Sunday 21 December 2014

One of our Own

Con Houlihan

Published 10/07/2008 | 07:00

Con Houlihan

Sometimes I wonder if William Yeats ever read Ireland's Own.

I don't think he did, otherwise he wouldn't have said "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone". The survival of that magazine is a romantic story in itself -- and in every number you will find tales of men and women in the thralls of love.

When first I came to be aware of Ireland's Own, its attraction for me was the first page -- it was made up completely of jokes. Those jokes were all prize winners: the overall winner got five shillings; the rest got half-a-crown.

These prizes may seem paltry -- believe me they were not. If the winner of the big prize happened to like a drink, he could get six pints of stout and a half pint.

If the winner happened to be a lad in the primary school, he could get -- believe it or not -- 600 good-class toffees.

Ireland's Own introduced most of us to that wicked form of verbal misuse called the pun. I believe that you can never forget your first encounter with the pun. Certainly I can't. It was probably very old but it was new to me: "Two girls went for a tramp in the woods -- he ran away."

I need hardly add that to win a prize for a joke in Ireland's Own meant more than the money -- the prestige was great. Remember that this competition was open to the entire island and probably beyond -- you were in against serious competition.

Page one is now devoted to more serious subjects but humour hasn't been entirely abandoned. There is a page headed The Lilt Of Irish Laughter -- it lives up to its billing, even though there are no more prizes. Listen to this:

"'Twas in a cafe they first met,

"Romeo and Juliet.

"And there he first ran into debt

"For Romeo owed what Juliet."

Here is another:

Housewife: "Can I put the wallpaper on myself?" Tradesman: "Yes, ma'am -- but it would look much better on the wall."

Teacher: "Give me a sentence containing the word 'fascinate'." "Pupil: 'I have a lovely belt with nine holes -- but I can only fasten eight." That's enough for one day, let us turn to more sensible topics.

Ireland's Own has always been strong on music. Every number carries a big variety of songs. Although this grand old magazine has a high moral tone, it has a soft spot for outlaws. A certain Jack Duggan often appears on its pages. He was supposed to have been born in Kerry -- but he was no better than he should have been. At least the constabulary of New South Wales thought so -- and they were determined to put manners on him.

And so one morning as he was riding along with no thought in his head except to rob a bank or two, up came three mounted policemen -- Kelly, Davis, and Fitzroy.

They were almost certainly descendants of convicts or perhaps even convicts themselves. But that didn't prevent them from doing their duty. They called on the outlaw to surrender but Jack had other ideas.

"He fired a shot at Kelly that brought him to the ground,

"And turning then to Davis who received a fatal wound,

"But a bullet pierced his proud young heart from the pistol of Fitzroy,

"And that was how they captured him, The Wild Colonial Boy."

Ballads, as we all know, tend to suffer changes in words from one singer to another; sometimes a singer may change a word from one version to another in the course of a song.

One of my favourite people, Margaret Barry, sometimes got so carried away with emotion that she might change a man's name. Thus in one version of The Wild Colonial Boy, the hero, kind of, is Jack in the first verse; his name is changed in the last verse:

"And that was how they captured Tim, the wild colonial boy."

In the most recent version of that ballad in Ireland's Own there is a more startling change. Jack, you will remember, shot Davis very dead -- but according to the number for June 9, this year, we may conclude that Davis wasn't shot at all. When Jack fired the first shot, "Davis fell down at the sound." The people of Wales will like that.

Some people are born too late: two generations missed out on Kitty The Hare, the most remarkable person that ever graced the pages of Ireland's Own. In her heyday she was as popular as Mary Robinson was to become. She was a woman of the roads, Kitty not Mary. She was not a member of the travelling class though she travelled more than most: she was a poor woman who somehow had fallen from life's wheel.

People such as Kitty were part of an age when few people bought daily papers and when wireless sets hadn't begun to proliferate. They brought all kinds of news and they were very articulate: "Sure 'twas lonely -- last night as I came over The Black Mountain, with the sea raging down below -- but I knew I would get a bed in Donoghue's of The Glen, people who never refused a bed to a poor woman of the roads."

There was an era when Ireland's Own carried a serial story. After the first episode you were of course given a synopsis.

The story so far: "Tom O'Connor had to abandon his university career when his father died. He now has the farm and hopes to marry his girlfriend Peggy O'Hanrahan. Alas, he has only 40 acres; her father has 200."

Who could blame Peggy when she passed him by one day in the street in Waterford? I could. This is the all too familiar Irish caste system. We remember The Streams of Bunclody: "For she has a freehold and I have no land."

The penfriends page has long been part of the magazine's staple diet. This is globalisation in a good sense.

Dublin Opinion once did a nice spoof on the page devoted to lonely hearts. "Gentleman whose interests include singing, dancing, reading, hop scotch and playing the mouth organ, would like to meet lady with similar tastes who owns her own shop. Send photo of shop".

Fogra: My best wishes go down to Cork's beautiful city and its uncrowned king, Charlie Hennessy

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