John B Keane: sharpen your sense of scepticism

My major New Year resolution is to believe only one tenth of what I hear and to take that tenth, small as it may seem, with a liberal pinch of salt.

My major New Year resolution is to believe only one tenth of what I hear and to take that tenth, small as it may seem, with a liberal pinch of salt.

My reason for this is I wish to play my part in the long-drawn out war against outrageous gossip, as against harmless stuff and against continuing character assassination which would seem to be the chief pastime in most small towns everywhere in this green land.

I am sure that people in Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Glin, Dromcollogher etcetera will click their tongues sympathetically for the fair town of Listowel is not the only guilty party as any honest community will concede.

Looking back over the old year I can think of a hundred deliberate lies which have been spread in this area.

Take the most recent one. A number of pubs were raided recently by a large contingent of the Garda Siochana. I can vouch for this story since my own was one of the hostelries in question. In all three pubs were raided and caught, not seventeen as was widely circulated in Market Street the following morning.

Then there was the story about the guard who was in one while on public house duty. The story originated in the suburbs the evening after the raids.

Word went out that a certain publican threw out a Guard onto the public street.

The Guard, it was alleged, suffered minor abrasions of the kisser, but was otherwise unharmed and was confidently expected to live a long and useful life unless some unforeseen calamity befell him in the meanwhile.

The story of course was without foundation of any kind but this did not stop it spreading. In the course of transportation it grew in size and colour as do most tales which are manufactured by highly imaginative gossip mongers. By the time the story hit Church Street, the Guard had a broken hand and when it arrived in William Street he had a broken leg and a broken hand.

When the story departed from Market Street later in the night the unfortunate Guard had been kicked to death.

In Tralee the following day I parked my car in Denny Street and was about to embark upon the business which brought me.

I was hardly out of the car when I was approached by a casual acquaintance who asked me the following question.

“Did they catch the fellow who killed the Guard?”

So you see, dear readers, how groundless tales are distorted in transit.

There is the story of the field mouse who crossed the big bridge in Listowel on summer’s morning to visit his relations in Ballybunion.

He was spotted by several people, some of who were excitable women.

By the time the mouse had reached the Square he had been transformed into a rat and as he turned at the Convent Cross for Ballybunion he had become a plague of rats.

The best policy in relation to these outlandish but dangerous concoctions is to weigh the enormity of the story against the veracity of the story carrier.

In Listowel there are several men and women and it is parochially accepted that they are totally incapable of telling one word of the truth.

Stories from these, therefore, can be enjoyed. It is different with those who are only half truthful.

These stories, no matter how malicious or damaging, are often believed by the more gullible of the town’s inhabitants.

These in turn add their own trimmings, so in the end there is total submersion of whatever grain of truth was there in the beginning.

What truly amazes me however is how intelligent people with a reasonably good education can pay attention to these gossips and slanderers.

Just before Christmas there was another damaging story in circulation regarding a hit-and-run accident.

The story was a most foul lie and yet the originators of this terrible tale will escape scot free and possibly be allowed to spread more tales of woe.

My advice to readers for the new year is to believe nothing whatsoever of what you hear, unless you know the carrier of the story to be a person of absolute credibility and even then try to give the benefit of the doubt to the unfortunate victim.