News Analysis

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Why those poor ould fellas deserved to have their say

It was that group in our society that felt particularly hard done by, according to Declan Lynch

Published 14/10/2007 | 00:00

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The Book of Poor Ould Fellas started here. And before that, there was a trip to Athlone.

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I was down home for my father's anniversary, talking to my brother Damien, when I asked him about a certain elderly gentleman who is well known to us. And Damien said that life was getting pretty grim for this man, and for all the other "poor ould fellas" whose lives have been destroyed by the smoking ban.

Driven out of the pubs, and even the betting offices, by the ban, for home entertainment they then have to endure the bloody Afternoon Show on RTE, all that bullshit about cookery and clothes and celebrity gossip, when all they want is an ould song from Johnny McEvoy.

And there it was -- I think It was Johnny McEvoy who unlocked this lost world.

If my brother in that moment had mentioned any other Irish entertainer, living or dead or somewhere in between, it wouldn't have happened. But there was just something about Johnny McEvoy, and that impossible dream of Johnny McEvoy up there, singing The Boston Burglar to the delight of the poor ould fellas, that worked for me.

And I still don't actually know why Johnny McEvoy in the realm of the poor ould fellas is funny. It's not that he's hilariously bad or anything, in fact quite the contrary. I have a lot of time for Johnny McEvoy, an artiste of quality and distinction.

So I can only conclude that Johnny McEvoy is funny in this context, in the way that you hear those old New York Jewish comedians talking about what's funny and what's not funny -- the letter "K" is funny, the word "Istanbul" is funny, and so forth.

Some things, for some mysterious reason, are just funny. Mainly, perhaps, because they are true.

So from the moment that the poor ould fellas had their first outing in the TV column, there seemed to be this instant recognition. I was, as they say, inundated with messages of support.

To an extent I shared this recognition, because the more I wrote about the poor ould fellas, the more I saw them all around me, this tribe of men who had been largely invisible to me until then. I see them now all the time, as distinctive as the members of any tribe, with their own customs and rituals and even their own tribal costume.

They have always been iconic figures, in the black suit and the flat cap, but the poor ould fellas are also figures of great poignancy, now that the world has passed them by. And nobody gives a damn. There is no other group in this society which has had its way of life so completely destroyed, without a murmur of complaint.

Even those Roma gypsies camped on the M50 before being deported had someone from Pavee Point making a case for them, the poor ould fellas didn't even have that.

And the response from readers suggested that a lot of people could relate to the plight of poor ould fellas -- at times I would wonder if every male over the age of 15 was actually identifying completely with the poor ould fellas, at least subconsciously.

I spoke to my editor Willie Kealy about the possibility of making the Poor Ould Fellas a weekly column, but eventually we agreed that it worked best as an occasional feature, which would emerge from some event which had had particularly savage resonances for the poor ould fellas. From the start, there was never anything forced about it, and we didn't want it to be subjected to the pressure of the week's agenda -- each piece had to be a howl of outrage at the cosmic levels of injustice suffered by the poor ould fellas, not just a weekly tirade about whatever annoyed them in the last few days.

It had to come naturally. In that spirit, unbeknownst to me, my friend the comedy writer Arthur Mathews had been following the Poor Ould Fellas articles with interest, and he sent me these sublime drawings of various poor ould fellas at work, rest and play, which encouraged me greatly. It seemed then, that the most natural thing was to write The Book Of Poor Ould Fellas. And so, that's what I did.

The Book Of Poor Ould Fellas by Declan Lynch with Arthur Mathews is out now (published by Hodder Headline in hardback, price x13.99 approx)

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