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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

From Pat Ingoldsby To Dolly Parton Via Castleisland

“In 1893, W. B. Yeats referred to Zozimus as ‘the last of the gleemen’ but he obviously failed to foresee the coming of Pat Ingoldsby- an old fashioned travelling bard to rival the best of them.” (The words of Bobby Aherne in his book, D’you Remember Yer Man? A portrait of Dublin’s famous characters.)

When I learned that Irish film director Seamus Murphy was making a new documentary film about much-loved Dublin poet Pat Ingoldsby, it brought back many memories about the wit and wisdom of the 78 year old man of many parts. Like the day that, as a bus inspector, I decided to take an unofficial break and nip into Beshoffs in Westmoreland Street for a smoked cod and chips. Only to discover that the famous chipper was closed and all signage was removed. Pat was plying his trade outside and I asked him “Where’s Beshoffs gone, Pat” only to be told, “God, Mattie I’m still looking for Nelson’s Pillar.”

There was a wax model of Pat in the National wax Museum. One year it featured in the Saint Patrick ’s Day parade. The real Pat was present and a TV reporter approached him, stuck a microphone under his nose, and commented, “The wax model looks better than you Pat.” Pat’s reply? “The wax model wasn’t in John of Gods six times.”

When the mobile phone became a virtual epidemic Pat offered a "Mobile Phone Euthanasia" services on the streets of Dublin, where he would destroy phones for annoyed owners.

He was regular presenter of children’s shows on RTÉ, has written plays for the stage and radio, published books of short stories, and been a newspaper columnist but is mostly known for his unconventional and often humorous poetry.

The award-winning Murphy has been working on the documentary and is seeking funding to complete the project. Speaking on RTÉ he said, "Pat is suddenly back in fashion. I talk about him any time I’m doing interviews because I’m trying to raise money for the film but also because I’m trying to build his profile back up again and then there was a poetry festival recently where people were re-enacting his work." He got to know Pat while he was making Home is Another Place, a short film he made for The New Yorker over the summer in Dublin in 2013. He sums up Pat concisely in the following statement, "Pat appeals to our reason through invention and surrealism, in a voice understandable to everyone. He is a rare and sympathetic witness and champion of the underdog - of which there are many in Dublin. Above all he is very funny. There is no better company than Pat and his poems to roam with around the streets of Dublin; absorbing its stories and conspiring with the mirth and darkness of the city."

Since Pat has more or less retired from public life and doesn’t want to appear on TV or film I asked him why he agreed to the documentary. “Mattie, I’ve been plagued all my life by people wanting to do something like this. For the first time ever the right person has come along. I have great respect for Seamus. I have seen his work. I feel privileged that he thinks so much of my poems.” However there is a limit to how much he was prepared to participate. He told Seamus, “You can make the film, I’d love you to make the film but I’m not going to be in it". Seamus ploughed away, ”I said OK, it was almost like the PJ Harvey thing, but slowly I’d go out to him and I’d recorded him and we got to know each other and slowly he started trusting me and now I’ve got lots of stuff. I’ve almost shot all I need of him, it’s the other stuff I need to do."

Every year Pat Ingoldsby produces another book. To date titles as diverse as "Poems So Fresht and So New"-"Yahoo, Pawmarks on My Poems," "Beautiful Cracked Eyes," and "The Blue E-tee Wet" have appeared.

Most of his work is based on personal experiences, with comments in verse on subjects as varied as hotel management, the two fixed points in his life and heading home.

He has written some moving stuff on the death of his father and the ECT (electroconvulsive therapy he received) in a less enlightened age. The reader is introduced to humorous conversations overheard on the bus, or the characters he meets while selling his books on the streets. One of his poems is titled, Mattie Told Me Once, based on a story I told him about my bus-driving experience. He told me one time, “ The worst thing this state gave me was polio and the best was free travel.”

He has also produced stories for children and his poem "For Rita With Love" was selected as one of the Ireland’s 100 favourite poems as voted for by readers of the Irish Times newspaper.


You came home from school
On a special bus
Full of people
Who look like you
And love like you
And you met me
For the first time
And you loved me.
You love everybody
So much that it’s not safe
To let you out alone.
Eleven years of love
And trust and time for you to learn
That you can’t go on loving like this.
Unless you are stopped
You will embrace every person you see.
Normal people don’t do that.
Some Normal people will hurt you
Very badly because you do.
Cripples don’t look nice
But you embrace them.
You kissed a wino on the bus
And he broke down and cried
And he said ‘Nobody has kissed me
For the last 30 years.
But you did.
You touched my face
With your fingers and said
‘I like you.’
The world will never
Be ready for you.
Your way is right
And the world will never be ready.
We could learn everything
That we need to know
By watching you
Going to your special school
In your special bus
Full of people
Who look like you
And love like you
And it’s not safe
To let you out alone.
If you’re not normal
There is very little hope
For the rest of us.

A documentary on this wonderful Dub is long overdue.

* * * * *

Dolly Parton once decided to enter a drag queen celebrity impersonator contest in Los Angeles without revealing her identity. She didn’t win. She was beaten . . . by a man.

Have you ever dressed like Dolly Parton? Have you ever wanted to dress like Dolly Parton? According to the Guinness Book of Records the record for the highest number of people dressed as Dolly is 250. Once again Listowel, County Kerry is well ahead in the charity stakes. To raise money for improved chemo services in Tralee Hospital they will be holding a Dolly Parton Lookalike Day on Saturday June 27th. They hope to beat the record and get into the Guinness Book of Records.

So, put the date in your diary if you want to appear in the Kingdom of Kerry as a head to toe iconic, instantly recognisable, Dolly. ( And you don’t have to be a woman.) More details anon.

* * * * *

And speaking of Kerry, The late Niall Toibin told a story of the Castleisland woman who went to visit her son in Hartford, Connecticut. Her luck was in when she saw a name that she recognised in the “deaths” column in the local paper, because in brackets it said “late of Castleisland.” Off she went to the funeral parlours, unfamiliar terrain to her. She blundered into the first parlour where some lonely Greek exile was laid out under the bored gaze of a black-suited attendant. The poor woman burst into tears, and the Kerry mourners on their way past to the correct parlour, heard her keening bitterly: “Oh Mosheen, if ‘twas back in Castleisland you were , it’s more than one little maneen you’d have guarding your casket." From then on, Greeks in Hartford were known, among the Irish as ‘Castleislandmen’

* * * * *

Here’s a quote I came across recently; “Smart people love mess. You will never find a smart person with an orderly desk.”

See you in March.

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