Thursday 23 January 2020

Ian O'Doherty: 'You'll have to take our bingo books from our cold, dead hands!'

People playing bingo (PA)
People playing bingo (PA)

Every day seems to bring a new protest outside the Dáil.

They usually have a point to make and everyone tends to be angry, but this week's protest about proposed legislation against bingo has to be the most impressive of them all.

The Government had planned to bring in new rules which would cap the winnings of any player and, essentially, make it much less fun than it usually is.

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The protesters were having none of it and it's no surprise that the Government is now furiously backtracking on their plans.

I have to say, I'm delighted.

I grew up just two doors away from the famous Star bingo hall in Crumlin and some of my earliest memories are going to the bingo with my Nana.

Even when I grew up (a bit) and left home, I'd still go back and bring Nana down to the bingo - and the older I got, the more intimidated I became by the players.

You haven't seen the competitive spirit in full flow until you've been in a room with 500 grannies, all working off four or five bingo books at the same time in a display of mental dexterity which is way beyond the rest of us.

I'd struggle to manage just the one book while Nana laid hers out in front of her and went to work with a furious determination.

Bingo was a serious game and she had no time for a gadfly like me who spent half his time scouting the room to see if any of the other grannies had brought along a cute granddaughter.

In fact, on one occasion when I wanted to go to a gig rather than the bingo, I timorously asked the Nana if she was okay with my absence.

Okay with it?

As she informed me, she was pretty sick of having to keep an eye on my book as well as all of hers.

She simply couldn't understand how I'd spent so many years attending games and I was still bloody useless.

Then showing the lack of diplomacy that we should cherish in all elderly people, she admitted that I had been holding her back for years.

Bingo is a predominantly urban, working-class tradition, and while it's popular in rural parts as well, I'm not from the country so I don't care as much about those places.

But for many Dubs, places like The Star, the National Stadium, the Traders and countless other joints were famous as venues where people could go for a cheap night out, a bit of a laugh with the other regulars and, occasionally, they might even come home with 20 quid.

Mess with the ould ones at your peril, Leo - they don't like losing.

Indo Review

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