01 May 2003

Today being the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker

My first job, aside from voluntary work, was at the Carroll's Irish Open, a golf tournament. A friend's sister was working with the PGA at the time, and managed to get the two of us four days' work. It mainly involved sitting in a wooden huts at Portmarnock Golf Course, occasionally receiving a message on a walky-talky and then changing the names and scores on the leaderboards we were operating.

I developed a pathological hatred for golf through that. Edgar Rice Burroughs was right when he called it a mental disorder.

That was in 1990, just after I'd done my Inter Cert, and while Ireland were playing in their first ever World Cup. If you haven't read Roddy Doyle's 'The Van', pick it up to get a sense of that wonderfully exciting summer in Ireland. If you must, watch the film. We were a great country for celebrating draws. We managed four of them in a row, making it through to the quarter finals after beating Romania on penalties and with only two real goals to our credit. My friend's other sister got married on the day that Ireland was finally knocked out by Italy. Another friend and I went out to Killiney in the evening for the wedding reception and watched the match there in the Killiney Court.

A few weeks later I got another summer job, through a friend of my Mum. It was in a supermarket about half an hour's walk away. I worked in the storeroom and went on deliveries with the owner's father-in-law, who told me stories about Dublin when he was young, and about Brendan Behan and Phil Lynott.

'The people round here are lovely,' he'd say. 'Good people. They'd rob the dye out of your hair, mind, but they're good people.'

After a few months, due to falling business, I had to be let go. Last in, first out. The shop itself closed a year or so later, having operated on a skeleton staff in the meantime. I later heard that the assistant manager had been helping herself to the takings in some way, hurting the business immeasurably. It was a hard area to run a business in anyway. At the time it had somewhere between 75 and 80 per cent unemployment.

Nearly a dozen years of service...
The following summer, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I needed to get a job again, and this time decided to try a large pub ten minutes' walk from me. As it happens, a friend's brother worked there as a part-time barman, and my friend was doing a bit of work in the storeroom. A friend of my Mum's was a regular there, and she said that I should talk to Joe, the head barman, so I set out one morning to see was he about, and whether there was any work going.

When I got there my friend was sweeping the carpark. I stopped to talk to him for a second, and he looked around, clearly worried.
'I can't stop. If a fat, baldy bastard comes out and sees me not working, I'm dead.'
'Oh, okay, no worries. I was just wondering whether you know if Joe's working, and where I'd find him.'
'He's working all right. That's who I'm worried about. He's probably in the Bar.'
There wasn't any work going, and there was a long line of other teenagers lined up hoping for jobs too, so I went home, a little dispirited. There weren't many jobs then, you see. The country had an unemployment rate pretty close to 20 per cent, and it was only that low because so many people had emigrated.

Three weeks later I went back, and this time there was a space on the roster. Joe said he'd sort out my hours and then give me a call.

He rang a couple of hours later, and I came back. I was introduced to a barman who'd been there for years, and to Ken and Karl, two fairly new barmen. He sat me down in the 'confessional box', a small nook at one end of the bar, showed me my roster, and explained my job; it was pretty simple, walking round the floor keeping the tables clean and taking orders from customers, ordering them from the bar, and bringing them over to the customers.

I later heard that two of the barstaff had a bet going that I wouldn't last the week. I lasted quite a bit longer than that.

I thought that it would simply be a summer job, but it became so much more than that. I worked there until February, and returned the following June, once I'd finished my Leaving Cert. For some reason I hadn't thought that I'd be taken back, but I met Joe after Mass one morning in the spring and he grinned and said he'd be keeping a place for me.

I stayed from that June without a break for years on end, though I hardly planned to. In October I started University, studying Commerce, but hated it -- I was too young, really, having just turned seventeen -- and left, reapplying for an Arts degree the following year. The next eight months or so were divided between reading, drawing, painting, and working on the floor and in the stores in the Granite. I stayed through my whole undergraduate degree, working five nights a week including all day on Sundays.

As far as I was concerned, that was what I did. I was a loungeboy -- and later a barman -- who happened to go to college, not a student who did barwork, and in truth it was working in the pub that made everything else possible for me.

Even after my first degree I never cut my ties with the Granite, working there through whatever holidays I had from college while I was doing my master's, and even when I became a teacher... with no teaching available in the holidays it made sense. Whenever I came home from Manchester for weekends last year I invariably did a day or a night in the Granite. It paid for the trip, and kept me rooted.

Along the way I've got to know so many great people, most of whom, sadly, I'm no longer in touch with, but I'm glad they've touched my life at some point...

The list goes on forever. The current batch are pretty good. I like going back there.

A Kilkennyman in Dublin
Joe left the in the summer of 1994, having worked there for something like 22 years. The Barmen's Strike was taking place as the World Cup began, with all of Dublin's barmen being out. Joe felt terribly torn by the strike, feeling that by striking he was being disloyal to the Towey's, who'd employed him for so long, yet refusing to even consider going in as that would mean being disloyal to his fellow barmen. Joe had been a loyal union man all his life.

In truth, he should really have retired some time earlier, since he'd turned 65 a year and a half earlier and we'd held a huge surprise party for him in what was then the Cabaret Lounge. That was the first time since my childhood I ever danced, oddly enough, Grace Flynn dragging me up onto the dancefloor to the frankly appalling strain's of Undercover's version of 'Baker Street'.

As a gift to say thanks from the floorstaff, we presented him with a mirror, upon which was sandblasted a cartoon I'd drawn; Joe'd been in stitches when one of the younger barmen had shown him the original sketch I'd done on a scrap of paper I'd written orders on. The mirror still hangs in the 'confessional box' where Joe sat me down back in the summer of 1991 to tell me what I'd be doing.

Kevin, the then owner's son, gave a little speech about how important Joe was to the Granite, and how many people could honestly say how he'd given them in his own rather distinctive way a start in life.

'Distinctive' would have been an understatement. Joe was on the surface irrascible, rude, and brash - the kind of person who'd never suffer fools gladly. But underneath that, he was quietly religious, incredibly gentle and deeply loyal, one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

That's not to say that I wasn't scared of him... we lived in terror of having to ask for a night off.
'Why do you want the night off?'
'Well, it's my friend's birthday and-'
'No! You'll just be drinking! You're too young to be doing that.'
There are times nowadays when I wish more employers took that line with their teenage staff.

A confirmed Pioneer, he had serious issues with us drinking. It used to be said that working in pubs turns people into alcoholics or teetotallers. Joe was proof of the latter.

I'll never forget him calling my house at half nine one March morning in 1993 to drag me into work. It had been the 21st birthday of one of the barmen the previous night (definitely not one of my finer moments --another story) and I was feeling absolutely atrocious, too ill even to get to the phone to refuse to come in. I mumbled to my dad to say, yes, I'd be in, and after about an hour crawled out of bed and painfully made my way up the road.

He was standing imperiously in the bar doorway waiting for me.
'Where were you?' he bellowed, seeing me about thirty yards off.
I didn't reply, just stumbled on.
'Oh,' he grinned wryly, 'out buying sickness with the rest of them.'

It wasn't wise to be less than alert when working - I remember him throwing spoons at staff in their more indolent moments, roaring 'Stir yourself!' -- and one lad was terrified for weeks after being caught dossing about for perhaps his first time ever there.

It wasn't just the staff who he'd terrorise, though. At one stage we had a course on customer care, and some 'expert' called Oliver came to advise us on what to do. Oliver thought Joe's techniques were a bit old-fashioned. I'm not sure what exactly convinced him of that.

It could have been the day that one youngish lad came in to complain over Joe having knocked a pint of Guinness over him the previous day.
'Joe Hanrahan,' he had said, 'You made a show of me in front of my friends yesterday, when you spilled that pint and ruined me good trousers.'
Joe leaned across the counter, resting his heavy Kilkenny forearm upon it, and grinned.
'Son,' he said, 'there're two things wrong with what you just said. First, whoever said you had friends? Second... you've never had a good pair of trousers.'

Although he left back in 1994 I used to see him all the time, since his house was near mine and he was good friends with mechanic who worked from his own garage down the lane behind my house. Even lately, despite my being twenty-seven, Joe would still address me fondly as 'Young Daly', and ask after me and mine.

He died last night. Too many years working in pubs had destroyed his lungs, though he didn't smoke himself.

I'll miss him.

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