When you research your family history, you secretly hope that you will uncover a tale or two which makes your ancestry unique, and possibly famous. You know, the type of story you can impress your friends with over dinner or whilst sharing a pint. By interviewing old folks who remembered my Irish grandfather’s existence in Sligo, before his permanent relocation to England, I was able to verify one such story. More than one person recalled the same tale – so this saga was “famous” considering that the events happened over 80 years ago!
At the time, my grandad Ned Neary was approaching 30 years of age, married with a clutch of young kids, with my dad being the eldest born in 1925. It was the day of the Old Fair Day in Tubbercurry renowned for fast and furious livestock sales, all conducted on the narrow streets and pavements of the town. Ned knew that the Old Fair would attract some cash-laden jobbers down from the North. These were cattle-dealers contracted to buy up the best stock in the Republic and cart them back to wealthy farmers in Ulster where beef prices were sky-high. As a result, Ned spent the eve of the Fair Day sprucing up his two finest calves. Their coats were washed and brushed until they were gleaming.
Early next morning, as planned, Ned’s best friend Tailor Currane from Gurtermone, ambled down the lane to the tiny Neary farmstead to assist with the transportation of the two prized calves. This involved attaching a leash to each young animal and then walking them all the way into town, ensuring that they remained in pristine condition. The plan went like clockwork, and Ned secured a prime bartering position at the bottom end of The (triangular) Square in Tubbercurry, just as the jobbers rolled into town. No-one quite knows what happened next, but clearly more than one jobber took an instant interest in Ned’s calves, and the outcome was a bidding war which resulted in Ned reputedly receiving a handshake of honourable spit – and the highest sum ever paid at the time for a pair of wee calves. Something in the region of £20 or more; a fortune circa 1930.
Well now, Tailor Currane was not stupid, although he was not a good tailor, and consequentially virtually penniless. He knew that his wages for the day would be paid in the form of a slap-up breakfast and a few drinks from the proceeds of the sale. He also knew that Ned was a fierce drinker, as witnessed when Ned’s notorious home-brewed Mad Man’s Soup was often devoured before it had cooled from the Still. So right enough, Ned and Tailor Currane went for a celebration drink right there in the town square. Flush with pound notes they had large measures – and to Hell with breakfast.
By late morning, Neary and Currane decided to embark on a pub crawl, to get farther away from the noisy farmers and jobbers who were now all arguing about the ridiculous price standard set by Ned’s early sale. All had to settle for less, except Neary and Currane who drank their way to the edge of town by mid-afternoon.
Their bahaviour was becoming more raucous, and not welcomed in the more respectable Tubber hotels, so Ned bought a drink for a farming friend from Curry on the agreement that he would ferry Ned & Tailor to their local hostelry at Kilcoyne’s in the back of the farmer’s ox cart. When passing Rhue, Ned decided that it was too early to be heading homeward, so he told his taxi driver to take the passengers all the way into Curry village. “We’ll have one or two in Cawley’s bar,” shouted Ned, to Currane’s delight.
Well, one or two became three or four more, and our intoxicated duo rambled from public house to coaching inn to hotel. When no longer tolerated in Curry, Ned and his buddy staggered down the main road south towards Charlestown. They’d worked up a big thirst by the time they reached the first bar in Bellaghy – so they had a drink. Onward they trekked. Ned was in Mayo by midnight, in the bright lights of Charlestown. He was now farther away from his wife and family than he had been at breakfast time, but he was in no fit state to go home. Anyway, Ned had hardly made a dent in the proceeds from his cattle sale – so he negotiated the purchase of a few after-hours drinks at Top Dollar provided that he and his comatose friend were granted lodgings for the night. The innkeeper obliged and showed Neary & Currane into a chic barn in the back-yard which had a welcoming hay-loft above. The intrepid duo drank themselves to sleep in the penthouse suite.
When morning came, it was time to attempt to eat something – for the first time in 36 hours. Currane was sent to contact Room Service. The innkeeper’s wife brought out a few boiled eggs and slices of warm soda bread. Soon, the boys were ready to hit the road. Now – Charlestown had many, many hostelries back in those days. Word had spread that Ned was in the locality, and each pub landlord made the Sligo lads more than welcome. “Try this new drink”; “Check out this whiskey from the north”; “Put a bit of soda with it”; “Down in one!”
A second day of celebration passed in no time at all. It was late into the evening before a fracas with some passing tinkers caused a few breakages of glassware and pub furniture. Another sympathetic (and opportunistic) landlady offered bruised Ned and battered Currane a lie-down on her bar-room benches. Another drink-filled day had passed.
The next day, Neary & Currane replenished their bloodstreams with plenty alcohol in Charlestown, but the drinking pace was slowing down. Ned was getting worried about the reception he would get at home from his dear but fearsome wife, Ellen. The local innkeepers read these signals the wrong way and ushered him and Currane out of their doors much faster than the day before. They thought that Ned was running out of money and would soon be seeking credit. This was far from the truth. He still had a pocketful of pound notes. Or maybe it was the smell of Currane’s body odour that made yesterday’s friends turn up their noses.
The poor tailor had a temporary solution to Ned’s woes. “Let’s walk south down to Ballyglass. We’ll get a good welcome at Billy Gallagher’s place. I made him a suit for his wedding.”
“Yes. I remember,” agrees Ned. “A bad suit.”
They got a great welcome at Billy’s bar, with Billy grateful for any midweek passing trade. Similar receptions were experienced at Tommy Murphy’s and Dicky Flynn’s (et al), and in another day or two the Sligo lads had bypassed Knock Shrine, and all its guilt-ridden reminders that Mass had been missed, and they were on the road to Ballyhaunis. In this town, Ned had to admit that funds were getting low. The poor tailor Currane could not contribute a penny, so he reluctantly agreed that a pub crawl homeward was on the cards.
The route home passed back through Charlestown, on the townsfolk’s very own market day. The pub’s were jumping. It would have been ignorant not to thank each innkeeper for their earlier hospitality. And so it passed that Ned Neary spent every last shilling on whiskey and beer … and then trooped home in his worn-out old boots.
Many in the area can still recall or have heard about this world-record pub crawl. Differing reports talk of Ned being away for “over a week”. By my calculations based on the buying power of £20 at 1930’s shop prices, it is more likely that Ned had enough cash to endure a fortnight’s drink-fest for two. It’s a funny story, and on another level, a rather sad story. Just imagine how it felt for Ned’s wife (my grandmother) as she tried to feed herself and her babies – and maintain the farm – with the man of the house away on an unannounced rambling holiday. Somehow, Ned & Ellen remained together for the rest of their long lives, and made more babies. That’s how it was back then. No divorce or separation.
The infamous saga of Ned Neary’s pub crawl is recounted to me every time I bump into Hughie O’Gara, a man who was a neighbour of Tailor Currane. This usually occurs in the Roaring Cock, with Hughie shouting his recollections across the bar in his booming Dalek-like voice for all to hear. As such, the story can never be forgotten locally. Hughie chuckles with laughter, his shoulders bouncing up and down, thinking that he is embarrassing me.
On the contrary, I have turned the tables and I demand that when Hughie next sells two calves for a decent price, then me and he will re-enact the Neary Ramble, although I insist on crashing out at decent 3-star hotels. It’s about time a Gurtermone man paid back his dues to the generous Neary clan, after Currane’s mighty free-loading escapade. I have also told Hughie that I have applied to Mayo Council to get a commemorative Blue Plaque erected in Charlestown, by the horse trough used by Ned for his ablutions, to remember Ned’s distinguished contribution to the Licensed Trade.
As a consequence of all this, Hughie’s weekly chuckle-some greeting to me, in that Dalek voice of his, is always the same:
“Are we going to Char-les-town today?”