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Sun 31-Aug-2003 14:18
More from this writer..
The Squinting Eye
His Team Won ... But The Headgear Was Lost
Even shoes have been casualties of match-going.
That marvellous chronicler of the warmly human eccentricities of Irish sporting life, Con Houlihan, once described a dishevelled man returning home to Kerry on the Monday after the All Ireland football final. His wife, with resigned good humour, tells a neighbour of the bloodshot eyes and shaky state of her husband.
“And he lost his cap as well,”
she says, as if this fact was of some significance.
Losing a cap was regarded as a sure indication that the man had celebrated Kerry’s victory with too much abandon. There was also a certain measure of indignity about arriving home capless. And cost was involved too. In those days money was scarce and a cap not easily replaced.
There was once a faithful Tipperary hurling follower from near Thurles who earned the name the nickname Michael ‘Lost Cap’ Ryan. He had an extraordinary ability to lose caps going to matches. A small, dark faced man, he always went by train to games. He spent most of his working days in the open air working on a farm and he felt uncomfortable sitting within the confines of carriages. As a result he always preferred to actually stand at the end of the carriage where he could pull down the door window and breath in the fresh air as well as drinking bottles of stout by the neck.
He always wore a cap clamped on his head, as he was a bit self-conscious about his bald skull, with wisps of black hair pasted across it. His problem was that he was frequently overcome by a sudden and powerful impulse to put his head out the window, especially after a few bottles. As sure as he did so his cap was pulled off by the bellowing slipstream of the train bowling along through the countryside.
“Jaysus, the same thing happened the last time,”
he would say with downcast annoyance as he pulled in his head, with the strands of hair blown up like a lapwing’s crest.
However, his regular misfortunes resulted in some local fame. And, when a new menswear shop opened in the town of Thurles, the owner, who had a flair for publicity, offered to replace his missing caps. There was a photograph on the front page of
The Tipperary Star
of the two of them, each wearing a cap and holding a cap in either hand. The heading read ‘If the cap fits, wear it. If you lose it, get another.’ And indeed the shop-owner made good his promise on several occasions.
It all added to Lost Cap’s renown and some time later he was actually bequeathed two caps in the will of a good neighbour who had also been a regular match-goer.
Other parts of the country can boast of similar legendary cases. One of the best known instances concerns a man who lives in Enniscorthy. Some years ago he arrived back home on the Sunday evening of a Leinster hurling final evening minus his shoes!
He had lifted himself wearily onto the special train at Connolly station in Dublin after the match. Worn out from shouting in vain for Wexford, he plopped into a seat. It had been a hot day. He had brand new shoes but he had not worn them in and they were a bit tight. It was a hot day and they were like furnaces on his weary feet. He slipped them off, unnoticed by anyone and then fell into a deep sleep of forgetfulness.
Suddenly he was woken up. The train was stopped at Enniscorthy station and most people alighting there had actually got off. He jumped up, grabbed his jacket and leapt out of the carriage just before the train took off. Only when the train had disappeared from view did he sense that something was missing. He felt for his wallet in his back pocket. It was there. Then a friend said you him with a laugh.
“I’ve heard of people losing their shirts on Wexford but never losing their shoes.”
It was then that he looked down and saw on his feet a pair of multicoloured socks that had been a somewhat unwelcome Christmas present from the mother-in-law. The man was in something of a dilemma.
Siopa na mBróg
and the other shoe shops in the town were closed and he could think of nobody from whom he could borrow a pair to find his way to his home near Belfield.
Strange as it may seem, bad citizenship was the source of his salvation. After he crossed the bridge over the Slaney he found himself on that little pedestrian island with its luxurious array of flowers spilling over the edges of their wide bowls, of which the citizens of Enniscorthy are so proud. Believe it or not, among the bright red nasturtiums and the lovely yellow and orange French marigolds a pair of old sandals had been wantonly discarded, despite a capacious waste bin nearby.
Our man seized them quickly and put them on. It became clear, of course, that they had been thrown away because the ankle strap of one was broken and the sole of the other had come loose. But they were better than going about in his garish socks. He came flapping into his house like a flat-footed goose..
His wife was astounded.
“What in God’s name happened to your fine pair of new shoes?”
“I gave them away to a deserving person,”
he said with an assumed flippancy.
“An act of Christian charity.”
“You look like someone in need of charity with those old yokes on your feet”
Actually, next day he telephoned the railway stations in both Wexford and Rosslare to enquire if his shoes might have been found and handed up. They had not. However, the station master in Wexford assured him that they now were most likely being put to good use - on the feet of some worthy strutting round the town or leaving their prints on Rosslare strand as their new owner enjoyed a stroll by the waves.
‘We talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs…’.
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