This Month’s Short Story

Waiting for Mr. X

My name is Pat Laverty and I’m from Connemara. I’ve been here some 50 years now. Let me tell you about a rare old time we had, back in November 1982 I think it was. Not good at dates. Anyway, it was a dirty wet night in Daubhill.

We were all gathered in the Bantry Club off Derby Street. It’s gone now. It wasn’t a palace but they did a grand pint of Guinness. Not usually many in, but that night it was full. Word had got round that Josef Locke, the great Irish tenor, was appearing. What little advertising there was referred to ‘Mr X’. He was on the run – non-payment of income tax and various court summons. Whether calling himself Mr X fooled the tax men and police I doubt.

That night the good and the bad of Bolton’s Irish community were crowded into the club. Building workers, local councillors, labourers, loafers. Not an unintelligent bunch by any means, and some fine singers amongst them.

I got there for 8.00 and occupied a table with a few friends from the Labour Party. Noel, Guy, Peter and Maggie. Noel and Guy had already had a few and were on good form with stories of some of the old characters who used to frequent the less salubrious pubs of Bolton, like The Kickin’ Donkey and the Skennin’ Door.

We expected Joe Locke to be on at about 9.00. He was notoriously unpunctual; the advert had said 8.00. At about 9.15 the bar telephone rang. Gerry, the club steward, answered the phone. We could hear “yes Joe,” “certainly Joe”, “Not a problem at all Joe”.

“Right, just quieten down a bit please,” appealed Gerry. “That was Mr X on the phone. His flight from Dublin has been delayed due to fog over the Irish Sea but he landed safely at Manchester 10 minutes ago. He’s on his way.”

We returned to the serious business of Guinness drinking and debating the terrible state of the world.

Mick suggested that we should have a few songs while we waited. “Any volunteers?”

Nobody made any move to stand up. Noel gave Pat Nolan a dig in the ribs. “Get up there and do a few of the old songs.”

Pat stood up. He was from Claremorris, a Mayo man. A big fella, came to Bolton to work on the building sites and met a mill girl called Teresa – from Limerick but lovely – and settled down.

There was still plenty of talk going on. Gerry hammered on the bar with the stick he normally used for when things got out of hand.

“Be quiet for the love of God will ye? Pat’s going to give us a couple of songs while we wait for Joe – sorry, Mr X.”

“Thank you Gerry. Here’s one we used to sing after a hard day on the sites, by a Dublin man by the name of Dominic Behan, with whom I had the privilege of working with when I was a lad down in London.”

“As down the glen, came McAlpine’s men

With their shovels slung behind them.

Twas in the pub that they drank their sub

And up in the Spike you’ll find ‘em.

McAlpine’s God was a well-filled hod

With your shoulders cut to bits and seared.

If you pride your life, don’t join by Chris, with McAlpine’s Fusiliers…”

 

The room exploded with applause. Half of the lads in the room had worked on the sites and knew what the life was like. Bloody awful. Pat entertained us with a few more. Roddy McCorley, Carrickfergus, Forty Shades of Green. Some of the more sentimental amongst us shed a tear at the memories of the old country and a world we’d lost.

The room settled back into chaos. No sign of Mr X.

Each time the door opened the place went quiet; but it wasn’t him. Another call suggested he’d been stuck in a road accident in Salford, but was on his way.

We had more songs. Maggie Gallagher did a lovely rendition of ‘She Moves Through the Fair’. You could’ve heard a pin drop…..

Last night she came to me
My true love came in
And softly she came
That her feet made no din
And she laid her hand on me
And this she did say
It will not be long, love
Till our wedding day……

We had many more songs. It became raucous and Republican. We all stood up to sing ‘The Men Behind The Wire’, led by Noel. Jimmy McManus’s brother was one of them, banged up in Long Kesh.

By 2.00 there was no sign of Mr X. The phone had stopped ringing. Maybe the police had caught up with him. By then, we didn’t care.

At 3.00 Gerry got out his walking stick and hammered on the bar. “Will all of yous go home!”

“Why’s that Gerry? We’re having a great time,” shouted Mick Molloy, a bit the worse for wear.

“Because you’ve drunk us out of beer, whisky and everythin’ else.”

“Well we won’t be going anywhere until we’ve sung the National Anthem,” Kevin McLoughlin announced.

A few of our English friends were a bit surprised that we should want to do that, after all that had been said and sung. We got to our feet.

“Soldiers are we
whose lives are pledged to Ireland
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave
Sworn to be free
No more our ancient sire land
Shall shelter the despot or the slave
Tonight we man the gap of danger
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal
‘Mid cannons’ roar and rifles peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song..”

We shuffled out of the club, dissolving into the Daubhill rain. It was nearly 4 a.m. by now. I was half-way along Fletcher Street and a car stopped by me. The window came down and a smart-looking chapter with a wee moustache leaned out. “Excuse me…would you happen to know where The Bantry Club is?”

Paul Salveson

July 20 2020