A DAY IN MY LIFE AND BROWE’S PUCKAUN
Bread An’ Mate.
It has been said that the first duty of a gentleman is to keep out of the hands of the police. Up to the time of writing I have carried out my gentlemanly duties, in that respect, every day of my life, with one exception. That was Tuesday 04th November 1969 when I was the victim of a wrongful arrest.
At 11:15 A.M. and I was feeding our one and only bonham. A car bearing the roof-sign of our National Guardians of the Peace stopped at the gate of our humble abode at Kylebeg. It was driven by a 38 year old farmer's son, Paddy Browne, from Kenmare,, who had a flexible olfactory organ and a reputation for economy consciousness . He shared a surname with the one-time Earls of Kenmare but a Blessington farmer who had rented a house to him had once told me that there wasn't much evidence of any nobility connection. The observer was a 44-year-old son-of-the-soil from Kilmorgan, Co. Sligo. His Name was Bill Tighe. (Up to that moment I had little dealings with either officer apart from meeting them during Census-taking. I knew that they referred to me as "the Poet", which was understandable since I was in the habit of linking, even the most grim situation to a poetic allusion.) Despite their agricultural background they had no compunction about taking me away from my pig-feeding, when they asked me to accompany them to Blessington Station.
If my neighbours hadn't known me as well as they did no doubt they would have been;" Wondering if the man had done a great or little thing".
Didn't the poet say;
Arrest comes soon or late.
While Browne reversed the Squad-car down our narrow lane Tighe revealed to me that I had stolen an unspecified quantity of ham on Friday 24th October. Although I was no Phrenologist, looking at his profile from the back seat I recalled a comment made by one of my well-spoken, neighbours who described Tighe as being, “As thick as the back end of a horse’s testicles which only ever saw equine excrement.” And, at that moment, I became a bit more tolerant of those who drew the cartoons of the Irish in the 19th century Punch magazine.
Once in the station another Garda had something to say. This 31 year old was Willie Nash, from Gurtnacrehy, Co. Limerick. (You may not have heard of Gurtnacrehy; the only time the word crops up is in the names of Greyhounds.) Nash was so well turned out that he was like a male mannequin compared to his more bucolic colleagues. When he first came to Blessington in January 1962 he was a useful man on the football field and sported a crew-cut. Now he was opting for a (slightly belated) Beatle look. He imparted the additional information that I had maliciously burned a rick of hay, the property of Dan Cullen, on Saturday 27th September. I didn’t share the view of the local farmer who, at the time, said, “There was only one mistake; that he wasn’t in it when they lit it.”
Nash’s body language (as he replaced a nail-file in his tunic pocket, having checked his reflection in the window ) proclaimed the fact that he was well aware of my innocence. His rhetorical question: "Would it surprise you to know that you were seen lighting it?" was slightly off the mark (not to mention off the wall). He asked, “Will I put this man in the cell, Sergeant?” The man from Slaheny didn’t reply but gave the “Sullivan nod.” (I’ll explain it to you some other time.)
I knew, through my own sources, that a quantity of ham had been reported stolen in Ballinastockan. (I wasn't told if it was a quarter or a half pound) but I doubted the authenticity of the crime. As the interrogation progressed I became more convinced that the case of the purloined bacon should enter the annals along with The Easter Bunny, the Unicorn and a few pre-election promises. I knew that there wasn’t a great tradition of stealing foodstuffs in the Lacken or Ballinastockan area; the last recorded theft of that nature was pertaining to an incident, during the Civil War, on 15th September 1922. Edward Grace, a Merchant, from Ballymore Eustace had some loaves stolen from two of his vans in Ballyknockan and Lacken on that day.
Despite being the victim of the dirtiest trick ever played on me, being spoken to like an imbecile, humiliated, embarrassed and treated like a criminal I refused to confess to two fictitious crimes. (It's at times like this the words of Ethel Rosenberg spring to mind; "I am innocent......to forsake this truth is to pay too high a price"). The Sergeant, looking less than prepossessing and more than his thirty-seven years, gave the OK to have me locked in a cell. Maurice O ‘Sullivan, ex-Mental Nurse (known as a "keeper" at the time), from Slaheny, Co. Kerry, was very concise. Not living up to his family’s nickname of “The Long Maurices” he drew himself up to his full five-foot nine and a half inches, pretended to read from a Manilla folder and told me: "I have enough evidence here to charge you". This frightened me. I knew that the crime of arson could carry a life sentence. I asked myself if I was, in fact, at the mercy of a lunatic. Bearing in mind that my father always made a distinction between a madman and what he called “a bad-inclined madman.”
Perhaps the sergeant’s past was the reason for the brevity;
For he to whom a watcher's doom
Is given as his task
Must set a lock upon his lips
Did the experience in his previous life prompt him to believe that I was the sort, so much in awe of authority, who would confess to anything? Although it was fifteen years since he surrendered his badge in Saint Fenan’s Hospital, Killarney, the "One Flew over The Cuckoo's Nest Syndrome" obtained; He still thought that he could do what he liked? ("…for in a madhouse there exists no law").
I thought of William Blackstone who said; " It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer". I soon reminded myself that Mr. Blackstone didn't spend four years working in a Kerry asylum.)
When I was told, “You'll get out when you tell us the truth" I took on board my neighbour’s opinion of the speaker. And the farmer's boots and sly smile I saw as further evidence that Tighe was not a member of Mensa, would not appreciate Tennyson, and so I thought it would be futile to quote;
This truth within thy mind rehearse,
That in a boundless universe
Is boundless better, boundless worse.
My father always said that I would “hear the grass growing” and now I became acutely aware of my better –than- average auricular ability. Sound- proofing had not been a consideration in the design of the cell-door and I could hear every word spoken in the day-room. Industrial-relations matters, within the Gardaí, were touched on lightly before a turn in the conversation that was very interesting and informative; but that is a story for another day. Suffice, for now, to say that there was paraphrasing of the words of Thomas Jefferson; “We have the wolf by the ears and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale and self-preservation on the other”
I knocked on the cell door. It immediately opened and framed Nash, who I felt was of the opinion that I needed taking down a peg. I studied his face. Why? Because Jim Blake who worked for Paddy Crotty had told me, “That Nash fella has square eyes.” He didn’t. While his optical hemispheres displayed the shiftiness of the insecure they were of regular shape.
He still insisted on pretending that I was a suspect and closed the door.
When next I knocked on the cell-door it was opened by Tighe who told me, (why I don’t know) “The sergeant is gone out on another big job”. This was followed by, “Yer father says he doesn’t know what to tink. Will I go out for yer father?” When I once again protested my innocence this, alternatively motivated guardian of the peace, who wouldn’t ever stand if he could sit, said, “We know certain tings Matt”. He didn’t specify what the “things” with the silent “h” were.) He closed the door, slowly . . . like he did everything else.
When again I knocked with a hope of being released Browne uncovered the spyhole. His eye, viewed through the small rectangle of light, didn’t look friendly.
I was sitting on a wooden bench with some sort of a “tic” on it. Hey! . . . Didn’t I read on the Leinster Leader about a Ballinastockan man being fined ten pounds for pissing on a mattress in the cell of Blessington Garda station? (Of course, it wasn’t worded so in the “Leader”.)
“Are you going to tell us about this fire?” Guard Browne enquired. Now secure in the knowledge that they knew I wasn’t guilty of anything I didn’t protest my innocence. I simply asked; “Are you going to let me out?”
Browne didn’t reply. He opened the cell door and allowed me into the day room. As he lit a Goldflake butt with a paper spill from the open fire he again accused me of arson. As I looked at his well-worn shoes and archaic wristwatch I thought of his economy-consciousness which his former Sergeant, Frank Reynolds, had told me about. My comment about the coldness of the cell and my plea to be left in the Day-room fell on deaf, Kenmare, ears. As he dragged on the ignited butt I was sternly told to “get back in.” Which I did.
Next thing the cell door opened. Garda Willie Nash told me, “We’re lettin’ ye out but we’ll be takin’ ye in agin.” He wasn’t a man of his word; I haven’t seen the inside of that cell since.
© Mattie Lennon 1970
The late Jim Browe was an entrepreneurial sort of individual who always appeared to land on his feet. However, I used a small bit of poetic licence in the following.
Jim Browe above in Lacken
Had a virile puckaUn goat
On his prowess, 'mid the bracken
There was every right to gloat.
The she-goats of the nation
He'd see they'd have a ball;
For a small remuneration
From their owners, one and all.
Like wildfire round the mountain
His reputation spread,
And nanny-goats past countin'
With binder-twine were led
The puck could fairly rise 'er
(He serviced great and small)
Like a P.R.O. for Pfizer
He pranced around his stall.
They discussed his actions with panache,
Among the Wicklow hills.
In places like Donard And Clash
(Well known for trills and spills)
When the media came to tape him
He was at their beck an' call.
And youths aspired to ape him
In every Parish Hall.
Some neighbour-no doubt jealous
Told an agent of the State,
Who with pen and clipboard, zealous,
Arrived at Jim's front gate.
" An illicit stud's reported,
I must check out the call".
"I'm guilty" Jim retorted
"My back's against the wall".
The puck went through exacting tests
With techniques old and new,
And past them all (despite some jests)
And with flying colours too.
He was registered in Dublin
As a stud could now walk tall:
With his new found status troublin'
The ones who hoped he'd fall
Now trading with impunity
Jim Browe could plainly see
A golden opportunity
To double up the fee.
The goat-house he had slated
With fluorescent light an' all
And the price (in Euros) stated
In Signage on the wall..
Soon came an old reliable
With goat, and readies too.
The new regime seemed viable
But wait 'till I tell you;
The Puck decided he'd relax
And languished in his stall
While a license stamped with sealing wax
Hung framed upon the wall.
As more clients at the junction
Queued now with some chagrin
Erectile (goat) dysfunction
Appeared to have set in.
They coaxed him by being placid,
Then began to roar and bawl,
But the puck remained quite flaccid;
He wouldn't rise at all.
Said Jim " My little earner
Has turned out a farce"
As growing ever sterner
He aimed a kick in t' arse.
The puck glanced sideways, nervous,
At the parchment on the wall.
"Now I'm in the Civil Service
I'm supposed to do f**k-all".