Skryne Parish - Characters and nick names

(An extract from ‘Golden Wonders, by Colum Cromwell)

Nick Names seem to have always been part of being Irish. Down the years the GAA has given us The Gunner Brady, The Pook Dillon, The Diamond Hayden, Jobber McGrath, Snitchy Ferguson, Babs Keating, Bomber Liston, Toots Kelleher, Jinxie Beggy and many more.

Of course it's not necessarily confined to Ireland. Boxing has given us The Brown Bomber, The Manassa Mauler, The Boston Tarbaby etc. etc. all from the USA, while British Soccer has had The Ghost of White Hart Lane and The Preston Plumber. In racing we had Scobie Breasley. Last Race Cook and Buster Parnell and of course Harry Wragg was the Head Waiter apparently because he always pounced for victory at the very last second.

Growing up in Skryne, the place was full of nick-names and many of the proud owners of these names were out and out characters, so much so that people wouldn't recognise them by their real Christian names. We had the Groom and the Bundy - Callaghan brothers at the 5 Rds, the Pixie Clusker, the Landy White, The Bickley Kennedy (Garlow X), The Tan Allen and his brother The York, The Gutchie O'Hare ("Ouls" Gutchie and "Young" Gutchie), The Skipper Donnelly, The Yankee Connell (Pub owner on top of the Hill, born in the U.S who played a very big part in the fight for Independence circa 1920 as outlined by Tony Coogan in his book "Politics and War in Meath"), The Midge Fox and The Dolly Martin. My grandfather always referred to a man called Patsy Collier as "Wheeler" and my father talked about characters in the Rathfeigh area such as Paddy "Boggins" (Byrne, I think). The "Whicker" Duffy, the "Brock" Gargan and the "Showman Bennett".

Going to school we had the "Spider" Kelly called after a Wexford footballer, the "Flash" Bennett and "George" Dolan, whose real name was Paddy but very few knew that. In fact, on one occasion Fr Cooney PP explained to an unbelieving cathecist "He was christened Patrick but we call him George. "George" was only about 7 or 8 at the time.

In the Swan family, the title "The Farmer" goes back many generation. A man who lived briefly at Oberstown was always referred to as the "Gauxie" Gorman while a man from neighbouring Walterstown was affectionately known as Quebec (real name Polean, I think).
On the Meath GAA scene, the Razor Farrell played for Trim, Hitler Morgan played for Donaghmore, the Ringboard Reilly played for Dunboyne, whilst among well known officials or referees were the Ratty brothers from Navan. The Buffer and The Dinsher, The notorious Rah Doyle from Drumree, the equally notorious Shed McGrath from Garlow X - Kilcarne. On the Meath team of the 1930s were The Boiler McGuinness, The Frog Coffey, The Spog Geraghty and The Weasel Browne (in goals). The Rasher Cleary was from Curraha - a sort of permanent linesman. Up around the Curraha/Donaghmore parish was a good nickname area as apart from those already mentioned were the Rack Lynch (still going strong). Sam Brady (real name Jack - He recited a poem about Arkle on the video of the great horse), the Scamp Kearns, The Giant Clarke - not by any means a giant of course. The man who minded the coats in Kilmoon Ballroom was the Major Dowling (pronounced Doolin) - he is also still going strong. The biggest employer in Navan and owner of Beechmount was "The Bard" Walsh and his two brothers were The Nosy and The Busty one of whom had a Skryne connection and probably the most famous of them all was the Twinny Byrne.
Some of these nicknamed characters were always good for a laugh or be the subject of a good yarn.
The Callaghan Brothers
The Callaghans who lived right beside the 5 Roads were true Irish legends of there is such a thing - three bachelors living together with a couple of nice farms to support them. No mod cons - everything done the way their father and grandfather did it before them. The "Bundy" was a GAA man - played with Skryne in 1910, by 1914 he was winning a Junior Championship with Curraha and he was an official and Co. Board delegate for Skryne in their glory years of the 30s and 40s. The stories are legion about his jousts over fixtures with Chairmen John Newman and Fr. McManus. On one occasion he proposed Skryne as a suitable venue for an upcoming important match "We could be doing with the gate Father" - he says to Chairman Fr. McManus "Mr Callaghan" reported Fr. McManus "did I not give Skryne a gate 2 or 3 weeks ago". "You did alright Father" said the Bundy " but I often seen more at the ringing of a pig".

On another occasion he was half an hour late for a meeting and he demanded off Fr. Mac that he go back over the early part of the meeting so that he could be brought up to date with proceedings. "Mr Callaghan" says the Chairman, "the meeting was timed for 8pm and it started at 8. It was up to you to be here". "That's alright for you Father" says the Bundy, "You don't have to folly (follow) a pair o' horses and a plough all day, like I do".

The Bundy once told a story of his playing career, which would put into perspective the well looked after youth of the New Millennium. "We were playing Slane", he says "and we were travelling by pony and sidecar. I was busy in the morning and missed me lift, so I ran to Slane mostly across the fields" (now Slane is about 10 miles from Skryne and even as the crow flies had to be at least 8). The game was ready to start when I got there, so I togged out and ran on immediately, without getting me wind back. We won by a point or 2 and then went into Slane for a drink. The pint in Slane was horrid bad - ya couldn't drink it, so a few of us said we'd walk to the Dolly Mitchel's in Rossin (note - about 4 miles in the opposite direction). The pint was good there, so we drank till closing time and then walked home to Skryne arriving in the middle of the night. Me mother left a note in the kitchen table that Leo Charles of Oberstown wanted cattle 'drove' to Navan Fair on Monday morning - it wasn't worth going to bed, so I went down and gathered the cattle and headed to Navan. I stood the whole day at the Fair, but they weren't sould (sold), so I had to walk them home again. I went to bed late on Monday night and do ya known what - I didn't wake till Thursday!!

Bundy used also love telling about playing in Pairc Tailteann or The Showgrounds, as he called it. In the early part of the old century, it was used as a cricket ground and as such, was supposed to have sinders underground, especially in the area where the wickets would be placed. Anyway, somebody tackled the Bundy in an over-robust manner - if such were possible - and he fell rather heavily. "Do ya know what", he says, "I was pickin' cinders out of me back for a forthnight".

Bundy did a fair bit of work for the County Council as a Carter - supplying a horse and cart for filling potholes and at tarring jobs. In fact, to listen to him he was nearly an engineer, but he loved the work as it brought him into contact with all the passers-by and he was never short of conversation, whether it was politics, weather, crops, football or whatever.

In later years he was badly affected by arthritis, hobbling along on sticks "I'm like a big winda (Window)", he used to say, "full o' pains", but he still managed to go to the matches, particularly at McManus Park beside home, where a special chair would be put out for him. I recall his interest in Martin Quinn when he was first marking his appearance for Kilbride in the 50's - "a damnable man to take down a high ball".

One last story was an elder brother. He did the 'housekeeping' and all chores about the yard. If the other brothers were going out to work with the Council (horse and cart) not alone would he have the breakfast ready but the horses harnessed up as well. He would also have the dinner ready for them on return. In between he milked the cows, the calves etc. and could be seen knocking around 5 Roads with a bucket in each hand and a friendly word for everyone. He apparently got his nickname because of his being involved with horses from a young age and he considered himself a great judge of a young horse. On one occasion, Waring Willis, a local horse trainer who had come down from Northern Ireland to Skryne, was exercising a young horse near the 5 Roads and stopped to talk to the Groom, who proceeded to throw his eye over the animal. "What do you think of her Groom?" says Mr. Willis. "Well I often heard it said about a good throughbred Sir", says the bould Groom, "that she should have a showlder (shoulder) like a parlour maid and an arse like a cook". Mr. Willis was suitably impressed!

When Groom was well on in years, a worker in the Willis' yard bought a new motorcycle and approached him to go guarantor for a Hire Purchase agreement. Now if this was a local lad, he would probably be told what to do with himself but because this lad worked in the horsey business, the Groom signed up. Apparently the man only paid one or two instalments and soon the letters started to arrive. To add insult to injury, yer man was now gone out of the racing stable and eventually the Groom was 'got' for the price of the bike. He paid upright and was getting plenty of snide remarks from the boys in Fox's pub. "Well Groom, when will you give us a spin on the motorbike?" Tempers occasionally became frayed and one night when somebody enquired how he really felt, he came out with the immortal 'spake' "Be Jaysus, I even curse him when I'm saying my prayers".

The youngest of the 3 brothers was Stephen. He was a huge big fat man - much bigger than the others. My mother used to tell me that in his youth, Stephen was a good dancer - very light on the foot, was her description. When I knew him, dancing wouldn't be something I could imagine him being good at. Like the Bundy, he did a lot of Council work, mainly in the Garlow X/Kilcarne section, where his overseer was Kit Meehan.

Around 1960, PAYE (Income Tax) was introduced for the first time. I was working in the Accounts Section of the Council at the time, so in Fox's one night in the middle of football conversation, Stephen decided to bring up the subject of Tax. Apparently he hadn't filled up any forms and was put on Emergency Tax, which could be quite 'painful'. "How much did they take Stephen?" said I. He went in to a long episode of how he had 8 full days and was due a day from the previous forthnight, which Kit had omitted - Total 9 says £2.10 shillings a day, amounting to about £19. "All I got" he says, "was between £11 and £12. I think they even stopped off the f***in' horse"!

The lads in the pub loved to play tricks on him and manys the night a car pulled up beside Stephen, as he walked home in the dark, asking for directions to some very remote place - just to hear him say - "Ya wheel to your right, ya wheel to you left, ya come to a cross but ya pass no remarks on it, or you could go another way but it might be longer", never copping on that he was just being got at.

On another occasion, a friend of mine, Stephen Kelly, who was at least 50 years his junior and was brilliant at drawing him out, came at him with a question. "Stephen", he says, "ya know them big yard brushes they have on the Council? Why are there two holes in the head?" "It's like this", says Stephen, going into overdrive in his anxiety to let everyone know that anything to do with the Council and road works was just into his barrow, "one hole is smaller than the other and if they handle gets loose and the head is still good, it can be refitted no bother and will last much longer". "Not at all", says Kelly, "I thought you'd know better". That lit the wad all right. "What would a young f***ker like you know about it - ya never handled one of them brushes in your life". "Maybe not" says Kelly, but I know the right answer - the 2nd hole is for putting a candle in when yez are on overtime". The follow up is not printable.

Stephen although the youngest, was first to die - in cold January weather in 1966. We all went to pay our respects, on a snowy evening. No electricity in the house - (they had steadfastly refused to get it in - too bloody dangerous - how did our father and grandfather manage?). The hearseman was Kevin Reilly from Navan, another legendary character know affectionately as "Hard Times". Kevin was measuring windows (while we were saying the rosary), wondering how they were going to get out the coffin. The problem wasn't being solved too easily and eventually someone says "Does anyone remember how they got out the Father and Mother?" We found it hard to suppress the laugh and finish the rosary. The Father and Mother had died 50 years previously!

The 'Pixie' Clusker was the sort of chap who should have been unhappy with the hand of cards God dealt him in life - yet he was as happy as Larry. Born into a very poor family, childhood would have been pretty severe in the 20s and early 30s. Last year I did a survey on Skryne National School in 1950 (half way through the century) for the Christmas Edition of the Parish Newsletter and I had access to the roll book which went back as far as 1900 or thereabouts. I had known a little bit about Pixie's schooldays, or lack of them, so with relish I searched for the name James Clusker in the 20's and 30's. Having found him the writing jumped off the page at me, 1934 (age 14) sent to Industrial School.

The story goes that Pixie was brought to Dunshaughlin Court for non-attendance and sent directly to Artane without his poor mother being informed (his father was already dead). There he remained for the following 4-5 years and was them sent to work with a farmer in Co. Roscommon.

He didn't appear back in Skryne until 1948 when he was in lid late 20's but looked much older. My first introduction to him was when he came to visit an aunt of mine who happened to be his godmother. Even though he had been gone 14 years, the name Pixie had not been forgotten and he was never known as anything else. He worked here and there with local farmers - nothing too strenuous! When he failed to turn up for a busy haymaking session one irate farmer, Bill Logan, went looking for him and met his mother on the road. "Where is Pixie today?". "Jimmy is not too fond of haymakin' Mr Logan" said the old lady. This reply is not fit for printing either.

Soon after the mother dying in the early 50's, Pixie received another body blow when the Council evicted him for not paying rent - the Sheriff just threw his few belongings out on the roadside. From then on he lived in an old falling down house which hadn't been lived in for years. It was known as The Taylor's, apparently because a Tailor named Hughes had occupied it years earlier. In later years he had a caravan for a while. It actually went up in flames one morning and people feared the worst until it transpired he wasn't in it at the time. He ended his days being well looked after by Mrs. O'Connell in the pub at the top of the Hill.

Pixie didn't enjoy the pension for very long, as he died at the age of 68 in 1988, but when he did get the few bob he began to head for Navan, a luxury he couldn't afford in previous years. I met him in Trimgate Street on the Friday before the All Ireland in '87. "What about Sunday Pixie", says I. "Meath won't want to be foulin" he says, "this Hopkins will point all the frees: Not far out - Hopkins of course was Larry Tompkins and he didn't miss much.

Before the next All-Ireland, Pixie had died at St Joseph's, Trim, after a brief illness. I couldn't believe the size of the crowd at his funeral at the top of the hill beside the Old Steeple. We paid our respects to as gentle a soul as ever walked. We never did discuss Artane with him, but he did tell us that he sometimes got to Croke Park with the Band, (though not a member). He once got out on the pitch to shake hands with Tony Donnelly. Reading in later years of all the abuse he took place in such institutions, it is easy to imagine he suffered badly in those far off days - yet he came out of it all a lot happier then many well heeled individuals.

Jimmy Coffey
Another great character around Skryne was Jimmy Coffey who lived in a cottage on the Colvinstown Road.

Never knew him to have a Nick-Name, but he certainly was a sort of likeable rogue. He fancied himself as a clock or watch repair man and was actually good at it, but not many would entrust him with valuables.

On one occasion, Fr Cooney PP approached him to have a look at the chapel clock which had come to an abrupt halt. He promised the good PP that he would look after it - no bother. The clock was a big one about 5-6 feet up on the wall on what was known as the Men's side. A fellow coming down from Communion could easily hit it with his shoulder if he didn't take evasive action. Anyhow, Coffey confided in a good friend of mine, Tom Browne about this new major contract that he was about to undertake. A month later Tom enquired how the job had gone, having noted on Sunday that the hands had not resumed "doing the rounds". Oh I didn't get started yet says the bould Jim. "This is a big job - I'll have to put up scaffolding first".

I'm not sure, but I think Fr. Cooney eventually had to head for Walsh's in Watergate Street, Navan.

One night Jimmy had a few too many in Swan's and instead of heading home on his bike, was left home by car at the gate for safety reasons. Next night he came out with the greatest "spakes" of all time "ya know lads when I went to get up this mornin', didn't I discover I never went to bed at all". Apparently, he had just made it to inside the front door.
I also had one very funny incident with him. It was the night of an All-Ireland semi final - in I think 1970. Meath v Galway. I was in my mother's in Skryne on the way home and went down to Swan's to hear the after match talk (about half an hour before closing time). I met Coffey on the way out with a brown paper bag under his oxter. "Are you bringing home a few Jimmy" says I. "Wait till I tell ya Colum", he says, "but don't breathe a word of this to anyone". Willie Doyle (next door neighbour) asked me down to look at the match on the telly and I arrived in time for the minor! Says Willie (who wasn't too interested in anything only the senior), "will ya go down to Swan's and bring back a half a dozen that we can drink during the game". Sure I couldn't very well refuse with Willie paying the bill. On the way down the Chapel Hill, who did I meet only Danny Hogg who wanted me to have a look at an ould clock which had stopped. It didn't take long to fix the clock and then Danny says "will we go up for one". I tould (told) him I had to go up anyhow, explaining about Willie Doyle and the match. So we went up and had the one - then we had to have another - then another and du ya know what! I'm only going back now, says he with a laugh, clutching Willie's half dozen under his arm. Now this was around 10.15pm on a Sunday nught, 5 hours after the senior, not to mention the minor! I'm sure Willie was pleased at the slight delay!

Rathfeigh Men
A good character around Rathfeigh was John Gargan, a man with a quick turn of phrase. He was at one stage in the employment of a well off farmer, Frank Delaney and on one particularly wet day when himself and a fellow worker retired indoors to keep dry, Frank facilitated them with a major job, cutting up firewood or as they used to say 'splitting sticks". If that wasn't bad enough, the boss stood in the shed doorway, in an overseeing capacity which to put it mildly didn't gain him many marks. After about an hour or so when he was still there, Gargan asked "did ya ever play draughts Frank". "I did surley", said Frank, "why". "Because if ya don't move soon" says Gargan "you might lose two men".

Another good Rathfeigh story concerns the Lynch family from Bellew. One of the sons called James joined the British Army at the turn of the 20th century around the time of the Boer War. On one Sunday morning his father pushed into the back seat of the chapel at Rathfeigh Mass and immediately says to his neighbours "The Boers 'ill suffer now, Seaimin's gone out".
Another Rathfeigh man - I think it was Paddy "Boggins" wasn't feeling well - he was in his late 70's and had never been to a doctor in his whole life. He had to go now however and as soon as the doctor made his initial tests he found that the old ticker wasn't great. "My Good man Paddy", he says, "you'll have to go to bed". "Is it in the day ya mane (mean) doctor" says he "I never was in the bed in the day".

The "Buckley" Kennedy (real name Thomas) was as good a character and rogue as I ever came across. I met him in Fox's (Halligan's) on Saturday nights when as secretary of Skryne GFC I went into what was known as "The Tap Toom" to discuss last minute arrangements for Sunday with treasurer Christy (Kit) Browne. Buckley enjoyed his bottle of stout and could spin yarns as long as your arm, so long as he had an audience. If there was someone who hadn't heard them before then he was at his brilliant best. On this particular night, someone was talking about wages back in the 20's. Well he says, I worked in Reid's Garlow Cross for 10/=(50p) per week plus yer dinner and tea. "Was the grub good" someone queried. "Good enough" he says, "but ya had to be careful what ya were eatin' (eating) because Reid's would chance anything. There was this day we went in for the dinner and we didn't like the look o' the mate (meat). Very red it was and it didn't taste right - still we had no choice only "lorry" into it. When we went back to work there was a heavy shower and we went into a shed for shelter. What was hangin' up only a dead fox that was caught in a trap the day before, with a whole piece missin' out of his hind quarters. Peter Clarke was with me and we looked at one another - it just dawned on both of us about the red meat". Of course he played it along until someone asked "How did ya feel Buckley - had it any affect on you". Then the smile came into the face as he explained "There wasn't a bother on me but if ya saw what happened to Clarke!. About 4 o' clock he took a fit, ran through the haggard and killed every f***ing hen in the place".

When Pat Ward opened the Tara Na Ri pub at Garlow Cross "Buckley" was one of those who had to go to court to explain how far he had to travel for a pint, to enable the licence to be granted - so after that he didn't have to ride a bike to Skryne any more. Unfortunately, the poor man was killed (like so many more) while crossing the main road outside the new pub - I seem to remember his coat got caught in the bicycle wheel and he couldn't recover in time. He is buried on the Hill of Tara - one of the all time great characters.

Leo Charles
In a big house at Oberstown Cross (now owned by the O'Sullivan family), lived a man called Leo Charles. He was elderly when we were going to school: he was a protestant and a bachelor and he employed a housekeeper named Bridgie Hynes. He had originally come from Bellew Rathfeigh at the other end of the parish where his brother Cecil, another bachelor, still held court. They both owned quite substantial farms. Of course to us kids going to school Leo was "Mr Charles". Mr. Charles had a very big orchard and most years in Autumn the trees were hanging down with apples and plums and raiding it was a bit of a problem. He kept a couple of dogs and he kept a close eye on the place around school closing time. If he were out on the Cross and he quite often was, we would say politely "Any chance of a few apples please Mr. Charles". Depending on the humour and (it was usually about 8/1 against), he might let the whole 30 or 40 boys and girls in, but it was more likely to be a tirade of abuse which of course made us all the more vociferous the next evening. Leo, to put it mildly, was fairly fond of the jar and he would be out on the cross looking for some trusted friend to go into Halligan's (as the pub was then), with a basket of empties, about two dozen stout bottles and a large bottle of Powers or Jamesons with the same order again. This was a daily occurrence so you can easily see the effect he had on the local economy. Yet he didn't go in himself - apparently he had been barred some years before for some misdemeanour and was never reinstated.

He kept a few hunter type horses and I have a memory of him heading for Ross Cross to get the Dublin bus at Spring Show time and he dressed up to the nines, complete with bowler hat. He always kept up that air of a country gentleman. Leo died in 1958 in his 80's and is buried in Kentstown. A rather unkind remark was made at his funeral - when some good lady suggested as they used to "I'm sure his soul is gone straight to Heaven - a certain wag retorted - "If so, it must be a Commons".

Cecil the brother in Rathfeigh didn't quite live in the same style. He must have drank away the most of the farm in Maguires of Kentstown and late in his life he was walking the roads with a little dog called "Towser" - a broken man with an old house falling down around him and the farm divided up by the Land Commission. He ended up in St. Joseph's in Trim, where he died in 1963. I later came across his name in a register in that establishment in my job in the NEHB.

If he was down on his luck in life, that certainly wasn't the case in his young days, when apparently himself and another brother Ralph (who seemingly died very young), were up to every type of mischief and devilment one could imagine. According to my father, who was an "historian on the Charles era", he was forever quoting poetry in pubs and showing off all he knew. What are now known as Cemetery Sundays were at one time known as Patterns (Patrons). They commenced with the rosary in the graveyard - then perhaps a sports and ended with a long pub session, when he arrived by horse and side car. The horse was called "Woe the Man" and of you could believe it all, he was capable of doing 25 miles per hour with whip flailing. On one occasion Cecil was coming full throttle and Cecil, (probably full of porter), singing loudly The Shawl of Galway Grey. "Too short the Night we parted, Too quickly came the day".

Out stepped the Sergeant and brought proceedings to an abrupt halt - Cecil was arrested and put in a cell where he began to cry bitterly. The Sergeant enquired the reasons for the tears, to which the reply was "Concerned for the Poor Mare - she is due a foal any day soon and could need veterinary attention". The Sergeant was slightly worried and sent to Drogheda for a vet. When the good Vet arrived on the scene and examined "Woe the Man", the Sergeant was slightly embarrassed at being told that there wasn't much danger of a foal arriving - the horse was male. I never found out what Cecil's extra punishment was, but he did get out the next morning.

Incidentally, his most famous poetic quotation at those pattern days was:
"The Dove let loose in Eastern Skies
And hastening fondly home
Ne'er stoops to earth her feathered breast
Where idle warblers roam".

Paddy Duffy
Another great Skryne characte
r who could match Cecil Charles in the poetry stakes was Paddy Duffy of Colvinstown.
It is said that he went to National School until he was 16 and that Master Malin then "expelled" him because he knew more than the teachers. He actually had two sisters in the teaching profession, but Paddy was a free spirit and didn't like to be tied down by the constraints of a full time job. He preferred doing a bit of trucking and dealing in calves, attending John Connell's sale yard or hay auctions, bidding on behalf of someone else and his crowning glory - measuring land by means of a chain. He was regarded as an expert in this field. He was also a very witty man and was quick to boast of his self-education. He liked to show off he could use big words in the right context - jaw-breakers and boy! could he recite poetry. His most famous one was Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard.
"The Ploughman homeward plods his weary way, and leaves the world to darkness and to me".

He told me once that he drove cattle from Skryne to the Dublin Cattle Market, all on foot.
A year or so before his death I visited him in Our Lady's Hospital. Although ill he still had a twinkle in his eye as he praised the food (wish I was able to ate it all) and the staff. "They make the bed about 5 times a day Colum" he says outlining the various times and then he added with a chuckle "And you know Christmas and Ayster (Easter) used to do me".
When Paddy got the Old Age Pension it was probably only about £1.50 a week or so but there was back-money for the weeks since he had qualified for it. It was of course one pound note at the time, not coins as now, but in showing off his new found wealth he told someone "It's a long time since I saw £9 together at the same time".

As I said, a true character and a funny little man.

‘Golden Wonders’ was published in 2001 by Colum Cromwell, who passed away in 2003. This extract was kindly reprinted thanks to Colum’s wife, Kay.