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
Jacks nine children held him in high esteem. On occasions
they would inform the rest of us kids of their fathers
great achievements. For instance, if my pal Donal said,
My father caught a 14lb pike yesterday, one
of Jacks 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 shouldnt 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 oclock mass, the
two of them were standing at Hoeys Corner, over
there. (He nodded his head in the direction of Hoeys
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; Whats in the bag Murphy.
You didnt shoot it because you couldnt 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 youd like to fight, say
one of us at a time; Ill 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
What do you mean, one of you at a them, ByG, Come
on the two of you.
Youre bluffing, said the big fellow, a twirp like
you, wed 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.
Twas 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.
Dont believe that, ByG has a great
imagination - that s what my mother says and shes
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.
Theyve a slot machine thats easy to best.
How do you know its easy to best, I enquired.
It must be, he replied, because Ignatius
(his small brother) won on it yesterday and hes only
5. Its 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 well 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 Ill see
how its 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. Its not as easy as it looks. How
did Ignatius do it yesterday and hes 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 mammoths
task, and he took on the responsibility of risking my last
penny with the utmost confidence.
I have a penny myself but Ill play yours first
he said and added for practice before I risk my own.
This is serious; its not a bit of practice,
said Donal to him.
Im only joking, its easy, he retorted
showing some offence at his big brothers 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. Hes 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,
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.
Whats wrong? , What did she say
to you? Did she give you the money? we all asked.
No was his glum reply. She said, I couldnt
have won and she just grabbed the token from me and shut
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. Ignatiuss
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
Mr Murphys 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 Im 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 dont think thats 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 Id love to but Im
in a hurry, the wife if expecting me for the dinner. Anyway,
ye are due yere 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 theyll 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 theres no misunderstanding
- whats the prize if one hits the target asked
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 youre good enough.
It was obvious that the man had taken a dislike to our Mr
Go on Mr Murphy I said Hes 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 didnt have much
faith in Mr Murphys 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
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,
Ding. To our amazement, he had hit the target
Full bell, sir pronounced the man with respect.
Thats fine shooting. Youve
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 thats some luck, Dónal whispered
to me and he added: Hell 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 Dónals 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
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. Id 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 Murphys achievement
would be good for business.)
Cant 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
Hes a great shot alright, I said to Dónal.
He proved it there replied Dónal and
added: Wasnt yer man lucky not to have challenged
him to a fight.
from Monaghan's Match