and, lo and behold! caught the ball.
This magnificent achievement was greeted with the cheers of his pals and myself and Donal. A small brass token with the words “win 6p” embossed on it ejected into receptacle at the base of the machine.

“Play your own penny now,” Dónal said to him. There was a silence as Ignatius inserted his penny and the silver ball fell on its downards- bouncing path. To our great surprise, Ignatius again caught it in the boat. The cheers of his pals and myself and Dónal again greeted this brilliant achievement. “He’s got the knack,” said Dónal.

However, our jubilations suddenly changed to consternation when no brass token ejected into the receptacle. Ignatious put his small hand into the receptacle and pushed his fingers upwards saying: “It must be stuck up there.”

Dónal gave the machine a good shake but to no avail; no brass token appeared. “Go up to the woman in the caravan and get six pence from her for the one token and tell her that no token came out the second time. Tell her to check the machine, there might be no tokens left in it,” he ordered.

Ignatius climbed the four steps to the caravan door and knocked. We all waited expectantly in a semi-circle around the bottom step. The door opened a few inches and Ignatius said a few words before a hand reached out and took the token from him. We heard a voice make a quite remark as the door was immediately closed. The very glum expression on Ignatius face as he came down the caravan steps caused us no little disquiet.

“What’s wrong?” , “What did she say to you? Did she give you the money?” we all asked.
“No” was his glum reply. “She said, I couldn’t have won and she just grabbed the token from me and shut the door.”

We were all dumbfounded. Anger took over, we were being cheated and robbed. We held an emergency meeting on the spot. Something had to be done immediately. Ignatius’s small pals suggested an all out attack on the caravan recommending stones and clods as the appropriate weapons. Dónal and I suggested a short recess to allow the two of us to talk to the woman and confirm the facts of the case and this was agreed.

We climbed up the caravan steps and knocked on the door, but it remained closed. We tried a second time, but alas it still remained close. We were up against it. We were all broke, we had gambled two pence, the combined fortune of five year olds and two ten year olds. We had won and we were being cheated out of our winnings and our own money.

Suddenly passing by we saw Mr Jack Murphy, wearing as usual his topcoat and felt hat. “Mr Murphy, can you help us?” Dónal shouted and he came over towards us to be immediately surrounded by Ignatius and his pals, all-speaking at once relating how they were cheated. As Dónal and I were explaining the situation to Mr Murphy, a tall man with a smartly corrugated countenance came out of the caravan. He was carrying a pellet gun in one hand and a can containing white paint in the other hand. He ignored us and proceeded to the shooting gallery and placed a sign on the counter and the can of paint on a ledge near the target.

Mr Murphy’s indignation at our story showed visibly on his features. He was a man of integrity and the way we were cheated out of our money could not be tolerated. He immediately approached the man and said:

“These young lads have a problem which I’m sure you can resolve, they tell me that they won on the slot machine over there and were refused their winnings which includes their own money.”

“No money prize today. The prize to day is a free shot at the target there,” the man announced as if he was delivering an important proclamation to the world in general. “I don’t think that’s what they were led to believe” Mr Murphy replied.

There was a silence as both Mr Murphy and the man stared at each other.

“Mr Murphy is a great shot,” I said to Dónal, “so let him take our shot.” Ignatius and his pals overheard this remark and they all immediately volunteered Mr Murphy for this mighty task. Mr Murphy looked a little discomfited and said: “Lads I’d love to but I’m in a hurry, the wife if expecting me for the dinner. Anyway, ye are due ye’re money,” “Looks like they will all be more than satisfied if you take the shot,” the man said challengingly to Mr Murphy and he added “And of course they’ll be delighted if you hit the bell.” The ball was behind a small iron white square with a small hole in its centre.

“Just to ensure that there’s no misunderstanding - what’s the prize if one hits the target” asked Mr Murphy.

This challengingly talk delighted us.

“The prize” said the man, “is a free shot” and he added with a smile on his ugly features. “Its a free shot each time you hit the target; you can keep shooting all day if you’re good enough.”
It was obvious that the man had taken a dislike to our Mr Murphy.

“Go on Mr Murphy” I said “He’s a great shot,” I whispered to the others. However, some of them seemed dubious of his shooting ability, but I could see that they were anxious for him to win this war.
Mr Murphy looked at our stern anxious faces and then turned to the man and tersely said: “Set it up.”
The man looked surprised. He took a pellet from a tin box and put it in the gun and then went to the target area and with two ceremonious swipes of his paint brush applied white paint to the small white iron plate in front of the target bell. Mr Murphy picked up the gun and slowly weighed in in his hands.
“Is it accurate?” he asked.

“It is. Its as good as the man firing it” replied the man and he added: “If you miss, its your own fault.”
“ByG, is that a fact” said Mr Murphy leaving down the gun on the counter to button his coat. We saw his hands shaking as he pressed the buttons. He picked up the gun and brought it up to his left shoulder and steadied it with his elbows on the counter. The man stood well to the right of the line of fire. Obviously, he didn’t have much faith in Mr Murphy’s shooting ability, all of us looked on, anxiously willing Mr Murphy to do the impossible.

He waited a few moments, relaxed, adjusted the brim of his hat over his left eye, brought the gun up to the firing position and fired.

“Ding”, the bell sounded loud and clear, he had hit the target!

We all cheered. “Full Bell,” said the man with a look of astonishment on his face. “Full Bell and a free shot sir,” he pronounced as he put another pellet in the gun and out of habit ceremoniously applied two swipes of paint to the small white iron plate in front of the target bell.

“That was some luck,” Dónal, whispered to me, “for how in God name could ‘ByG’ hit the bell thro’ that little hold, his hands were shaking.”

All of us again anxiously watched as Mr Murphy again brought the gun up to his left shoulder, relaxed, again steadied, and fired.

“Ding”. To our amazement, he had hit the target again.

“Full bell, sir” pronounced the man with respect. “That’s fine shooting”. “You’ve another free shot” he added as he again put a pellet in the gun and ceremoniously applied two swipes of his paint brush to the white iron plate in front of the target.

‘ByG that’s some luck”, Dónal whispered to me and he added: “He’ll never do it a third time, but at least we got a few free shots and showed that ugly man what good shots we are around here.” I felt very pleased with Dónal’s presumption. All us kids were getting very excited. We had never witnessed drama like this before. We waited in quiet anticipation, which exploded into cheers as Mr Murphy hit the target for the third time.

“Full Bell” all of us experts shouted; we had now learned the jargon:
“Not quite a 100% full bell, but it wins another shot” said the man, and he added as he carefully examined the target area. “I’d say the pellet just grazed the side of the hole on the way thro”. “Twas a full bell” all of us “experts” shouted in support of our champion.

This exhibition was much better than a circus. I could see that Mr Murphy was getting a little bit apprehensive. He knew that sooner rather or later he would miss and our cheers would turn to disappointment.

The man loaded the gun and placed it before him.

Mr Murphy with the same procedure as before brought the gun up to his left shoulder. Again we anxiously watched him as he carefully squeezed the trigger and fired.

“Full Bell” we all shouted as the bell sounded for the fourth time.

Suddenly, two of his young sons, J.J. and Jerry appeared around the corner about 20 yards away and when they saw him they shouted: “Daddy, mammy wants you for your dinner- its out on the table.” At that, Mr Murphy with great relief said: “Sorry lads I have to go now, the wife is waiting for me, my dinner is on the table.”

“Take your free shot before you go” said the man (he knew that the publicity of Mr Murphy’s achievement would be good for business.)

“Can’t now maybe some other time” replied Mr Murphy and he said to us: “Good luck men, I enjoyed those few shots and I hope ye did too” and off he left and we could see the surprise on the faces of his two sons as they looked up at him enquiring what the story was this time.
“He’s a great shot alright,” I said to Dónal.

“He proved it there” replied Dónal and added: ‘Wasn’t yer man lucky not to have challenged him to a fight.”

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2002