Doctor O’Reilly was a keen sportsman. I think I’ve remarked previously that he was an ex-boxing champion. He’d also played a fair bit of rugby football in his youth. I found out about his interest in rugby one weekend in January. Ireland was to play Scotland at Landsdowne Road in Dublin. To my great pleasure, O’Reilly invited me to accompany him to the match. He would provide the transportation and tickets, and would pay for my hotel room on the night before the match.
The drive to Dublin was uneventful and we checked into the Gresham Hotel. I’d barely begun to unpack my bag when there was a knocking at my door. I opened it. There stood O’Reilly, grinning from ear to ear. “Do you fancy a jar?”
It is, I’m told, possible, just possible, for an entertainer to decline the Royal Command to appear at the London Palladium. It was not possible, not remotely possible, for anyone to turn down O’Reilly’s invitation for a drink.
“Right,” I said, with all the enthusiasm that must be evinced by the prisoner on death row when the chaplain sticks his head round the cell door. I’ll say one thing for convicted American murderers: the electric chair is reputed to be very fast. Their suffering is over quickly. I’d been with Doctor Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly in full cry on his home turf and had lived, barely, to regret it. What he might be like when he was truly off the leash didn’t bear thinking about. Oh well. My life insurance was paid up. “I’d love one. Where to?”
He winked, a great conspiratorial wink. “Usually the rugby crowd goes to Davy Byrne’s, but I thought we might take a wee wander to The Stag’s Head at the back of Grafton St.
“Do you know how to get there?” I asked, knowing that when O’Reilly was ready for his tot, depriving him of it for long could produce the same effects as poking an alligator in the eye with a blunt stick.
“Of course. Didn’t I go to medical school here, at Trinity College?”
That was something I hadn’t known. Those of us who were graduates of Queen’s University Belfast referred disdainfully to Trinity as “that veterinary college in Dublin.” It was unfair to a fine school, but there was a rivalry between Queen’s and the other place. The picture of the enraged alligator popped into my mind and I decided not to mention my lack of respect for his old Alma Mater. “Silly of me.” I said. “Lead on, Fingal.”
And away we went, just like the caissons, over hill over dale.
Now Dublin isn’t that big a city, it just seemed big after about two hours of walking. O’Reilly was becoming just a tad irritable if the pallor of his nose tip was anything to go by.
“Jasus,” he remarked, as we found ourselves at the end of yet another publess cul-de-sac, “I’d have sworn it was down here.”
I coughed. “Should we maybe ask directions?”
I imagine Capt. Oates would have received the same kind of look from Robert Scott that O’Reilly hurled at me if the gallant gentleman had asked the same question on the way back from the South Pole. Frosty — very frosty.
“Not at all,” O’Reilly countered, making an about-turn on the march and heading back towards the main thoroughfare. “I know this place like the back of my hand.”
I took little comfort from that statement. He had both hands in his trouser pockets.
Dusk was falling as we trudged along Grafton St. for the umpteenth time. O’Reilly was never one to admit defeat gracefully, but his internal drought, which by then was probably on a par with the drier reaches of the Sahara, finally got the better of him.
A grubby youth was washing a shop-front window or, to be more accurate, redistributing the streaks of city grime. O’Reilly tapped him on the shoulder. The youth turned.“My good man,” O’Reilly asked in the tones that he reserved for lesser mortals, “do you know where The Stag’s Head is?”
The Dubliner wasn’t one bit overawed, neither by O’Reilly’s size nor his overweening manner. He gave O’Reilly a pitying look and said with an absolutely straight face, “Do I know where The Stag’s Head is? Of course I do — it’s about six feet from its arse.”
I thought O’Reilly was going to explode, but instead he collapsed in peals of helpless laughter.
We did eventually find the pub in question. The irony was that just kitty-corner from it was another pub, The Vincent Van Gogh which, believe it or not, is known to the locals as The Stag’s Arse. The Dublin lad hadn’t even been trying to be funny.