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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Fingered at last: the truth behind the comedian's missing digit

SARAH CADEN THE mystery of what happened to Dave Allen's digit - a mystery long surrounded by myth and misinformation - has finally been solved.

The famous Irish comedian, who was a one-time star of the BBC but who has since retreated into self-imposed exile, used to use his partially chopped-off index finger to mock-pick his nose, as part of his comedy act.

But a little known side of Dave Allen, born David Tynan O'Mahoney, was that during the Second World War he was evacuated from Dublin, where he was born, to the small Co Longford village of Kenagh.

In last week's Life magazine, I recounted the only recorded explanation Dave Allen ever gave for the absence of his index finger.

In a 1994 interview on BBC radio, Allen told a 'macabre' tale of his father, his finger and the chopping axe.

He said he did something bold and his father, who was chopping wood at the time told him to put it on the chopping block.

His father brought down the axe, thinking the boy would pull his hand away but Dave, thinking his father would never chop off his finger left it there - and lost the finger from the first joint up.

But the story was like a lot of Dave Allen's dark tales - he made it up.

So says his old schoolmate in Kenagh, Paddy Egan, who sat beside the comedian in school.

"He (Allen) missed six days' school in June of 1941," recalls Paddy Egan, explaining that that summer he sat beside the future comedian.

"His name is there alongside mine, Daithi O Mathuna."

He recalled how the Tynan O'Mahoney family came to be safer from the bombs away from the city.

"He was definitely here for First Communion," says Paddy, "but not Confirmation." Mrs Tynan O'Mahoney came to the Egans' farm every week to buy eggs and butter and they grew quite friendly, though Paddy recalls little of Cully Tynan O'Mahoney, who visited occasionally from Dublin where he was working for the Irish Times.

"There were three boys, Peter, John and David," says Paddy. "David was four days younger or older than me. The family lived in a big house in Moss Town and outside it there was an old mill that had been burnt, but children played there. The old cog wheels were still there and David put his finger into one of the cog wheels, one of the other children moved it and the finger was removed.

"I got there about half an hour after it had happened and I remember the day he came back to school and took off the bandage and showed it to us."

Paddy also remembers the 'nose-picking' trick. "We gave those Dublin Jackeens a hard time," he says, "imitating their accents and I think it was here the comedian first came out in Dave Allen. I remember the whole class and the teacher watching him leaping around the classroom, pretending to be a monkey.

"None of us had been to Dublin, or seen a monkey - not even the teacher - and I remember him hopping on the desk and onto the floor. He put his tongue into his bottom lip to make a monkey face and we all did that for years after."

Paddy Egan is unsure why Dave Allen has always been reluctant to refer to it or to his time in Longford. Certainly, when his celebrity first occurred, Kenagh remembered him, but, Paddy says, Allen never referred to Longford though, he reckons, much of Allen's anti-Church and anti-Establishment act might well have been born out of the strict schooling there.

Kenagh, he says, was a big part of Dave Allen's early life and Kenagh hasn't forgotten him.

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