Boyhood in 1940/50s Ballinasloe
Chapter 7 – Nicknames
by Declan "Snake" Burke
Growing up in the town, one of the most insulting epithets one could hurl at another boy was to call him a "bogman".
It was the start of many a fist-fight and the occasional black-eye.
Yet, we were not all that belligerent as the administration of "3 Nellies" identified the winner of the bout. The "3 Nellies" consisted of thee gentle taps on the arm of one's opponent that were not opposed. If they were, the fight was on again.
But the well-nigh mortal insult of the dreaded "B" word would inflame passions all over.
It is amusing now to reflect on all those "fighting-cock" emotions because we were really all bogmen and being sensitive about it achieved nothing at all.
Nowadays I think of myself as a true bogman. I grew up beside the bog; we got our heat and some hunting from it. I relished the wet stuff squeezing between my toes and loved the smell of its wildflowers and its fresh air. No pollutants there.
Water gotten from springs in the bog was as pure as can be and made wonderful tea.
No, it is an honor to be called a "bogman" same as it is with "mountain man". It bespeaks an outdoor life, close to nature and far from the fetid inner cities of the 'sophisticates' who choose to look down their noses at their country cousins. They might be closer to "Cockroach Man" if truth be told.
Another 'fighting' name is attached to our friends outside the town namely the "Taughmaconnell Sheepstealers", although I never saw any of the lads from "T" get too upset by it. By the same token, I never saw anyone use it to their faces either.
The few I met in the FCA were extremely good shots, so maybe they felt they could tolerate any insult secure in the knowledge if it got too personal they could take care of it.
I have obviously changed over the years. Partly that change was brought about by seeing teams here around me in the States avidly adopt what would appear to be insulting names. Names like "Devils" and "Rebels" and "Raiders" are 'dime a dozen'. The
students of the prestigious University of Virginia luxuriate in the appellation of "Yahoos". Down the road in the Carolinas they revere the nickname "Tarheels".
I think "Taughmaconnell Sheepstealers" would be highly prized as a nickname by sports organizations here on this (far) side of the Atlantic.
Think about how much more satisfactory it would be for the "Ballinasloe Bogmen" to trounce the "Athlone Nice Chaps" or the "Loughrea Lakers".
To roar from the sidelines: "Come on, Bogmen!" would drown out any feeble screams of encouragement the other side might have.
Victory would be all the sweeter and if perchance defeat came calling, then you could blame your unfortunate team name. There is nothing like having a built-in excuse.
I believe the Irish predilection for apt nicknames is unsurpassed.
There was "The Bugger M******" from my father's side of the country and that name stuck even to having his offspring referred to as "The Buggers Kids".
One of the Garda Sergeant's sons once mispronounced "Photo" and was ever after known as "Poto", and it seemed to fit him like a glove.
I think the best nickname I ever came across was the one applied to a certain Mr. Daly who was known to feel the need for intimate release frequently (he felt the need for sexual relief a lot) and was dubbed the with euphonious "ClimaxDaly" nickname, one I think the town should immortalize like Loughrea did for Stoney Brennan and have a ClimaxDaly Festival.
I bet that would bring the tourists flocking (for want of a better word).
Another nickname that has resonance was that given to John McNamara who lived near Shannon Airport. Now John McNamara is a perfectly regular name and the only problem with it was the several John McNamaras in the area.
So he was called "Jack-Mack-in-the-Grove" and everybody was happy.
"Giggler" Smith illustrates without explanation as does "Dublin Jackeen" and "Kilkenny Wildcat".
"Bunty" Flanagan, "Tough" Keys, "Bonny" Page, "Bulldog" Carney, "Duck" Beegan, "Darcy" Higgins, "TomBall" Rankin, "Eggbert" Kennedy, "Dalteen" Donohue, "Pucky" Ryle, "Fireworks" Flynn, "Pancake" Ward, and "Pie" Connor.
The point I want to emphasize about that litany of names is that I can clearly see the faces of those individuals in my mind, clear as if I spoke to them yesterday, most of whom I did not lay eyes on for at least 50 years. It must be something to do with the nickname.
Everybody knows that all Murphys will respond to "Spud". It's in their genes. Sure it is. Try it.
The tendency even has an international aspect. When American Express donated a heroic size bronze statue of Molly Malone …
("She wheeled her wheel-barrow
thro' streets broad and narrow")
… it was placed in a prominent place at the bottom of Grafton Street, Dublin. They expected an awed flock of Dubliners to be respectful in their homage to the City's 'Lady'. They had not spent a pot full of money for nothing, you understand.
The statue of itself was unveiled with appropriate ceremony and there she stood with her hand-cart and her cleavage. A distinctly Dublin voice spoke sotto vocce, "Jaysus, it's The 'Tart with the Cart'".
This was just awful. Disrespectful, to say the least.
While I am in Dublin, let me go on to another couple of outstanding nicknames.
The City Council commissioned a sculpture to commemorate Anna Liffey, Anna being the Gaelic for 'River'. There is nothing wrong with feminizing that muddy stream and they were free to spend their money as they saw fit.
The end product was a stainless steel reproduction of a very voluptuous lady with water gushing from orifices all round her.
Her official name was "Anna Liffey" and her unofficial one was "The Floozie in the Jacuuzi".
How could they? No respect at all, as Rodney Dangerfield might say.
And one more.
When Guinness found they could turn the tall chimney in their plant in Dublin into a tourist attraction, they jumped at the chance to install an elevator for sightseeing purposes.
Was it public spirit or economics?
Who knows? (Guinness knows).
This is tagged with by some official name but to all and sundry, it is "The Flue with the View".
Me? Well of course I never actually had a nickname that stuck, but for a while some urchins tagged me with "Snake".
Like I said, no respect at all.
Declan Burke is now a medical doctor and lives in Culpepper, Virginia, USA.