Age of devilment and pranks killed by political correctness

I like to conserve ideas and principles that have served us well but in the so-called ‘modern’ headlong rush for change, clinging to past beliefs is seen as not cool, fuddy duddy and out of touch, so says John Arnold in his weekly column
Age of devilment and pranks killed by political correctness

A donkey and cart in Macroom in the 1960s. John Arnold recalls a practical joke played on a man with a donkey and cart

ARE we gone too politically correct in these enlightened times?

There’s no doubt that a lot of practises that were acceptable long ago don’t cut the mustard nowadays, and rightly so.

While we still have a class divided society, I think that what was termed ‘class distinction’ has largely vanished. People now accept others for who they are and not for where they come from or who they’re connected to.

Don’t get me wrong now, we’re not living in a Utopian society, but life and living and lifestyle in general is better than it was in previous generations in so many ways.

Human longevity is increasing all the time in the developed world yet famine, disease and war still devastate some regions. In Ireland we’re lucky, I suppose, that we have a reasonably stable democracy. Again, we’re still a country of haves and have-nots and it seems ne’er the twain shall meet.

I’m of a conservative nature and of course that word with a capital C has got plenty of bad press over recent decades. I love to look at society, sport, life, religion and other facets of the human condition and accept that change is inevitable.

What I really hate, though, is the school of poor thought that urges change simply for the sake of if — for no other reason. I think it smacks of Orwell’s 1984 “all change good” “all past bad” — oh, that life was that simple.

I like to conserve ideas and principles that have served us well but in the so-called ‘modern’ headlong rush for change, clinging to past beliefs is seen as not cool, fuddy duddy and out of touch. That’s me and, for better, for worse!

Is there any room in today’s world for caffling and tuplish? Fifty years ago, when I hadn’t still learned what ‘teenage culture’ meant and the word hormones didn’t appear in any dictionary, there was way more fun and divilment around, or is it that my memory is playing tricks with me? Is the whole culture of ‘fly boys’ and ‘the lads’ gone — again, a case of political correctness gone mad?

Now, of course, in my youth and in olden times young people made their own fun and didn’t rely on electronic and computer generated recreation.

Caffling is hard to define — a kinda cross between pranks and scutting in the best meaning of that word!

Paddy Geary worked and lived here in the house with us for close on 40 years. His room was above the kitchen and accessed by means of a timber ladder which hung from the ceiling in the hall. If the ladder was down there’d be barely enough room to pass, so usually when Paddy had gone up to bed the ladder would be hoisted up — he couldn’t leave it down from above so whoever was first up in the morning had to leave the ladder down from its hook.

There were no ‘facilities’ in Paddy’s room, just the vessel under the bed. Hr used go for a pint usually on a Sunday night.

Well, one night, in his absence some of us — I know I was implicated — played a trick on him. We snuck up the stairs, made sure the vessel was dry, and put a liberal amount of Andrew’s Liver Salts into it! We said nothing but the following morning there was míle murder. It wasn’t a case of when the s*** hit the fan, rather when the p*** hit the Andrews.

Well, he thought t’was a nuclear reaction as the contents fizzed and bubbled and evervescenced out onto the floor!

One winter, when I was only six or seven, there was a fierce heavy fall of snow. Johnny and Julia Shine lived in a little house above at the Cross of Bartlemy. A crowd of the lads quietly placed three or four planks of timber, maybe 4ft long, against Shine’s front door. On top of these snow was piled as high as possible. Then all went into hiding, bar one. He gave a loud knock on the door and immediately ran down around the Post Office corner.

Well, when poor Johnny Shine opened the door in came planks and snow — nearly filling the small hallway.

Those kind of stunts and pranks were termed caffling.

Years ago, I knew of a man that owned a donkey and car which he used for going to town and drawing timber and maybe a few bags from the creamery. The donkey when not in use was kept in a small field near the house. The small car was housed in a little lean-to at the rear of the house. That time hardly anyone locked the doors.

Well, one Sunday morning while he was at Bartlemy Mass, didn’t a few local fly-boys arrive and dismantle the donkey car, taking off the two wheels and the axle? They then took the car into the house piece by piece and reassembled it in the kitchen. Neddy was summoned and tackled and he too was brought inside and tackled to the car. The lads then took up strategic viewing places and waited for the cip-o-the-reel when the man of the house returned form his religious duties.

He was dumbfounded, stunned and puzzled as to how the donkey and car got into the kitchen! Well, he was on the point of getting a crowbar and knocking the jambs of the door to relieve the situation!

Eventually, one of the ‘culprits’ called in, morryah as if he was just passing, and proposed a solution to the problem.

About a century ago, the local tailor in this area was Tailor Barry. Well, didn’t a second tailor arrive —Tailor Spillane, he lived just below the Chapel. In fairness, in a rural community eight miles from Fermoy, there was probably plenty work for the pair of them. Anyway, the story goes that the very first night Tailor Spillane and his wife arrived in the village they got a rude awakening from their slumber. A few of the local hardy boys persuaded Tailor Barry to get involved in a sort of a ‘boycott’!

The incumbent tailor was placed on a door and carried up and down the street outside Spillane’s house to the chants of ‘Out with the new, in with the old, we have a tailor none better and we don’t need another’!

It was in good fun, however, and the two tailors co-existed in harmony for as long as their trade lasted.

I heard stories from old-timers who recalled going to school through the fields in the 1880s, ‘fecking a turnip’ from a farmer’s field to eat in the same way as we’d eat an apple nowadays! I suppose if it happened today they’d be brought up for trespass.

I recall another time a bag being put over a chimney of a house in the village, and the story of a drunken woman at Bartlemy Fair years back. She was worst the wear for the drink and threw herself down in an empty timber trough in the Fair Field. A local man saw her, dressed in sacred black and white, and procured a prayer book! He got six others to raise the sleeping lady in her timber coffin shoulder high and they went in ‘funeral’ procession’ around the field before dropping the ‘coffin’ outside one of the village public houses!

All these things were done out of a sense of fun and tuplish with no evil intent. I suppose hum-drum, mundane lives needed brightening up and people tended to make their own entertainment back then.

You wouldn’t get away with caffling like that today — the words vandalism and anti-social behaviour spring to mind but in reality the main aim of those pranks in days gone by was simply to have some simple fun.

Lads, when I recall Tony Murphy and the Gay Future racehorse ‘coup’ in 1974 and then I heard that, 70 years before that, in 1904, we had a similar ‘scheme’ here in north-east Cork!

Did I tell ye about the man who used to get two ha’ pennies in change for a penny every Sunday before Mass — that time, you see, there were two ‘collections’ in the church.

There was no political correctness back then. Oh, weren’t them the happy days, when troubles we knew not.

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