Vinny Fitzpatrick in a state after getting some bad news

Middle-aged busman loses the plot in Foley’s as All-Ireland final looms

 Hill 16, Vinny Fitzpatrick’s usual perch on All-Ireland final day.

Hill 16, Vinny Fitzpatrick’s usual perch on All-Ireland final day.

Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 22:07

The fury rose up from the pit of Vinny Fitzpatrick’s voluminous stomach and spilled over into a snarling river of anguish, the like of which was uncommon to Foley’s, a pub more readily associated with Hermit-like serenity than the bombast of Speaker’s Corner.

“No, no, no,” cried Vinny aloud as he slammed a meaty fist into the table top, scattering beer mats and prompting those in his company to snatch their pints lest their tipple toppled.

“Let me tell the lot of youse, if I could spit fire, this place would be a burning inferno right now. May youse all burn in Hell,” raged the middle-aged bus driver, jowls a quiver, cheeks as ruby-red as ripened tomatoes.

There was a silence, which could probably be heard all the way to Royal Dublin golf club, as heads were raised from papers and the telly.

Something was tying Vinny’s Alan Whickers in a right twist but what could it be? As the wheelie bin-sized driver waddled angrily out of the hostelry, it was left to Macker, who had observed the ruckus from the snug, to find the source of his good friend’s ire.

Outside, he found Vinny kicking the wheels of a car which Macker knew belonged to one of the lads inside. “Steady on Vinny, you’ll do yourself and the jam-jar damage,” he said, reaching out an arm.

Vinny spun away, fell on his knees and let his shoulders sag. “How could they do this to me Macker? How could they?” he said softly.

Bit by bit, Vinny disclosed his ticket tale of woe. He explained how one of the precious few tickets allocated to Dollymount Gaels for the All-Ireland final had long being his entitlement.

The arrangement had been approved by the club big-wigs following the passing of his late father, Finbarr, who gave over half his life to the Gaels, as a founding member, doughty wing-back, manager, and honorary secretary.

This year, of all years, with the Dubs buttressed by the finest platoon of footballers since Heffo’s Heroes of the 1970s, Vinny Fitzpatrick had turned up for the annual pre-final shenanigans in Foley’s only to be told the gates to Croker had been moved. It was akin to treachery.

Oily Nobby Stokes was the grim reaper, explaining how the committee felt no member should have automatic access to an All-Ireland ticket, at least not when Dublin were in the final.

As the club only received 10 tickets, all for Hill 16, it was decreed there should be an open draw instead.

For Vinny, it had been akin to a kick in the goolies to be told his birth-right had been denied him, but worse followed when Nobby pointed out that to be entered in the draw, members had to stump up a non-refundable €10 deposit before 7pm that night – the deadline had passed.

“You see, Vinny, even if I wanted to include you in the draw, I couldn’t,” said an unctuous Nobby. “We posted fliers up on our notice boards in Foley’s, Shingles and The Schooner but you must have missed them. That’s a pity.”

Vinny wanted to shove Nobby’s head up where the sun didn’t shine but had vented his frustration on his car instead, a battered 10-year-old Toyota. “Macker, without a ticket to the final, I’m lost. What am I do to?” he cried.

The next morning, Vinny had been as grumpy as a pig with piles as he ferried his passengers on the 130 towards the city centre and back.

One of his regulars
His glowering did not escape his regulars, one of whom, the octogenarian Gladys Caldwalader of the Clontarf Warblers, observed: “Vinny, you look like you’ve found a penny and lost a pound. What is it my dear?”

Between Belgrove Road and Edge’s Corner, where Gladys alighted for morning bingo in Fairview Hall, Vinny humbly apologised for being Mr Narky and explained how his precious ticket to the All-Ireland final was in the grave with O’Leary, the Fenian, not the outstanding former Dublin goalkeeper.

A couple of hours later, Vinny was trundling along the North Strand, scrambling his brain for a pass to Croker, which he could see in all its shining glory half a mile to starboard.

At Edge’s Corner, there was a cluster of folk waiting at the 130 stop, which was unusual for mid-afternoon. Vinny pulled in. There were five of them, all Clontarf Warblers of mature years, Gladys Cadwalader, Ermintrude Entwhistle, Babs Barbour, Stanhope Skelton and Hal Ledwith.

“Is everything alright, Gladys?” inquired Vinny. Under her blue-rinse barbwire hair, Gladys grinned. “More than alright, Vinny,” she said with a conspiratorial wink. “Right Warblers? Let’s rumble.” With that, the quintet broke into a tuneful blast of Molly Malone, which was one of Vinny’s old-time favourites. His eyes lit up and his sunny disposition returned as the ancient Warblers took flight. By the last “alive-alive-oh”, Vinny felt a tear trickle down his cheek.

“Gladys, me old segotia, that was beautiful, just beautiful. Lads and lassies, thanks very much. Now, are you coming or going as I’m running behind schedule?”

Gladys nudged the bird-like figure beside her. “Go on, Ermintrude, now is your chance.” Ermintrude stepped on board and pressed her crinkly face close to Vinny’s cabin. “At the bingo earlier, Gladys told us your predicament. We were all very upset, of course, as we have never forgotten your kindness of a couple of Christmases ago when you got us into town and back safely on those terrible icy roads.

“I immediately thought of my sister, Judith, who married a Tyrone man involved in the GAA. Judith is coming to Dublin on Sunday morning as her grandson is playing in the minor final. I rang her during the break between games and asked could she find a ticket for a most deserving case.

‘She texted me back just as I was one number short of the Snowball, which put me off slightly, I can tell you. Anyway, she has two tickets for Hill 16 and you can have them, with all our best wishes.”

Vinny wasn’t often lost for words but now he was. He looked at the leathery face of Ermintrude Erskine and her fellow wizened Warblers. At that moment, he loved them all, truly, madly, deeply.

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