Clubs and organisations are constantly fund-raising to keep themselves above water. The best fund-raisers are those which entertain as well as raise money.
Long before the Strictly Dancing and White Collar Boxing, we organised a fund-raising event in the old Portlaoise GAA Clubhouse called ‘The Wild Ould Night’. It ran for three nights. It was certainly wild, it was entertaining and it made a nice few bob.
The majority of those who took part had never been on stage before. It was Ollie Plunkett’s first time to play the guitar on stage. He was front of curtain and was taking off Christy Moore singing Lisdoonvarna. The fact that Ollie couldn’t play the guitar wasn’t relevant as he had the T-shirt and a guitarist behind the curtain.
Every so often the long arm of Madness Maher would reach from behind the curtain and douse Christy with a pint glass of water, replicating the famous sweat of the maestro. Ollie raising his strumming hand to wipe the sweat from his brow as the guitar played fluently, not missing a chord, only enhanced the entertainment.
Ollie had changed the words of the song to slag off characters. No one was safe, front or back of curtain. On the last night, towards the end of the song, the two long arms of Madness appeared, this time with shaving cream instead of water. He covered Christy’s face with the white stuff. Unperturbed, Christy wiped the shaving cream from his eyes and finished the last verse to tremendous applause.
Many of the sketches were expanded jokes. There was great fun in the Army Sketch as John Styles put his troops, including Nobby Styles and Mickey Bohan, through their paces on parade.
The Drill Sergeant received news from his Commandant, Willie Kirwan, that Private Murphy’s Mam had died. He returned to the parade ground to deliver the news.
‘MURPHY, YOUR MOTHER’S DEAD!’
Three months later, further bad news arrives to the Commandant. Murphy’s father had died. Willie further reprimanded the Drill Sergeant about the previous incident. “Break it to him gently, man. We don’t want a further incident.” He again returned to the parade ground to deliver the news.
John hesitated and pondered.
‘ALL THOSE SOLDIERS WITH MOTHERS AND FATHERS TAKE ONE STEP FORWARD!
MURPHY GET BACK IN LINE, YOU’RE AN ORPHAN, BOY!’
The most popular sketch of the night was the western one called ‘Big Jake’ It was inspired by the scene from Blazing Saddles’ when Mongo arrives in town, and knocks out his mule with a box before entering the saloon. In our case, Mongo was Madness Maher.
The saloon was hopping with card games, singing and dancing when word came that Big Jake was coming. Everyone scattered to the corners of the stage except for the trembling barman who was afraid of the consequences if he closed the bar on Big Jake, much like Dinny Joe at the time.
Big Jake pounded in with his horse, which had Killer Connell in the hind quarters. The trembling barman offered a free whiskey but before he got to pour, Madness grabbed the bottle and downed it in one go. “Have another, have another, it’s on the house, it’s on the house.” Madness replieed ‘I can’t stay, Big Jake’s coming!’
As the three nights progressed, no one knew what was going to happen off the script. Big Jake found real whiskey in the bottle instead of Lemonade. As he was being revived on the floor of the saloon with jump leads after taking a bullet, Mickey Bohan tried to cut off his beard with a scissors. Madness called off stage “you boys get in here and wash down my horse.” Paul Marron and myself, who weren’t part of the sketch, proceeded to throw two buckets of iced water over the horse and mop in the appropriate places as Killer shrivelled inside.
As Cheddar Plunkett compered the Rose of Tralee as Gay Byrne, he heard a smack on the back wall of the stage. He turned to see what it was and as he turned back to face the audience, he took a Mickey Bohan egg, thrown from the back of the hall, smack on the forehead. Mickey had got his range after the first throw.
Apart from all the craic we had with the Wild Ould Night, the other highlight of the experience was to share the stage with Tom ‘The Kettle’ Flynn. The Kettle and Paddy Lalor were part of the local Drama Group who agreed to put on two sketches as part of the show. They were the real actors and we admired how well they delivered, their timing, their expression.
I had first watched the Kettle on stage in the CBS Hall on Tower Hill. I was enthralled by his recitation of ‘Dangerous Dan McGrew’ He was best known for this recitation. Years later, I had the idea of asking the Kettle to deliver this recitation to my English class.
The art of recitation had died and it would have been an experience for the students to see the maestro in full flight. Alas, I left it too late. The Kettle spent his last years in the wonderful care of St Vincent’s, Mountmellick.
I’m sure he reminisced on the days when he was King of the art of recitation. Perhaps, he also remembered the chaos of the Wild Ould Night, with a smile on his face.
The Kettle took to the stage that night in the Macra Parish Hall
In his mind he heard us shout ‘Recite’ and he readied to answer our call
He gripped our hearts with his husky voice and his deep and vacant stare
Every man and woman in the hall that night was stuck to the edge of their chair
With his element fired the story began of Dangerous Dan McGrew
Water bubbles with miners troubles and the Lady whose name was Sue
Boiling and hissing whining and swishing the master was now in full flight
As far away in some saloon two foes stood up for a fight
When the flick switch clicked the whistle top and steam flew up to the fan
Two bodies lay on the sawdust floor and one was the man named Dan
Then a terrible fear gripped the Kettle’s mind and he looked with a glazy stare
He tried in vain to take the stage but fell back down in his chair
What I tell you now is not a lie I swear by God that it’s true
But the Lady who came with the Kettle’s tea was his nurse by the name of Sue
With her lovely smile she brought his tea, his tablets and creamy bun
There were days that he wished he had died like Dan and went out with a blazing gun
Long gone are the nights when you couldn’t hear the dropping of a pin
When the crowd adored as the stories flowed from the spout of the Kettle Flynn
SEE ALSO – A tribute to Georgie Leahy, a great friend of Laois