This Pat Critchley column originally appeared on LaoisToday in January 2018
In my first year English classes I would show this quote: “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in places of exercise.”
In the early days I’d show this on the black board, later on the white board and more recently on the Audio Visual Screen.
I would ask the class to guess the year in which this quote was written. The closest any class ever got was 1952. I’m sure a similar quote was written or said in 1952, but the quote on the screen was written by Socrates who died in 399 BC.
The reason for the quote was as an introduction to a text that dealt with the generation gap and conflict between parents and their teenage children.
We know from the quote that there has been a generation gap for at least 2416 years. Every generation thinks that theirs is the best generation that ever lived and that the youngsters of today have it soft.
“Sure, they never had to walk 15 miles to a match in their bare feet to find that there was no referee and the game having being abandoned, had to walk 18 miles back home again.”
The Monty Python crew took the mickey out of this trait in a famous sketch where a group of gentlemen were relaxing on the veranda drinking brandy and smoking cigars, all having made it up the ladder the hard way.
“We had it tough, there were 13 of us lived in a tenement house!”
“Lucky to have a house. There were 23 of us lived in one room in a tenement house!”
“Luxury! There were 26 of us lived in a plastic bag in a septic tank. We got up at 5am three hours before we went to bed, worked 27 hours down the mines, came home, our father chopped our hands off and you tell that to the youth of today, they won’t believe ya!”
Shortly after seeing that sketch I was in the Welcome Inn on the Monday after a county final with Dad, Nasser Lalor, Bomber Keenan, old Billy Bohan and Jimmy Doyle.
They were reminiscing about the hurling and football in their day. They regretted the demise of the overhead striking and the high catching in the modern game. Old Billy was renowned for the overhead strike.
With the sketch in mind, I kicked off. “Don’t talk to me about overhead striking. I played centre back in a game against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. The Kilkenny goalie pucked out the sliothar and talk about overhead striking, I met it out of the sky and drove it straight back over the bar.
“It went over the bar and over the bank behind the goals. Supporters ducked as it went over the back wall. It broke two windows in a housing estate. We played on for ten minutes without the ball, two ould ones fainted in the stand and you tell that to the youth of today and they won’t believe ya.”
Laughs all round.
And of course, each generation constantly remind the next one that the characters are all gone, there are no great characters any more. There’s not the same craic in the pubs. Dad told me that some of these characters took on Cowboy names because most of the films that came to the Col and the Paul’s cinemas in the early years were westerns.
The Rathnamanagh Kid was one such character. He arrived into the Wren’s Nest Pub back in the 80s and ordered a pint of ale. PJ poured out the pint and placed it on the counter. The Rathnamanagh Kid poured out his dilemma, which was that he was broke.
“Gotta … gotta ride back out to the ranch … gotta get the greenbacks … be back with the greenbacks later when the sun is setting on the prairie.”
PJ wasn’t in the best of form that morning and poured the ale down the sink and said, “That’s no good to me Paddy.”
Paddy stormed out the imaginary swinging doors but returned that evening to order another pint of ale. This time he was waving a fiver. The pint was again poured and placed on the counter. Paddy picked it up, stuffed the fiver into his coat pocket, leaned over the counter and poured the ale down the sink.
“Two can play that game boss,” he said and stormed out, heading in the direction of Ransbottom’s Saloon.
Dad also recalled the days when Joe Hesh McCormack enthralled the crowd with a speech from a lorry in the Lower Square in the lead in to an election. He would draw a crowd comparable to Dev and would tell the voters that he would put shoes on the footless and pay the Contraceptive Bill.
At the time that my Dad’s generation reminded us that all the characters were gone, I walked down the Main Street with our Cowboy, the Cowboy Carroll.
There had been a good few rows in Loody Mays over the previous weeks. As we passed by the pub, Cowboy remarked, “This town is gone to the bad Zoom. I heard that a game of darts broke out in the middle of a row in Loody Mays the other night!!
Cowboy arrived home from town one night and took a fall on the stairs. His mother, Claire, shouted down to him. “Damien, will you come up and go to bed!”
“I’m trying to carry a keg of Guinness up the stairs.”
“Leave the keg downstairs and come up to bed.”
The Cowboy replied, “I can’t Ma, it’s inside me.”
Claire gave Damien the dog to bring for a walk when he went to town so that he wouldn’t go into Loody May’s.
Later, Cowboy relaxed at the counter over a few pints with the dog tied to the high stool. After a few rounds, he asked Phil to call a taxi. The taxi arrived outside, Cowboy untied the dog, threw the dog into the back seat, threw two pounds into the front seat and said, “Bring that lad home.”
At this time, we used to travel to Tralee for the Rose Festival. There was one year when we actually saw one of the Roses. Our local down there was The Rose Tavern. It would be packed with Laois people.
A lad arrived in one evening with a guitar and was asked to play a few tunes. He had just finished a session and wasn’t in the mood. Zulu Brown persuaded him to part with his guitar. Zulu couldn’t play the guitar, but that wasn’t a major problem, as he led the audience in the Eurovision Medley.
There were photographs of all the Rose winners on the wall. Zulu would point to a photograph, Elvis style, shout the year and duly sing what was supposed to be the winning Eurovision song for that year.
It didn’t matter that it was the wrong year or that he couldn’t play the guitar. The whole pub was hopping. Eventually the lad who could play the guitar got it back. Zulu went to the bar for a round. A local ould lad enjoying his pint of Guinness complimented him, saying, “It’s a pity you can’t sing, son, because you know some great songs.”
There were always great generations and there still are. The younger generation is no different. They just have to live in a different world. And there will always be great characters. There always have been. At least since the days of Socrates.
The Characters Are All Gone
All the characters are gone they say
There’s no characters any more
Today on Main Street I met the Cowboy Carroll
‘A game of cards broke out in the middle of a fight
In Loody Mays the other night’
Joe Hesh McCormack appeared at Fortunes Corner
‘I’ll put shoes on the footless
And pay the Contraceptive Bill’
At a sing song in the Wren’s Nest
Zulu Brown piped out
‘It’s a pity you cannot sing young man
Because you know some great songs’