By Sean Kerwick
It’s probably true to say that in my youth, every village, town and city of Ireland had its share of what were loosely described as “colourful characters”. Kilkenny, although the smallest city in Ireland, had more than its fair share of these so-called characters.
Stories relating to these fellows have been told at firesides, street corners, pubs, etc., down through the years. Doubtless some of these tales were grossly exaggerated and the storytellers relating the humorous tales were often economic with the truth. But as an octogenarian myself, I can personally recall meeting some of these colourful characters of times past and feel it would be a pity if their exploits were lost to posterity.
One such loveable character was known as Pakie, and his fondness for a pint or two was well known around his beloved Marble City. They said Pakie got by in life without bothering to work very much and enjoyed a stress free life. On one occasion, the rent collector for Kilkenny Corporation was told by his superior to make sure to get Pakie’s rent, as it was well in arrears.
The rent collector arrived at Pakie’s tiny house on the edge of a council estate and persisted in knocking on the doors and windows until Pakie emerged and, peering around the half opened front door, asked the rent collector, “What are you looking for?”
The rent man replied, “I’m looking for the rent.” Pakie thought for a minute and, opening the door fully, said, “Come in boy and we’ll look for it together.”
Another story relating to the said Pakie was at the time when pubs were officially closed on Sundays. As Pakie walked along one of the main streets of the city, a farmer inquired of him, “I’d say you’d be the fellow who might know where a man could get a drink. I was at a wedding yesterday and I badly need a cure.”
Pakie responded immediately and said, “No problem, Sir. Come with me.”
Taking the thirsty farmer to a pub that was situated on a side street of the city, Pakie gave the customary ‘knock, knock’ on the window, and the owner, whose name was Kieran, opened the door and ushered in the farmer, but stood in Pakie’s path and said, “You’re not coming in boy; you’re a nuisance to my customers.” Locked outside, Pakie knelt down and shouted in the letterbox, “Kieran, if you’re not going to let me in, will you give me back me farmer and I’ll take him somewhere else?” It’s safe to say that his request fell on deaf ears!
Another well-known character in the Kilkenny of yesteryear was known by the nickname of ‘Snowball’. He was a gentle, easy going fellow, not fond of work, but equally had a profound fondness for the demon drink.
Snowball was nursing the remaining mouthful of Guinness in his glass as he sat at the pub counter one evening, when a farmer sitting close to him, observing his predicament, offered to buy him a pint. “God bless you, Sir,” said Snowball, immediately accepting the kind offer. In an effort to save face, he told the benevolent farmer, “I’d buy you one back, Sir, but I’m not working and there’s nobody hiring at the moment.” The farmer, being a rather decent sort of fellow, replied, “No problem at all, but if I hear of anyone looking for a fellow to work, I’ll let you know.”
A few days afterwards, Snowball was awoken by loud knocking on his bedroom window, which looked out onto the street. He pulled back the curtains and here was the generous farmer outside. “Come on, Snowball,” said the farmer, “I have a day’s work for you. We’re picking spuds today and need an extra pair of hands.”
Poor Snowball looked up at the leaden sky, with a cold November mist falling, and shrugging his shoulders, said to the farmer, “Could you bring in the potatoes and I’ll pick ‘em here for you?”
Another great Kilkenny city character now gone to his eternal reward, as indeed are both Pakie and Snowball, was Davy. Like most characters at the time, Davy had a nickname, Ganey, but unlike other characters in the city at the time, he worked (or to be more accurate, was employed) most of the time. But he did share their love of the ‘ould drop’.
Ganey was small in stature, about 5 feet high, and lived alone, as did the aforementioned Pakie and Snowball. Every evening, as Ganey left his home, a small stool was retrieved from underneath the hedge beside the front door, and standing on the stool, the front door was locked with a key.
A group of locals were aware of the said stool, and when Ganey had left home for his daily beverage, they sought out the stool and cut about two inches off the legs. Hiding in the shadows around midnight, the pranksters awaited Ganey’s return. Arriving home “fairly full”, Ganey took out the stool and found he could not reach the lock. He tried and tried again while muttering to himself, “Good God, I must be getting feckin’ smaller.”
Bobby, aka ‘The Ould Hand’ as he was often referred to, was a painter/decorator by trade, but only worked at his profession when it was absolutely necessary. A local motor garage owner offered The Ould Hand the option of several weeks work painting the garage, but on one condition – no alcoholic drink during the day or the deal was off.
Knowing Bobby’s fondness for the drink, the proprietor of the garage warned the receptionist in the garage, “If Bobby leaves the premises and is gone for over ten minutes, let me know immediately.”
Everything went well for a few days and the garage owner just happened to inquire from the receptionist, “Did Bobby leave the premises during the day for any length of time?” The receptionist replied, “Yes, Sir, he slips out every day several times but returns in a few minutes – with a pint of milk.”
This was a time when milk came in glass bottles. Bobby had cleverly painted the outside of the glass bottle with white paint, and had it filled with porter in a nearby pub a few times every day.