Monday, 25 May 2020

The Man in the Wardrobe

My Uncle Paddy was a strange bird, even in the town of Wexford where there were many such characters.

I grew up with him in a big draughty barracks of a house within shouting distance of Selskar Abbey where King Henry II did penance for the murder of St. Thomas Beckett.

Perhaps the bitter ghost of auld Beckett affected us for Paddy and I were in constant warfare.

My grandfather, Thomas Hughes, ruled supreme in our household, likewise in the yard where he and Paddy made headstones. 

Miss Codd, a spinster, was our housekeeper; for most of her life she had performed the same duties for a saintly parish priest and was keenly aware of her precipitous drop in social status.

It was an uneasy household to say the least. My grandfather and Paddy didn’t speak because of some longstanding grievance. 

Add to that the many times Miss Codd wasn’t on speaking terms with any of us either. 

I was my grandfather’s confidant and his go-between to Paddy which gave me a certain amount of power, if not gravitas.

Paddy was a creature of habit and in his leisure time a sharp dresser. He left the house on the stroke of 9 every night for Joe Hearn’s pub where he drank four large bottles of Guinness; most nights he arrived home moments before midnight.

He wore his oldest suit to the yard, sometimes with loose patches on the seat of his pants. This bothered me greatly for as he lolled in front of the fire after work I often bore witness to the flesh of his rump.

One night, wholly as an experiment, I barely touched this unexposed flesh with the tip of the red-hot poker.

Paddy arose from his armchair in the manner of a Disney cartoon character. He turned in mid-air and sought to strangle me but I held him off with the poker – the smell of singed flesh wafting between us.

This, as you might imagine, did little for our relationship. But my story has more to do with Paddy’s momentous brush with the local constabulary over a licensing infringement in Joe Hearn’s.

Joe was a decent man who ran a good house. He was abstemious during regular hours but occasionally invited favored customers to “stay behind” while he locked up.

However, he lost the run of himself and began to hold these soirees more frequently, even worse he boasted about it and word got back to both the guards and the clergy that women too were known to “stay behind.”

It all came to a boil one Easter Sunday morning. The guards raided at the ungodly hour of 2am. Joe being three sheets to the wind refused them entry.

The guards waited patiently and Joe surrendered at 6:32am.

The People newspaper gave a detailed account of the court proceedings. Two of the women represented by legal counsel were “married,” Miss Codd noted, scandalized by such carryon in Catholic Wexford. 

Paddy too had his fifteen minutes of fame. As the revelers streamed out into the street roughly around the same time on Easter Sunday morning that Jesus had arisen from the dead, my uncle crept upstairs to Joe’s living quarters and hid in a wardrobe where he was eventually apprehended large bottle in hand.

The judge at the end of his tirade against the offenders demanded, “what about this man in the wardrobe?”

Paddy declared a truce with me over the poker incident and I was enlisted to apprehend the edition of the People that carried the court proceedings for fear my grandfather would disinherit him.

But Wexford was a small gossipy town and some weeks later my grandfather accosted Paddy behind closed doors; Miss Codd and I overheard bitter roars concerning “married women, “the priests AND the guards,” and “change your ways or take the emigrant boat to London!”

Paddy brooded by the fire for weeks for weeks after but he did change – at least his pub, from Joe Hearn’s to the more up-market lounge of the County Hotel where he continued to down his four large bottles nightly.

He did gain a certain notoriety in our town without pity, for I often heard people remark as he strode along the narrow streets, “There goes The Man in the Wardrobe.”

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