”That was a good match”, said Duncan Self catching his breath and flicking some mud off his football jersey. Duncan was six feet tall and broad shouldered though tending to corpulence. He had dense warm brown hair, a pale complexion, slightly thin lips and and well proportioned face that was dashed with freckles.
”It was but we could have licked them’,’ said Denis Edwards wiping the perspiration of his teenage brow. Denis was 6’2” and blessed with a crop of thick blond hair that was carefully brushed. He was slim but not feeble. His eyes were incongruously hazel on a pale though healthy face and he had a Roman nose protruding from a strikingly handsome face.
”Two-two. We could have thrashed them papists” said Jude Conroy. ”That first goal the papists scored – I think our goalie let it in on purpose. He is a papist pig don’t forget.” His eyes blazed with sheer hatred. Jude stood barely 5’3” and was porcine. His chestnut brown hair was lank and greasy. His oval face was olive tinted and his brown eyes blazed malevolence and resentment. Jude was stooped and seemed to hold himself in as if hoarding spite. His uneven teeth were permanently set on edge.
”Leave it out” said Duncan wearily. ”Alan is a fine goalie. He plays his best for us. Does not matter he is a Catholic.”
”Yeah” said Denis, ”Alan O’Rourke is on our time and if you don’t like it then leave. I think we only drew because you were so lazy in defence.”
”Well I have flat feet. And asthma and I broke my leg this match.” said Jude.
”Broke your leg? You broke your leg did you?” said Duncan. ”I suppose you blame that on the Catholics too.”
”I never said a bad word about papishes in my life” said Jude without a hint of irony. He turned and walked off in a sulk across the damp, dark green fields.
Steam rose off the teenage players in the cool spring afternoon. They nattered as they walked back into the market town of Dunmore.
”I remember when I was in the Boys’ Brigade – we were the best football team in Tyrone” said David Henderson. David stood 5’9” and was an average build. His skin was exceptionally pale and rosy cheeks lent point to this pallor. His brown eyes flashed with exuberance and a brooding folly lay under his sharp facial features. His dark brown hair was messily cast over his narrow brow. There was a gap between the middle of his unusually sharp teeth.
”Best in Tyrone? We were quite good we were not that good” said Duncan indulgently.
”It is true. Catholics cannot play football. Not the two left feet – that’s nonsense. But they spend most of their time playing Gaelic and hurling and suchlike.” said David.
”Well maybe that’s so.” said Duncan ”But I think you are letting your drama get the better of you.”
”I am a serious actor. I will get a big part in no time – you’ll see.” said David defiantly. He took a cigarette of his pocket and lit it.
”Serious actor – that is another word barman is it?” chortled Denis.
David took a drag on his cigarette and exhaled.
”I am just a barman till I make it big. You’ll see. You saw my star at the pantomime in Dungannon? There’s a theatre in Londonderry is very interested in me. ” said David. He then offered his pack of Woodbines around. Duncan and Denis both took one and thanked him before lighting up.
Apropos of nothing Duncan turned to Denis. ”Denis did you see this thing in the Belfast Newsletter – there is a Home Rule Bill going before Parliament.”
”yes, I did. Haven’t I a brother a journalist on the Newsletter? ” said Denis.
”Home Rule – could that get through? Last election Liberals hardly mentioned it. I used to like Asquith. They won’t do it – not to Ulster at any rate.” said Duncan concernedly.
”I am not so sure. They might do. Asquith needs the Home Rulers. That was only way he got the People’s Budget. That Lloyd George is trying to sell us down the river just like he betrayed the whole country in the South African War.” said Denis tutting.
”You two talking politics again? Give over will you?” said David.
”I shall see you down the pub tonight” said Denis peeling off towards his home.
”See youse there” said David.
Once Denis started to walk down his unpaved lane towards his red brick single story house then David turned to Duncan.
”You know the Roman Catholics asked if we could play on the Sabbath?”
”Play on Sunday? They didn’t?” said Duncan.
”They did. I see them playing their GAA game on the Lord’s day all the time.” said David in horror.
”Now to be fair the boys we played football against do not play GAA. Gaelic Athletic Association will not let them. They either play football or they play GAA. GAA bigots will not play football because it comes from England.” said Duncan.
”I suppose they won’t speak English because it comes from England, won’t touch a Bank of England pound note, won’t drink tea because it comes from China. ” said David.
”Won’t they claim their pensions as England subsidises Ireland.” said Duncan wryly.
”My father is a big noise in the Lord’s Day Observance Society. The Sabbath is the Lord’s Day and we shall keep it holy. No work – not thy manservant not thy maidservant.” David intoned gravely.
”I do not mind a child kicking a ball on Sunday. Seems a big excessive to me – this no games on Sunday. But everyone know team will play a proper game on a Sunday.” said Duncan/
”Now that is the first step to Rome. I am not that godly but you know that playing sport on a Sunday is not on.”
”It does not matter to me. The GAA play their games on Sunday and the police do not stop them. Does not bother me but the Catholic team was foolish to ask us if we would play. Captain of the Queen of Clergy was foolish to ask.”
”Queen of Clergy who is that?” said David in puzzlement.
”That team we just played from Carrickmore – they are called the Queen of Clergy. Queen of Clergy is the Virgin Mary.” said Duncan.
”Queen of Clergy – Virgin Mary. What a queer name.” David disapprovingly.
”Catholic teams have their patron or patroness saint.” said Duncan.
”Good morning at school was it?” said David changing the subject.
”Yes it was – most of the pupils turned up. Only a few helping on family farms and shops.” said Duncan. His cigarette was finished and he cast the butt aside.
”I see. I would have loved to have been a teacher but family finances would not stretch to that. But being a barman is great. When the pipkin is about to go off the landlord sells it to us at half price.” said David.
Duncan tried not to wince. Though David was only 17 he had noticed that David drank far too much. Duncan chose to bite his tongue.
”Those woodbines are splendid. Cleans the lungs – so the doctor says. Relaxes the larynx.”said Duncan.
”You should give them to your pupils/” said David.
”Well I do sometimes but only when they are over the age of ten. But there are a few fathers who object – religious grounds. Not Church of Ireland or even Presbyterians. There are some low church folk with very funny ideas. You know those who go to gospel hall. Puritans really.” said Duncan.
”Ridiculous. Just because cigarettes make you feel good. Smoking is no sin.” said David. ”The Good Lord would not have made tobacco for us if he did not want us to smoke.”
”You are right. Don’t the Church of Ireland rectors smoke and the Presbyterian ministers smoke. It is the most innocent thing in the world.” said Duncan. ”It is an innocent pleasure. One of the fathers – he found his teenage son smoking and he thrashed him with a horse whip. I know a father has the right to discipline his children but that was too much.”
”I agree. Why would anyone be against smoking? It is as strange as being a Catholic” said David.
”It is it is. But Catholics are not so different.” said Duncan.
”You are right. They are not. There is that fella on our team. Could not find a goalie so we took a Catholic. Supposed to be a Protestant team but he is as a good a lad as any of them.” said David.
”I got to turn here. This is my lane” said Duncan.
”Off you go.” said David.
That night most of the team foregathered at the Dunmore Arms. The lads were togged out in their suits such as had them. The scene was sheened with greased down hair. The pub was thronging with men and only men.
Duncan walked into the pub and it was already echoing with revelry. In the corner a skinny old man with a shaggy white beard played the fiddle as he tapped his toe.
”How’s about you Duncan?” said John King bonhomously. John was 5’9” and had very dark brown hair atop a square face. His nose was a little broad and his teeth had only one filling. John’s semi-sculpted features recommended him to womenfolk. John wore a perfectly tailored navy blue suit, transfiguration white shirt and a dark green tie. His black leather brogues were polished to brilliance. Not a hair was out of place nor was there a crease on his shirt. He stood swilling his pint.
”Ah John – not so and yourself.”
”I am very well. We will beat those papishes next time five nil” said John exuberantly.
Duncan deduced from John’s tone and demeanour that John was not simply talking optimistically – he actually believed it.
”Well it would be nice if it happened” said Duncan soothingly.
”I am one of the best players on the team. Don’t know how I didn’t score. You should have scored too.” said John.
”Oh me? Well thanks but come on we both know I have two left feet. I like the game. Don’t mind much if we lose. We could lose every game in the seasons and I would still enjoy it.” said Duncan placidly.
”I am going to stop working in the shop. A sales clerk is no future. I am thinking of going to be a keeper at the mad house. Now that is a real job and going somewhere. It is sort of scientific. ” said John.
”I saw your results in the schools certificate – you could study medicine” said Duncan/
”Study medicine? Are you joking me? Only posh boys do that. Where would I get the money from? It is a miracle that my father paid for me to stay at school till 17. A waste of money he says. Should have gone off to get a job in the Bank of Ireland, dad said. My uncle wrote me a letter of recommendation because he has an account. I think maybe dad is write. I missed the boat on that one. ANy I will go off and work at the lunatic asylum. Lunatics cannot be as hard to handle as some customers. It is good money. I even thought of being a medical orderly in the army. You see the uniform is fine.”
”You are so fastidious about your clothes. It would suit you. You look like a Guardsman.” said Duncan.
”That is the nicest thing we ever said. My cousin Billy is in the Irish Guards you know. Ireland’s finest. Makes me proud to be Irish. Half the men in the Irish Guards are Roman Catholics mind but that’s no harm.” said John.
”But think of it – do you really want to be in the army. What if there is a war?” said Duncan.
”A war. There will be no war. Don’t be silly. I think you should be in the lunatic asylum” John chuckled. ”Now what’ll you have, a drink?”
”Let me have some lager please.” said Duncan.
”Right you are” said John sidling up to the bar and ordering one for Duncan and another for himself. Duncan could tell that John had had a few already.
As John was at the bar Duncan fell into conversation with Mark Walker. ”Hello there Mark” said Duncan.
”Hello Duncan, put it there.” he extended his hand and they shook ardently. Mark was a fleshy faced youth with a mass of dark brown curls. His round ugly faced was disfigured by a bulbous nose liberally covered in carbuncles. His very fair skinned jowls wobbled as he spoke. Mark was not too fast around the pitch.
”A good game we had today” said Duncan.
”Yes it was all right. I had been hoping to win. I must have not prayed hard enough. The Lord granted victory to the Catholics.” said Mark.
”I am not sure that the Good Lord involves himself in something so petty as a football match between us and Queen of Clergy.” Duncan felt like laughing but he saw that Mark was in earnest.
”Oh but he does. God is with us in all things great and small.” said Mark. ”I am becoming a deacon so I am going to a course at Queen’s – the Queen’s University of Belfast” he pronounced its name with a proud flourish. Duncan could see that being a deacon would appeal greatly to Mark’s self-importance. Mark took a sip of his pint.
”Very good – Church of Ireland.” said Duncan.
”Yes, Church of Ireland. Presbyterians do not have deacons.” said Mark.
”You are right they don’t but I thought you were brought up as a Presbyterian.”
”I was brought up in both really. I became a bit more Church of Ireland in the last few years. Our church has light, and colour and music and everything positive. ” said Mark.
David came over presently with a pint.
”Ah thanks David” said Duncan. ”Cheers” all three chinked glasses and took a swig.
”Ah …bathing my gums in a frothy pint” said John ”nothing finer.”
Duncan saw the beginnings of redness on John’s nose. He was a functioning dipsomaniac.
”Work at the county council offices this morning.” said Mark. ”Not so fun. But now I have that testamentarium in divinity I do not need to study in my free time”.
”That is a feather in your cap” said Duncan.
Over sidled Thomas Flaherty looking timid. Thomas was 5’10” and had dark brown hair. His long face was not usually sorrowful. His skin was an average complexion and his eyes were the clearest blue. Thomas’ cheekbones were prominent and his teeth were a little too large. He was a powerfully built youth.
”Hello Thomas – good to see you” said Duncan loudly.
”Hi fellas” said Thomas finally pulling himself up to his full height. There were handshakes all around. ”Good match. Good skills to teach the boys at school” .
”I wonder which one of us would get to be headmaster first” said Duncan.
They chuckled. ”Sad thing is how some of our boys – really bright lads will have to go into work at 12. You take Sam Igoe. He would love to do secondary school but this June that is it. There are eight children in the family. He has to go out and bring in a wage. Makes me listen to those socialist johnnies when I hear of this happening.”
”Come on” said Mark ”How could the country afford for most children to stay in school after the age of 12. I know I did till 16 but still. It would mean more tax and ruin. Lloyd George is already taxing beer enough” he quipped.
”That’s true” said Thomas – his mood lightening. ”My dad says if the government has so much money why can’t they pay the RIC more?”
”Your father is in the RIC isn’t he?” said Mark remembering. ”The Royal Irish Constabulary” he said with elan. ”That is a fine body of men. I would like to be their chaplain.”
”Is that the beer talking. You getting carried away with yourself? You’ve a secret ambition to be a clergyman?” said Duncan sagely.
”Ah no” said Mark looking and suddenly rubbing the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb.
The others laughed at his blatant lie.
”People like us do not get to be clergy in the Church of Ireland” said David. ”You have to be a gentleman, you know a toffee nose with money. We are working class.”
”Thomas’ father is a sergeant in the police I wonder if that is not getting on for middle class.” said Duncan.
”Some on look at you” said David. ” I am a barman. Sharing a room with six other men. After food and beers and fags I have no money left. You are a teacher. I have seen your articles in the county gazette. You get extra for that. You are not so poor. You are middle class.”
”Middle class is a very broad term. I am maybe on the lower end of middle class” said Duncan.
Just then Andrew Saddler entered the pub with an awkward goofy gait. He was 5’5” and had slightly receding tawny hair. His forehead was very convex and he wore thin rimmed glasses. His skin was a tad redder than the others and his lips were very thin. His clothes were very tidy but certainly not stylish.
”Speaking of middle class it is Andrew – the finest bookmaker in Ireland” Duncan joked. The others laughed. He gave Andrew a strong pat on the back. Andrew creased up in embarrassment and went red.
”Right now pint everyone?” so Duncan suggested. ”I have not bought one so far.”
”yes we noticed” said David mirthfully.
Duncan made his way to the bar to purchase pints for his chums.
”How is life at the accountants’ firm?” said Mark.
”It is right enough” said Andrew in a soft monotone. He lowered his eyes.
”Good to hear it is going well.” said David. ”I don’t suppose they would lend me a hundred pounds” he laughed raucously.
”No they would not” said Andrew completely oblivious to the fact that David had been joking. ”If I do well they shall move me to the Omagh office.”
”Omagh now that is a big town. What a thing!” said David with mock flattery.
”Twenty miles away – never been so far in all my life” said Andrew contemplating it as though it daunted him.
”I have been all over Ireland and to England” David bragged.
Duncan returned with the pints.
”Thanks for the bevvies” said David. Alcohol was clearly getting to him.
”Slainte” said Duncan as he chinked his glass against David’s/
”Shla what?” said David.
”Slainte – it is Irish for cheers. Well literally it means health.” said Duncan.
”Why are you speaking Irish. Aren’t you a Protestant?”
”Yes, I am. I was just curious. I only know a few words. We can learn it too. Catholics all speak English so why shouldn’t we know a bit of Irish. There’s this organization called the Gaelic League – encouraging the language. The president of it is Douglas Hyde and he’s a Prod.” said Duncan.
”Gaelic League – is that like the Gaelic Athletic Association? We are Irish. We are not Gaelic.” said David resolutely. ”We should we speak that prate? Ulster-Scots there’s a language. I do not like Gaelic anything. It is for rebels who would cut your throat.”
”We are not Fenians” said Mark firmly. ”As for Catholics speaking English – my granny grew up in Donegal. When she was a wee girl there was some Catholics spoke no English.”
”We are the greatest country in the world.” said Andrew ” That ship we are building in Belfast. It will be the biggest in the world. I can tell you all its statistics – how long it is, how many tonnes displacement…” the others groaned until he stopped. He started there blinking and uncomprehending as to why they would not wish to hear all this information.
”Why on earth are they calling it Titanic?” said David.
”Titans in Ancient Greek mythology – like a titan.” said Duncan ”Let’s hope it does not become a Prometheus” he joked. Only Mark chortled.
Just then Joel Coles walked in. ”Joel ”they chorused.
Joel was a gaunt little man with thick brown hair in tight little curls. He wore glasses and had woeful teeth that grinned permanently. He stalked over looking scarecrowish, hands thrust into his pockets.
”Hi fellas”, said Joel in a high pitched tone that was at once apologetic and truculent.
”You had an all right game today” said Mark.
”I am not one for football but you lads needed me so I came along” Joel looked sheepish.
”Drink for you?” asked Duncan.
”Ah yes I will have a half of bitter” he nodded softly.
”A half – a half? What is wrong with you? Only got on ball?” David sneered. This was no mere persiflage. David was genuinely incensed.
”Calm down will you? The fella only wants a half all right?” Duncan.
”A half, a half!” David carried on fulminating – his face growing redder. Joel went crimson for a different reason and stood rooted to the spot – speechless.
”Leave it out will you?” said Mark.
Duncan sidled off to the bar and came back with Joel’s drink. David had finally regained his composure. His eyes were narrowed and he grew melancholic.
”Thanks for very much Duncan” said Joel. He was grateful for more than the drink. ”I do not know how I would have handled David if you hadn’t…”
”Think nothing of it. Good of you to come out so it was. I know football is not your thing nor drinking. Let’s not talk about that fool.” said Duncan. Joel brightened – seeing Duncan as almost a savior.
”It is going well at the solicitor’s firm. The gaffer says I am a good clerk. Might start articles next year.” said Joel beaming.