Strange stigma of being 'found on'
Published 22/05/2008 | 07:00
My one-time colleague and all-time friend, Des Cahill, was only a dry week in Kerry before he discovered an intriguing aspect of our culture. One day, he was playing at right-back for a local club and was rather pleased to get words of encouragement from a man watching nearby.
The teams, as is the custom, changed sides at half-time; Des was now near the other sideline -- his newfound fan was there too. By now, he was thinking that his admirer was a Kerry cousin of whom he had never heard. As Des left the pitch, the superfan approached him and said: "Young Cahill, you had a mighty game. You might do me a small favour." He had been in court for being found in a pub after hours. Would Des keep his name out of The Kerryman ...
And so my old colleague in The Evening Press discovered that journalism in Kerry is a rather different ballgame. There was an unwritten rule in The Kerryman: names of "found ons" cannot be kept out of the paper, except in the case of a Garda or a clergyman. Too well I know: in my days on that great paper I was pestered -- and blamed for not having done -- "small favours". Such little court cases are fodder for the circulation. People take wicked delight in their neighbours' minor misfortunes -- it is all harmless fun.
Being "found on" is a major crime. Having no light on your bike or keeping an unlicensed dog are minor crimes but they all add to the sales. I recall a "found on" case in The Kerryman: it concerned my dear departed friend, Paddy Bawn Brosnan. About 70 people had been found in his pub a few hours after midnight.
His solicitor, Joe Grace, pleaded that most of his clients were fishermen waiting for the three o'clock weather forecast on the BBC. Joe added: "Mr Brosnan has an excellent record." The judge, the famous R D F Johnson, said: "Indeed -- and he had a record crowd".
Being "found on" seemed to carry a strange stigma: nobody ever asked me to keep out his name because he had no light on his bike or no licence for his dog. I can only surmise that it reflects our attitude to drink. We are not unique in this: I experienced it in New Zealand -- but many of the citizens there are of Scots Presbyterian descent.
The Irish are a Celtic people, more or less: we are expected to have a more liberal outlook -- but we haven't. Were we always this way? I doubt it. A famous toast in the 19th century was:
"Long life and success to The Council Of Trent; It put fast upon meat but not upon drink".
In the meantime, we must attempt to winkle out the origin of our guilt-feeling about drink. The experts tell us that the Latin peoples have no such problem because the children have wine with their meals -- and so take drink for granted. That may be so but about 50 years ago a French president launched a campaign against the evils of drink in his country.
He said that most of the people of France were drunk by twelve o'clock in the morning. It was of course an exaggeration -- but no doubt the good man knew the score.
Some people believe that Father Matthew's campaign led to our complex about drinking. I doubt it: the outburst of rather hysterical patriotism unleashed by The Rising in 1916 is a more likely cause.
It produced a new image of the ideal Irish male: he was Catholic; he spoke Gaelic; he played the games of the GAA; he didn't drink or smoke. Padraig Pearse fitted the image. Indeed you might say that he created it.
Michael Collins too was portrayed as a clean-living patriot: in fact, he was addicted to drinking and smoking and for that reason was in poor health when he met his death.
The young Irish Free State unwisely inherited the Victorian licensing laws; these in themselves increased the guilt-feeling about drink.
The battle of wits between the after-hours drinker and the Gardai Siochana produced a multitude of stories -- such as this one. A sergeant is showing a young Garda around on his first day in town, they set out at midnight.
At the first pub he tells the Garda to listen at the keyhole.
The Garda says: "I hear men talking."
"Listen again for the sound of coins."
The Garda says: "There isn't a sound."
The sergeant says: "There's no worry, they are our lads."
Seemingly some of our Government plan to abolish the "early" houses. This is madness. They are the spice of life in Dublin's fair city. Apparently the reformers think that it is a sin to be drinking at half-past seven in the morning. It is the same as drinking at half-past seven in the evening.
The early houses are a blessing for the people who work at night -- firemen, nurses, gardai and others whose day is turned upside down.
The early houses are great places to meet old friends and to make new ones. They are oases of civilisation. Our licensing laws may need reforming but not in this area. The laws governing Sunday openings were crazy and differed ridiculously from those on mainland Europe.
One Sunday, a lone American driving through my home town was amazed to find all the pubs closed. He saw a sergeant in the street and consulted him.
"Go down that laneway there and knock with a coin on the little window over a green door and say that the sergeant sent you."
The American came back and said: "I was told to go off in no uncertain terms."
The sergeant sighed and said: "There's no respect for the law around here".
Fogra: Well done Mick O'Dwyer on guiding Wicklow to their great Senior Championship win in Croke Park