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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- NICKNAMES



By Mattie Lennon.


“A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man.”   

   That is the only William Hazlitt quote that I have difficulty agreeing with. Who could argue with his, “Of all eloquence a nickname is most concise; of all arguments the most unanswerable”?

“My own nickname was, and still is, Sykie.   There is no point in asking the derivation of it because I haven’t a clue. All I know that I’ve worn it for more than half a century. And in the same period I have come across many another’s nickname, some of them very clever.

   Shan Mohangi , a black South African, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 1963. There was an old woman contiguous who believed in God but not in soap and water. (And this was before any water-charges.) She was promptly named “Mohangi’s mother.”

    Thomas Paine claimed that titles are but nicknames and every nickname is a title.  Families whose nicknames , such as “Informer” or “Souper”  have travelled down the generations  are not proud of their “title.” And I’m sure the “alternatively motivated”  family who were known as the “stand-idles” weren’t all that impressed. Of course some people were pleased with their handle.  There was a man of my acquaintance , who was in a supervisory position and was known as The Rat. No need to describe him; suffice to say he was very proud of his moniker.    I once knew a man who, because of an elaborate posterior, was known as,  “Big Bum.”  The initial of his surname was “C”,  so the sobriquet progressed to  “BBC. “   When his son  joined  the same company there was BBC 1 and BBC 2. A man in the same employment was always on the touch and he was called Red October  (because he was always looking for a sub; it had to be explained to me too.)

I can’t be credited with coming up with many nicknames myself but I did make a few feeble attempts. One of my supervisors once reported me to the Divisional Manager because I was missing from my post for three minutes.  It didn’t take me long to come up with The Egg-timer.

Tom Murray, a Dublin bus-driver was known as “The Jet.”  Why?  In the early days of Telefis Eireann, when the man in Marino had left his T.V aerial down on the road while he tried to establish where Kippure was. Pressure from the wheels of a No. 24 bus driven, by Tom , ensured that there would be no Tolka Row in that house for a while. The less than pleased the  DIY man pursued Tom to the terminus and informed him; “You are after breaking my television aerial”. Tom’s truism; “*7^£%! buses don’t fly” earned him the immortal nickname “The Jet” Murray.

And there was an ultra- conscientious Bus Inspector who had a penchant for hiding in doorways. And sure he had to be re-named   “Milk Bottle.”

   I knew an Operational Support Manager who was known as,  Jock Strap and a woman who was called “Doorbell” for reasons that I won’t go into.

 Then, there was the fellow who must have been a barber’s  nightmare because of the high and unique neck-shave that he always insisted on. He did, of course, become known as  “ Saint Anthony.”

    I once worked on a building-site where one particular travelling-foreman would appear out of nowhere and it didn’t take much imagination to name him The Ghost and another who was continually forecasting doom and gloom;  he was known as “Dark Cloud.”

   The coining of a nickname would, at times, be a “family affair”; a neighbour of mine had sixteen children. He gave each one  a nickname, not all of them complimentary .

  Then there was the man who died at a very advanced age and brought the name Cold Poker  to the grave with him.  The name had survived eighty years. As a young fellow he got a job in the local quarry as a “nipper.”  It was customary for pipe-smoking stonecutters to send the nipper to the forge to redden the poker in the fire and bring it to them to light their pipe.  Of course when the new nipper was asked to “bring me the poker”, not knowing the drill,  he grabbed a cold poker and brought it to the pipe-smoker. And the rest, as they say . . .

Another stonecutter had a lumber peculiarity, the clinical term for which is, Lordosis. He was known to all and sundry as “The Hollow-Backed-Lad.” 

   Do you know how the famous “Pecker” (Patrick)  Dunne got his nickname?   He used to ride horses for Major Packard  and his younger sister couldn’t pronounce ‘Packard’ and would say Pecker. The name  stuck and became known from Newcastle West to Nashville.

   A man of rural Irish background (a Rus-in-urbe) who worked in Dublin was called “Knorr” ,  a  cryptic term if you weren’t familiar with the advertising slogan, “Thick country vegetable.”

   Nowadays you hear the term “cool  nickname.” Now, I know nothing about the temperature of nicknames. And I know even less about the advice to “adopt a nickname.” If I (or you) decided to come up with our own a nickname do you think it would catch on?  I don’t think so.

Mattie Lennon   mattielennon@gmail.com


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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS


by Mattie Lennon

“Les bons pauvres ne savent pas que leur office est d’exercer Notre gererosite.” (The poor don’t know that their function in life is to Exercise our generosity.) Jean-Paul Sarte.

I was delighted when that the stupid law (The Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847) had been found to be unconstitutional.

It reminds me of the first time I met the late John B.Keane in Grafton Street, in Dublin. He was being ushered Brown-Thomas-ward by his spouse. And cooperating fully: unusual for a husband. I accosted him to say thanks for his prompt reply when I had written to him shortly before requesting information for an article I was writing.

We were about thirty seconds into the conversation when an adult male with a lacerated face and looking very much the worse for wear approached me. The polystyrene cup in his outstretched hand proclaimed that he would not be offended by a donation.

I contributed 20p (I think). Ireland’s best-known playwright turned his back, (I’m sure he picked up the gesture in the Stacks Mountains as a young fellow) extracted a substantial amount and gave to the needy. I then thought that a man who had written about everything from cornerboys to the aphrodisiac properties of goat’s milk could enlighten me on an enigma, which I had been pondering for decades.

You see, dear reader, if I were talking to you on a public thoroughfare anywhere in the world and a beggar was in the vicinity he would ignore you as if he was a politician and you were a voter after an election. But he would home in on me. I don’t know why. Maybe, contrary to popular opinion, I have a kind face. Come to think of it that’s not the reason. Because I have, on many occasions, been approached from the rear. Many a time in a foreign city my wife thought I was being mugged. When in fact it was just a local with broken, or no English who had decided to ask Mattie Lennon for a small amount of whatever the prevailing currency was. Maybe those people have knowledge of Phrenology and the shape of my weather-beaten head, even when viewed from behind, reveals the fact that I am a soft touch.

However, a foreman gave a more practical explanation to the boss, on a building site where I was employed many years ago. The site was contagious to a leafy street in what is now fashionable Dublin 4 and those from the less affluent section of society used to ferret me out there. Pointing a toil-worn, knarled, forefinger at me the straight-talking foreman, Matt Fagen, explained the situation to the builder, Peter Ewing, a mild mannered, pipe-smoking, kindly Scot. “Every tinker an’ tramp in Dublin is coming to this house, an’ all because o’ dat hoor……because dat hoor is here…an’ they know he’s one o’ themselves.”

I was relating this to John B. adding, ” I seem to attract them.” o which he promptly replied;” (calling on the founder of his religion). You do.”

The reason for his rapid expression of agreement was standing at my elbow in the person of yet another of our marginalized brethren with outstretched hand.

So the best-known Kerryman since Kitchener left me none the wiser as to why complete strangers mistake me for Saint Francis of Assisi.

And salutations such as “hello” or “Good morning” are replaced by “How are ye fixed?”, “Are you carrying” and, in the old days, “Have you a pound you wouldn’t be usin’ “?

I do not begrudge the odd contribution to the less well off and I am not complaining that I am often singled out as if I was the only alms-giver. Come to think of it, it is, I suppose, a kind of a compliment.

Sometimes I say ; “I was just going to ask you”, but I always give something and I don’t agree with Jack Nicholson who says; ” The only way to avoid people who come up to you wanting stuff all the time is to ask first. It freaks them out.” Those unfortunate people are bad enough without freaking them out. Of course there are times when it is permissible not to meet each request with a contribution. I recall an occasion in the distant, pre-decimal days when a man who believed that, at all times, even the most meager of funds should be shared, approached my late father for five pounds. When asked ; ” Would fifty shillings be any use to you?” he conceded that yes, half a loaf would be better than no bread. Lennon Senior replied; “Right. The next fiver I find I’ll give you half of it.”

Of course none of us know the day or the hour we’ll be reduced to begging. In the meantime I often thought of begging as an experiment. But I wouldn’t have what it takes. Not even the most high powered advertising by Building Societies and other financial establishments can restore my confidence, to ask for money in any shape or form, which was irreparably damaged when I asked a Blessington shopkeeper for a loan of a pound nearly fifty years ago. He said; I’d give you anything, son….but it’s agin the rule o’ the house.”

I wonder was he a pessimist. It has been said that you should always borrow from a pessimist; he doesn’t expect it back. Well recently I was in a restaurant when a work colleague texted me asking to borrow a small amount of money……he was seated two tables away.

As JFK said in his inaugural speech: ” If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

I don’t know about the rich but I have learned one thing about the poor; BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS.

Contact Mattie Lennon at info@mattielennon.com


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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- AM THE ART OF SLAGGING


by Mattie Lennon

I’m getting a bit of a slagging lately I won’t go into details but it’s great fun. I’m not talking about offensive remarks or insults. I’m referring to good substantial, wholesome, slagging.

SLAGGING is the delicate art of teasing someone in such a fashion that they look forward to it.

It is practiced widely throughout Ireland by all manner of people. Well not all manner; there are those, a small minority, who, through, I presume, cannot take a slagging. And they have a right to live too despite the fact that they could truthfully echo the words of the character in God of Carnage who said “I don’t have a sense of humour and I have no intention of acquiring one.”

There are people who are offended by the suggestion that they shouldn’t be offended. I once lived in a Dublin suberb where it was said that “you would need to wash your words.”

When you slag someone you are giving them an opportunity to laugh at themselves. And Samual Lover said that if a man has a sense of humour keen enough to show up his own absurdities it will prevent him from committing all sins except those worth committing. He didn’t specify what transgressions are worth committing but I suppose he didn’t have to. Will the humourless, however, admit to their condition? Frank Moore Colby said, “Men will confess to treason, murder, arson, false teeth or a wig. How many of them will own up to a lack of humour.”? Why can some people not take a slagging? Freud in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious points out that when we were children we had no need for jokes because all our fantasies were so immediate. “ we were ignorant of the comic, we were incapable of jokes and we had no need of humour to make us feel happy in our life.”

Is the anti-slagging brigade made up of those who haven’t left their childhood? And who, subconsciously or otherwise are without the need for a bit of craic? Or are they victims of their upbringing or education? One writer, with reference to French finishing schools says, “In a world where structure, order and logic are the master nouns, the room for nonsense and absurdity is limited.”

We can’t slag everybody. But who do we slag and how should we do it? I apply the Golden rule “Don’t do unto others etc. “ Some erudite people remind me that that is the negative version of the rule. But, as every electrician knows, a negative is just as important as a positive.

I think that we should be proud of the fact that we are unique in Ireland in how we pay a compliment to each other. We do it in a way that other races would see as an insult. Irish friendships can often be measured by how robustly friends “insult” each other. If you’re short, tall, fat, a lothario OR useless with the opposite sex you’ll get a ribbing. If you’re bald, have long hair, rotten teeth or a broken nose you’ll be slagged. But in such a way as to strengthen the bonds of mutual affection. So, we have our own way of dispensing what Americans call “positive reinforcement.” But there are people in these islands who have convinced juries that a graceful taunt was an insult. And they are living comfortably on the proceeds.

In 1994 Jacob Hangaard, a Dutchman, stood for election as a joke. AND he was elected. His manifesto included “the reclassification of people without a sense of humour as disabled.” Would that be taking things a bit too far? I don’t know. “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves for we shall never cease to be amused.” But should we change a culture to appease a small minority who are allergic to life? How do we deal with people who can’t distinguish between affection and rejection? I don’t have an answer to that either. How about a compromise? What if those who suffer from self-victimisation or hypersensitivity were obliged to wear some form of badge proclaiming, “I can’t take a slagging.”

Mattie Lennon info@mattielennon.com


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Anne Enright Author- THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ


by Anne Enright

Wednesday October 5th, 2011
Anne Enright reads from THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ

7:30 PM

Anne Enright, mesmerizing author of the Booker Award-winning novel THE GATHERING, discusses her new book, THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ, a haunting, passionate tale of a love affair in a suburb of Dublin. Part of the Symphony Space’s Thalia Book Club.

ireland.house@nyu.edu Glucksman Ireland House NYU Irish Studies Program

Organizer(s): Glucksman Ireland House NYU

Venue: Symphony Space

Taken from the Irish Emigrant

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Randy-a writer has an epiphany

      I followed Matt Freese’s suggestion and bought a copy of Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO.   I have not attempted to read it yet because I am in the middle James Joyce’s A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, something I first read as a young man.   In past blogs (partly because I was reading about Joyce) I have written about how big of an influence “the Irish genius” has had on me.   His many styles…apart from the difficulties associated with the language of FINNEGANS WAKE…are important to me.   The lyric nature and rhythm of it all is very satisfying; a good place to start is with PORTRAIT.   However this discussion interestingly leads me back to Anderson and Malcolm Cowley’s introduction to the edition I bought of WINESBURG, OHIO (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics 1992).   In his commentary on one of the stories “The Untold Lie” (“the best of the moments” in the book), Cowley wrote “that single moment of aliveness (in the story)…that epiphany, as Joyce would have called it, that sudden reaching out of two characters through walls of inarticulateness and misunderstanding.”

      This reference to Joyce and his use of epiphany was an epiphany for me.   I admire how Joyce ended each of the stories in the DUBLINERS; and I knew from reading a biography of Joyce that he had written a series of short epiphanies.   Yet I had not connected the term with the endings of the DEBLINERS stories.   Now it makes sense.   I now think each ending was an epiphany for Joyce.   How else did he get them so right?   Each is different.   If I had written them, I wouldn’t have known where to stop and would’ve come up with something less brilliant, unless I too had an epiphany.

      Randy Ford

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