John B Keane: Wily Banana looks out for his fellows

“What dogs?” asked an angry Listowel resident after he had read last week’s Limerick Leader. “I see no dogs. Go on,” he fumed on, “look around you and tell me if you see dogs.”

“What dogs?” asked an angry Listowel resident after he had read last week’s Limerick Leader. “I see no dogs. Go on,” he fumed on, “look around you and tell me if you see dogs.”

I looked around me and sure enough there were no dogs. The time was 11:15 on Friday, the third of September.

“You wrote,” said the angry resident, “that the town was besieged by dogs. I am at this moment prepared to pay you a five pound note for every stray dog you show me in this town.” I looked around and still could not see no dog. I walked the streets and back-alleys of the town and not a dog could I see.

Yet only a week ago the town was alive with barking mongrels and slinking curs. I stopped friends and asked them if they had seen any dogs and they assured me that they had not. I was about to give up when I met a local Civic Guard.

I asked him if he had seen any dogs and he said he had.

“I saw Canavan’s dog,” said he, “about half an hour ago on his way towards the Baby’s Wood and he was followed by several others.”

The Baby’s Wood, by the way, is situated at the bottom of Gurtenard and is so called because it was once fashionable to wheel baby-filled perambulators to this lovely spot.

I might have known Canavan’s dog, the famous Banana the Fifth, had something to do with the disappearance of the town’s dogs.

A cute mover is Banana the Fifth.

Not a dog was seen all day Friday. The reason, of course, has to be that Banana wanted all the dogs out of the way until indignation after reading the Leader had died away.

While Banana the Fifth may have given up talking there is no doubt that he continues to be an avid reader of newspapers.

Having read the Leader he conveyed the report about cross dogs to his colleagues with the suggestion that they all leave town for a while.

I was proved correct for on Saturday morning, Saturday night and all day Sunday the dogs were back again making a nuisance of themselves.

A Square resident told me that one of these days he is going to purchase a gun and blow every dog in the Square to Kingdom Come. The dogs, therefore, had better conduct themselves.

Bill the Baboon

More about animals. Some weeks ago I wrote about a baboon who used to be part of the scene in Church Street, Listowel, at the turn of the century.

A photograph of the monkey at the bottom of Church Street in the year 1906 may be inspected at John O’Shaughnessy’s public house in the charming town of Glin.

This very fine blow-up of an old photograph from the famous Lawrence Collection was one of many exhibited during Listowel Writers’ Week by the Caherciveen artist, Sean O’Shea.

Sean, who was Brendan Behan’s best friend, insists that Behan would never pass Joy’s pub in Abbeyfeale when on his way to south Kerry.

To get back, however, to Bill the Baboon, it must be said that my first report on the creature was greeted by a mixture of scepticism and scorn.

People would just not believe he existed. Bill, as I pointed out earlier, was abandoned by a bankrupt circus called Hanratty’s.

I saw in last week’s Leader a letter from Baroness Vera Von Zitzewitz, who is the boss of Kerryhead Ltd., Cottage Industries, Ballyheigue and Glin.

The Baroness, in the course of her letter, states regarding Bill the Baboon who was seen by her grandmother while passing through Listowel: “It was an ugly, almost bald creature, but very friendly. He liked fruit and we gave him whatever we could find. It was very interesting to read of the monkey in your paper.”

After reading the letter from the Baroness I decided to visit her in Ballyheigue. I got a warm welcome and she told me that her grandmother frequently mentioned the baboon and would say that meeting him was one of the highlights of her visit to Ireland.

They stayed in a hotel in the Square, presumably the Listowel Arms. At the time she was a girl of 14 and every day the porter at the hotel would take a party of children to see the baboon.

The creature was christened Bill by a woman who was jilted by a handsome young soldier whose name was Bill.

Bill the Baboon died either early in 1910 or late in 1909. No one seems to know for certain.

Johnny Moloney of Listowel remembers the baboon well and he told me that not much notice was taken of him by local people after the first few weeks.

Bill spent most of his days sitting on the window ledge of a barber’s shop in the centre of the town.

Dogs and cats gave him a wide berth after a few costly skirmishes. Bill would be just the job for the legions of curs which harass innocent people today.

Nobody seems to know where he is buried. Some say the local graveyard and more say he was put into a sack and dumped into the river during a flood. Whatever else he was an interesting spectacle and in many ways an asset to the town.

Bodhrawns

The demand for goatskin tambourines or bodhrawns has now completely exceeded the supply and on Thursday last I saw a priest pay twenty pounds for an ancient model of this fine one-sided drum. The real worth of the bodhrawn was about a fiver because it was long past its best.

The current market price for a new home-made bodhrawn is from ten to twelve pounds, but it looks as if this will rise sharply on account of the scarcity of goats and qualified bodhrawn makers.

Goat thieves

Sonny Canavan, who has a herd of over 50 goats, is constantly on the look-out for goat thieves. These come in the dead of night dressed in black so that it is difficult to spot them. Some have humane killers with them while others use butchers’ knives or in some isolated cases strangle the unfortunate animals to death.

The Canavan goat herd is worth about a thousand pounds but it could be worth a lot more shortly as everyone in the trade is agreed that bodhrawns have been sold for half nothing up to this. It is generally accepted that a fair price for a well-made bodhrawn would be twenty pounds.

An enormous amount of work is involved. First a suitable goat must be located and paid for. Then he has to be slaughtered by a skilled goat butcher as a novice could quite easily make a mess of the hide.

The usual charge for killing and skinning a goat is a pound. A good goat can cost as much as seven pounds, although they have exchanged hands for as little as ten shillings. That day, however is gone forever.

The skin has to be cured and this is a very tricky job indeed involving much knowledge.

When cured it has to be stretched and believe me the stretching of a cured goatskin so that it will fit a regulation bodhrawn rim is a very difficult task calling for great skill and experience.

Tacking the skin to the rim is another hard and dicey operation.

At the time of writing Sonny Canavan has orders for bodhrawns from England and Scotland as well as many places in Ireland. It is a thriving industry and with the increase in demand one can foresee a small factory for producing them situated in Dira West, of course, where roams the largest herd of pucks, nannies and kids to be found anywhere in this country.

The fee for the service of a pedigree puck such, for instance, as Rajah, the elder puck of the Dira herd, is only six shillings. He is in great demand and most happy at his work.

The younger pucks are not so much in demand for a number of excellent reasons which I am not at liberty to divulge here.