Wednesday 23 October 2019

The king of Irish comedy: childhood memories of road trips with Brendan Grace

Brendan Grace in 2013. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins
Brendan Grace in 2013. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins
Brendan Grace had a great rapport with Arlene’s father

Arlene Harris

Like everyone across the country, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary Brendan Grace.

For my generation - along with many before and after - he was the king of Irish comedy.

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As the biggest star of our childhoods, there was nothing funnier than the appearance of the bearded comedian in his short trousers, complete with school jacket and cap, recounting the escapades of his alter-ego 'Bottler' and (if I remember correctly) his buddies in mischief, Razor, Whacker, Hatchet and Pockets.

But while he was undoubtedly a national treasure, he was also a family friend.

My parents, Aidan and Sìle O'Beirne, ran the Merriman Tavern in Scariff, Co Clare, and throughout the 70s and 80s played host to pretty much all of the Irish legends, including Brendan.

Before my time, he played his first gig at the Tavern, not as a comedian, but in his late teens with his band The Gingerbread Men.

Then when he went solo with his much-loved stand-up show, he returned time and time again over the years, staying overnight in our house before making the trek back to Dublin the following day.

It was always captivating watching him prepare to go on stage and when we were younger (and not permitted to watch the gigs in the bar), Brendan would have my brother and me in stitches with a taster of the show to come.

Then when our parents went down to run the bar, we would sneak out and watch the performance while sitting on the back stairs and peeking through the rafters - being caught many a time when Brendan dashed upstairs to change or take a quick break - but he never told on us (or if he did, our parents turned a blind eye).

One of my favourite memories is travelling from Dublin to Clare in the tour van with him on his way to a gig in the Tavern.

We had been in the capital visiting friends and instead of travelling back en famille, Brendan thought it would be a great treat for us to travel down in his specially tricked-out vehicle - and boy, was it!

My brother and I were around 10 and 11 years old, and were thrilled to bits with the excitement of it all.

The inside of the van was outrageously plush to our young eyes and I still recall our amazement at the TV and telephone which were on a shelf in the back - being the 80s, I'm not sure if either actually worked, but oh, the glamour!

We stopped several times on the way down as it was a long journey - pre-motorway - and while Brendan's manager went off to buy sweets for us, we delighted in being part of the whole scene as with his name boldly written on the side, the van was the talk of every town we visited.

As the years went on and Brendan became more successful and a household name, he still made time to host shows in my parents' bar in the small town in East Clare.

Naturally, each event would be packed to the rafters and with my dad behind the bar, Brendan would regularly crack jokes at his expense.

They had a great rapport and the same sense of humour, so when Brendan would start praising my Dad from the stage, he knew there would be a punchline. I can still remember the howls of laughter after he told everyone how welcoming Aidan was and how he always had a cup of tea waiting for him on arrival - but this time, it was a little late as he had forgotten to take the tea bags off the line!

On another evening, he had the whole audience sing happy birthday to a lady who had just turned 100. Everyone sang with gusto and gave her a huge applause before Brendan said, "She's sitting with her parents in the back row" - simple jokes, but always so funny.

Ireland has lost one of its most treasured performers, but there's no doubt that heaven is a brighter place today.

Thanks for all the laughs Brendan - may you rest in peace.

Irish Independent

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