Why an abusive letter-writer is really a do-gooder

John B Keane


John B Keane

Why an abusive letter-writer is really a do-gooder

FOR THE past few weeks I have been receiving abusive letters but this week, for a change, they are harmless and humorous.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy abusive letters. I do, and there is also the wonderful feeling that one is doing good for others. For instance, if I get a letter of abuse from a housewife it means that her husband is getting off lightly, that I am taking the punishment for him, so to speak.

If I get an abusive letter from an irate father it means that he is taking it out on me instead of his wife and children. For every nasty line of his letter there is one blow less for his offspring and for every full stop, comma and colon there is one line less of abuse for his wife.

So he who receives nasty anonymous letters is unwittingly a do-gooder. I’ll put it like this. If these letter writers could heap so much abuse on a total stranger, isn’t there every reason to believe that they would be far more liberal with their own? But to press on. This week’s prize-winning epistle comes from Maurice O’Donnell, of Chapelizod, County Dublin.

“Dear John B.,

“I thought you had hit the zenith of your influence when you had Wilberforce Faulkner curry combed, pomaded, manicured and decked out replete in morning suit, top hat, gloves, cane, and elected or selected to open the festival of Glin some years ago. It was impressive to witness the triumphal entry to this lovely West Limerick town from the gaily decked yacht which had anchored in the local harbour.

“What an auspicious occasion this was, not alone for Wilberforce Faulkner and the townspeople of Glin but also for the people of the surrounding parishes of Shanagolden, Kilcolman, Ballyhahill and the goodly muster who come from North Kerry.

“Come to think if, where else but in Limerick could a travelling man be called upon to perform the opening ceremony of such an important local event!

“Wasn’t it only a couple of generations back that the likewise sociologically-minded Limerick city fathers elected Sean na Scuab, also a travelling man, as their mayor.” Where else indeed. It surpasses the tale of Whittington.

Now from Athea comes the next epistle. It is from the mother of a family and it contains many truly Christian sentiments.

“Dear John B.,

“I have just read the foolish letter from that Ballaugh bachelor’s mother about the girls nowadays and her son. It would be better for her if she would mind her own business. I know we have a few bachelors around Athea but they don’t insult people that way. I am a married woman myself with a young family and only one going to secondary school yet. I don’t drink or never did. I don’t like to see young girls drinking.

“The girls nowadays dress different to her time and your time when you lived in Church Street with your mother and father, RIP. The girls nowadays are able to sew their own clothes and are good cooks too. They can make bread as good or maybe better than some of the old ladies who think they know everything. I myself do most of the sewing for the children and help my husband when he needs me..

“I will conclude by saying that if every man and woman closed their eyes on the next one’s fault it would be a better country.”

And now from Croom comes a quatrain from one who calls himself A Croom Poet:

Dear Mr Keane, I am very green

Now can you tell me what does it mean

For a lady fair her navel to bare

In weather such as we have seen?

That’s a good question from Croom Poet. What it probably means is that the temperature of a woman’s navel is higher than that of the rest of the body. How else can you account for its frequent exposure? I mean with all the navels being exhibited to the world these days you would expect a sharp rise in cases of pneumonia and colds in the stomach. On the contrary the rate seems to be dropping so that there can be no doubt but the navel is a very warm and very healthy area indeed. I hope this answers your question satisfactorily.

And now a letter from Paddy Horgan of 23, Upper Grosvenor Road, Perry Bar, Birmingham.

“Dear John B

“I was never too handy with the pen. I hope you’ll forgive the scribble. The Master in Croom, God rest him, used to say to me “an rud a scríobhann an Púca léann sé féin é”.

“In your Leader notes a fews weeks ago you refer to card-playing and post mortems on games played. You pinpointed various citadels where card-playing is still practiced. This is where I take offence.

“Were you ever in Croom? Did you ever call to Cantwell’s Bar in Bridge Street? The best pint in County Limerick is to be got there, always a pint from the middle of the barrel. To cap your visit, listen to the conversation. Any subject under the sun from the Common Market to crubeens, from auctioneering to engineering and from racing to referendums.

“The man of the house Liam Cantwell or his brother (known locally as Our Man in Croom) will keep the conversation pucked out to you in Gaelic or in English.

“And talk about cards. Cantwell’s Bar has echoed nightly for a century to the thump and din of trump cards pounding with triumph on solid tables. In fact there is a story told of one victorious player who parried through a game where had had only five to make to win a pair of turkeys.

“He played the final round as if he had nothing but a fist of dirt in his hand then at the last trick pounced with the deuce of spades to win the game, the gamble and the turkeys. With sheer delight he “flammed” the table so hard with his winning card that it took Bill Brien, Paddy Wall, one bulldozer and four county council workers two hours to dig the knuckles of his hand out of the oaken table top.

“Maybe you might bring a team of your card-sharps from Listowel to Croom next Christmas. We’ll take ’em on at Cantwell’s and whether its “21”, “25”, “41” or “45”, we will beat them back to Ballingarry. Well, what about it John B.?”

I’ll have a word about it with our social secretary Paddy and let you know as soon as possible. Some months ago too in these columns I mentioned places where the fall of the lift was still in. I remember writing about Ballyguiltenane and Templeglantine among many other places but I neglected to mention one spot – Tullahinell near Ballylongford. On the Monday following the appearance of the “fall of the lift” article I received the following telegram.

“Lift still in Tullahinell. Never out till day we die.”

Signed Sullivan.

Serve me right for overlooking Tullahinell. Of course there are other spots around Ballylongford where the fall of the lift is still in but they are keeping it dark.

The late, great John B Keane was a Leader columnist for more than 30 years. This column first appeared in our edition of March 4, 1972.