Well Said, Sir
March 5, 2012
First published in In Stitches magazine, June 1996
The silencing of Doctor O’Reilly
‘How are the mighty fallen?”David, a Biblical king said something along these lines. I’m sure his sage utterances would have been worth the listen if he’d been in the “Mucky Duck” the night O’Reilly met his match.
When I introduced you to Doctor Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills O’Reilly, I mentioned some of his attributes. As I recollect, I described him as an ex-navy boxing champion, classical scholar, unregenerate poacher, bagpiper, souse, cryptophilanthropist, foul-mouthed widower and country G.P.. I may have neglected to note that in addition, he regarded himself as a bit of a wit, and disliked intensely being bested in any verbal joust.
The fact that all of his local potential opponents knew very well that Dr O’ could be a great man for prescribing, and on occasion administering, the soap-suds enema as a panacea for just about any minor complaint, if the complaint was brought by someone in whom the font of medical knowledge wasn’t well pleased, may in part have taken the edge off the local competition.
On the particular evening I’m about to describe, Doctor O’Reilly was in full cry.
No wonder he was in good voice. He’d just won the local pibroch competition.
The pibroch is said, by those who understand these matters, to be a thing of complex beauty. It’s the classical music of the great highland bagpipe. Only the most experienced and skillful piper will even attempt the pibroch in public. (Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a great relief. To me, the thing is interminable, tuneless, repetitive, embellished with incomprehensible grace notes and an assault to the civilized ear.)
The tune, if it can be so called, is played on the chanter and immediately brings to mind the noise that would accompany the simultaneous gutting and emasculating of a particularly bad-tempered tom cat. Over the melody, on and on, thunder the drones, those pipes that stick up from the back of the bag like the remaining three tentacles of some long-fossilized prehistoric squid.
Needless to say, playing pibrochs takes a great deal of breath. I forget exactly how much water is lost per expiration, but judging by the post-pibroch intake of uisquebeatha by the average exponent of the arcane art, the amount of dehydration suffered must be extensive.
To return to the public bar of the BlackSwan. O’Reilly sat at a table in the middle of a circle of admiring fellow pipers, replacing his lack of bodily fluids like one of those desert flowers that only sees rain once every ten years. I was in my customary corner sipping a small sherry and trying to mind my own business. I’m told that some people in Florida try to ignore hurricanes.
O’Reilly was at his pontifical best. His basso voice thundered on. He’d launched into a monologue several minutes previously on the relative merits of plastic versus bamboo reeds for the chanter. The assembled multitude listened in respectful silence, although judging by the glazed expressions on some of the faces their interest had waned. O’Reilly warmed to his subject, brooking no interruption, rolling like a juggernaut over anyone who might try to get a word in edgewise. He was talking on the intake of breath.
I watched as a member of the group signalled for a fresh round of drinks. The barman delivered the glasses shortly afterwards. O’Reilly was now up to verbal escape velocity, emphasizing his words with staccato jabs of his right index finger on the beer-ring-stained tabletop.
He stopped dead — in mid-sentence. A ghastly pallor appeared at the tip of his bent nose. Something had annoyed the great man. I craned forward to see. Catastrophe. Somehow the barman had neglected to deliver a drink for Doctor O’.
The silence, now that he’d shut up, was palpable. He fixed the cowering bartender with an agate stare and demanded, pointing at the appropriate orifice, “And haven’t I got a mouth too?”
That was when it happened. A voice, from which of the assembled pipers I never discovered, was heard to say clearly, distinctly and with heartfelt sincerity, “And how could we miss it? All night it’s been going up and down between your ears like a bloody skipping rope.”
I do believe David Rex went on to say, after his remarks about the precipitous plummeting of the powerful, “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.”
Philistines are rare in the North of Ireland. There were no women in the public bar, and it would be a breach of professional confidentiality to tell you who among the party were preputially challenged.
But the rejoicing — if not in the streets, at least in the “Mucky Duck” — was vast. And for once, O’Reilly was at a complete loss for words.