In a word



I was 19. She was 83 and she asked for the time. It was the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. I was doorman at the Essex building in the Tudor City apartment complex across from the UN in New York. My student summer job was as “vacation relief” (general dogsbody) filling in for guys on holiday.

On my first day filling in for the jokey Puerto Rican doorman at Essex House, Mrs Treece approached. A widow with a penthouse on the top floor, she sat in the lobby most days as time passed by. I, being new, excited her interest. She studied me for hours before making a move .

“I say sonny, what time is it?” she asked.

I didn’t know. I had no watch but guessed, as residents were returning from their offices in Manhattan, that it was evening. I said: “I’m not sure but I think it’s about half-five.”

She looked startled. She jumped back. She hadn’t heard a word.

“You Irish?” she asked. I said ‘yes’ and she flapped her skinny arms at fellow residents.

“Everybody, everybody,” she called, “he’s Irish,” pointing at me. I felt that soon I would be a puddle before them. They gathered in a smiling half-circle around me and she turned. “Ok . . . ”, she said, “. . . talk!”

I mumbled that I didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t heard a word but turned to the others and swooned “. . . isn’t that just beautiful!” They agreed. She asked my name and I said “Patsy” .

She was startled again and said – “I can’t call you that. It’s a girl’s name.” And I was known as “Pat” for the rest of my stay at that building where I could do no wrong.

It’s not easy being a boy named Patsy. There’s that natural reflex on city streets to turn and shout “yes” when you hear someone shout “taxi!”. And that pirate station where the English-born boss insisted I call myself Pádraig as he felt it might help him get a licence. It didn’t.

And the editor who changed my byline to Patrick as Patsy sounded “too country and western”. Some thought I had changed my name. So when I came to The Irish Times I decided I wouldn’t be Pádraig or Patrick or anything but Patsy, my grandfather’s name.

Patsy is, of course, derived from Patrick which is of Latin origin. It means “noble”. Of course. Happy St Patsy’s Day.

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