By Patrick McCabe

A black comedy set in 70s Dublin: a theatrical agency acts as a front for British counter-terrorism.

But there had been many other nights like that in The Minstrel’s Rest, in the company of famous people who wandered in and out over the years.

But none, I don’t think, to compare with the occasion when Jack Lemmon had happened to drop by, not long after having completed The Out-of-Towners.

Having come over to Killarney to enjoy a spot of golf - something which he did quite regularly, apparently. Usually when he had just finished a project.

He had been drinking and carousing there till well past three in the morning, holding an appreciative - and, it must be admitted, not unsurprisingly inebriate audience rapt with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of ‘Mother Machree’. No - one that night had any intention of forsaking The Minstrel’s Rest.

Until, at least, as Val McBoan had observed, till well past dawn.

It had been, without doubt, a night to remember.  But spectacular though it had been, it would not have been anything like the hoot it was but for the participation of good old Charlie Kerrins, at his best.

And who, along with his partner the one and only Val ‘The Chiseller’ McBoan, took the floor for over half an hour. Holding the visiting American, in turn, rapt - with their delightful performance (or sections thereof) of their already legendary interpretation of Brendan Behan’sConfessions of An Irish Rebel.

With Jack Lemmon doubled up - when, at one point, Charlie Kerrins performed his legendary Chaplin walk all along the length of the counter.

As, twanging his braces and tossing back his fore lock, Val McBoan gave an almost perfect impression of the young Irish felon.

Much to Jack Lemmon’s continued delight.

‘Not that I have any particular affection for the memory of Cromwell, you understand. Who, as is popularly known, would not be one of our national heroes. I didn’t mind him cutting off the king’s noggin, because that just showed that a king’s head can come off like anybody else’s. But his actions at Drogheda were like those of a Heydrich and a Himmler combined. Then in the town of Wexford he massacred 200 women grouped around the Cross of the Redeemer and delighted his soldiers with the slow process of individual murder, stabbing one after another. When his soldiers were running their pikes through little babies, in between psalms, they would shout: ‘Kill the nits and there will be no lice.’

The star of The Out-of-Towners thought this absolutely hilarious.

But not nearly as good as many other of the ‘acting stories’ when they eventually got started - with Maurice and Deirdre ‘Dee’ Norton, both of whom were solid, long-standing pros in the business, came close to upstaging the two ‘Behan boys’, as Lemmon called them.

Especially with their stories of their time in repertory, when they had toured the length and breadth of the country with Anew Mc Master and the ‘fit-ups’, as they were called.

‘We were doing Othello in Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick, Mr. Lemmon’, Dee Norton told the actor, ‘and I, of course, was playing the part of Desdemona. Then what happens, I’m coming out of the tent, in the fair green after the show. And doesn’t this woman take me aside and she says: “I can’t for the life of me, ma’am, understand how you could possibly have anything to do with that fellow!”’

‘There are plenty more where that came from!’, Maurice interjected.

But not before Charlie launched a ski-jump right off the top of the counter - eventually landing squarely the taller man’s shoulders.

‘Irishmen and Irish women!’ he bawled in a perfect rendition of Behan’s raw, working-class accent, ‘in the name of God and the dead generations from which this blessed little country of ours receives her old tradition of nationhood, will someone for the love of Jaysus be a dacent man and get up there and buy poor auld Charlie here a drink. Whoop!’

The night ended with Charlie and Val outdoing themselves with a performance of ‘My Dark Rosaleen’:

Oh! the Erne shall run red,
With redundance of blood,
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,
 And flames wrap hill and wood,

And gun - peal and slogan cry
Wake many a glen serene,
E’er you shall fade, e’er you shall die,  
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!

‘Which, of course, as you probably know Mr. Lemmon, being a man of scholarly bent and a theatrical one to boot, is by James Joyce’s favourite poet, James Clarence Mangan. who died of the cholera fever in the great famine of 1847.’

Before Charlie Kerrins succeeded in elbowing him out of the way and, croaking hoarsely in a great big swirling blue fug of cigarette smoke, declared:

‘And who also wrote this, which I give you for your pleasure, Mr. Lemmon sir: ‘Roll forth my song, like the rushing river…’

Failing, however, to proceed - when someone shouted out from the back: ‘Pull the chain and in a jiffey, your shit is floating down the Liffey!’

It was to pass into folklore as the best night ever.  Or, at the very least, one of them.

Never to be forgotten by Jack Lemmon, Oscar winner and treasured star of the much-loved The Apartment.

With the gloriously gamine Shirley MacLaine, of course.

The only other occasion to rival Mr. Lemmon’s visit was the completely and utterly unexpected evening when Phil Silvers, well - known front man of the popular television series Sgt Bilko had arrived in - already, like Lemmon, a little bit sozzled, sporting the yachting cap he had worn in his film The Boatniks, a section of which had been shot in Dublin.

In the small, picturesque fishing village of Howth, to the north of the city.

What a night that was - with Maurice, lit of course with goodly portions of Jameson whiskey and Dutch courage, pointing out the similarity, physically, between the Yankee comedian and the English poet Philip Larkin.

‘The pair of them’, he declared, holding court up at the bar, ’have heads on them like duck eggs - with goggles on!’

Not that Bilko was about to take any offence - subsequently, like Jack Lemmon, going into sentimental raptures about the ‘strange and mystical literary heart of Dublin, that ancient city of Joyce and Shaw and Swift.’

Which normally would make me laugh and provoke a derisory comment or two - but it was clear to everyone present that there had been really something special about Maurice’s entirely unanticipated recitation of Larkin’s poem ‘Dublinesque’.

‘Like the end of something and the beginning of something’, I remember someone saying - I think, in fact, it was Val McBoan - ‘occurring at the same time, without anyone realising.’

‘Down stucco side streets’, I heard someone whisper behind his hand, the light of history falling on a Georgian Square.

As Maurice Norton took a bow to a round of appreciative applause - while The Bowsy McAuley stumbled on his way to the lavatory, swatting away some imaginary impediment and grunting impatiently: ’Just who the frig is Philip

 Larkin when he’s at home? Because if you ask me, why he’s more the spit of Eric Morecambe!’

 Which, when you think about it, is absolutely true as well.

‘Bring me sunshine!’ chanted The Bowsy, stumbling awkwardly onwards before crashing slap-bang into a wall.

As, hopelessly inebriated, I permitted myself to produce my Selmer saxophone - yes, I do play, however sporadically - segueing enthusiastically, if not quite precisely, from ‘Stranger on the Shore’ to ‘Yaketty Sax’.

With the latter, perhaps predictably, bringing the house down.

I think we eventually vacated the premises at dawn - sitting, if I recall, on a wooden bench along the banks of the Grand Canal, consuming the remains of soggy chips from a bag.

By now, Phil Silvers had long since returned, extremely contented, to his appointed hotel.

As we sat there, Maurice and I, in the tremulous silence of the gradually breaking dawn, a chugging barge under a plume of smoke making its way steadily and evenly towards us. Leaving us there as it proceeded onwards towards the west - just as the slightest little drizzle began to fall, and it definitely did seem in that instant that whatever sensations Sgt Bilko had been feeling throughout the performance of Larkin’s verse - there could be no gainsaying their veracity and authenticity.

                                                    Having been induced by what one could only describe as the noble, unassailable grandeur of that place which had once been described, without even the slightest hint of irony, as the greatest, most beautiful ‘second city of the Empire.’

And as we both sat there, with the raindrops splintering noiselessly on our cheeks, there can be no doubt about it - but that I felt myself really quite overcome with regret.

For ever having denigrated, or even for a second having doubted its uniqueness - provincial city - town the colour of claret with red-brick Georgian mansions boasting fine doors and those little wrought-iron balconies standing back from the road in well-bred reticence.


Town of alleys filled with suppressed, conspiratorial whispers certainly - but also with bars of the most beautiful barley sugar wavering upon brown water at evening.

And where the Liffey, of which its greatest artificer of all had remarked, just flowed Anna Livia on and on.

Larkin had written of a smalltown city which was already in the process of giving way to the modern world with its out-of-town shopping centres, ring roads and American ways. But in many respects, the drizzly grey town written of by Joyce was still very much discernible and present, in spite of the growth in population and ongoing construction of the modern housing estates of Howth, Clontarf, Rathfarnham and many others.

Which had stealthily succeeded in eroding the open commons and small green fields.

Yet somehow - you could feel it - the ghostly echoes of his time and that of the Act of Union, mysteriously they still remained. With their ethereal representatives never seeming so far away, their crinolined half-forms to be apprehended at the head of the stairs in a gone-to-seed Georgian house, or disporting themselves on swings between neo-classical pillars, beneath richly stuccoed ceilings and Angelica Kaufmann medallions.

In the distance you could see the Dublin mountains rising from the water, with that beautiful false innocence in their violets, greens and golden rust of bracken.

As the two of us, for all the world like children, fell asleep together without so much as another word, beneath those wide pleasant eighteenth-century buildings gleaming like glass in the drizzle.

Before waking up to the sound of Brendan Behan’s beloved ever-resonant Christchurch bells.

‘How are you doing now, Em-Oi-Foive?’, I remember Maurice laughing as he rubbed his throbbing forehead.

'Oh, not so bad’, I replied with a mischievous little tinkle of a laugh, ‘not so bad at all, thanks for asking.’

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