Vinny has hair-raising experience at the Marino Casino
Two smart Alecs get more than what they bargained for on a school tour
Against expectations, Vinny Fitzpatrick had found the Monday morning tour of the Marino Casino far more enlightening than he’d imagined.
With one or two cobwebs lingering following a celebration in Foley’s of the Dubs’ thrilling National League success at Croker, a blast of the Fair City’s historic past was just the ticket.
Vinny had been fascinated to learn the Casino’s architect, William Chambers, had never set foot in Dublin; that the 20-year project commissioned by Lord Charlemont cost €30m in today’s money; and that rifles from the Howth gun running of 1914 had been stowed in tunnels under the Casino.
“To think I’ve driven past this place for almost 35 years,” he tut-tutted to himself. The hour-long tour was almost over and it was time for the sixth class pupils of St Peter and Paul Primary School, near the Five Lamps, to board the bus.
As part of the Dublin Bus Community Spirit initiative, Vinny’s employers were providing complimentary transport for field trips for schools across the capital.
There were 30 inner city urchins, blessed with more one-liners than a stand-up comic. Most were enjoying the craic of being out of school while a few had even taken notes as the guide spoke of the Casino’s Greek and Egyptian influence and revealed how Dublin Bay was once compared to the sweeping Bay of Naples, and the Great Sugar Loaf to Vesuvius.
As always, the class included a couple of smart Alecs. There were two of them, Ossie, a tall spotty gink, and Anto, a freckled chubby ginger lad, who spent the first part of the tour horsing about.
Vinny never forgot a face and as he was counting the bodies back on the bus he noticed Ossie and Anto were absent. The teacher, a stressed-out country girl addressed by her pupils as Miss Corcoran, shook her head as the numbers fell short. “Why do those two insist on making trouble?” she said aloud.
Vinny shrugged. There was nothing for it but to head back to the Casino with Miss Corcoran and form a search party. “This could take a while,” he thought.
As Miss Corcoran rounded up a tour guide for assistance, Vinny had a quick mosey outside, checking behind the pillars before skipping down the steps to suss out the Casino’s basement floor.
He inspected the visitors’ toilets, both men’s and ladies’, where he coughed loudly and excused himself as he went in. There was no sign of Ossie or Anto.
On a whim, he examined the gates leading into the tunnels which ran like bicycle spokes deep into the turf under the Casino.
One of the gates, while pulled shut, was unlocked. Quickly, Vinny opened it and stepped into a darkened cave-like recess.
He could make out steps heading further underground. How far it went, he had no idea. He wondered if this was the tunnel in which Michael Collins ordered the guns from Howth to be hidden almost 100 years ago?
He recalled the tour guide saying something about one of the warrens running all the way to Charlemont House, now the Hugh Lane Gallery in Parnell Square.
Vinny suspected the burrows didn’t run as far as nearby Griffith Avenue but as all boys loved exploring, he suspected Ossie and Anto were down there somewhere.
“Lads, can you hear me? It’s Vinny, the bus driver,” he called out.
A bit creepy
A second or two later, he heard the echo of a voice he recognised as his own, which was a bit creepy.
There was nothing for it. He had to boldly go where very few had gone before, just in case the scallywags were down there.
Within a few yards, the tunnel turned right and the light from above ground was all but lost. It was also getting increasingly claustrophobic, slippy underfoot and quite chilly.
Vinny peered into the darkness, aware he couldn’t go much further. He shuffled on for a bit, stooping to avoid contact with the curved roof. Michael Collins, he felt, would be proud of his commitment to the cause.
As his senses adjusted to his surrounds, he thought he heard a noise. He stopped, tilted his large head to one side, and held his breath. It was a voice in distress, if Vinny was not mistaken.
He shuffled on in the semi-darkness before stumbling on a most extraordinary scene. One of the boys, Anto, was on his knees, peering into a hole in the tunnel floor into which Ossie had fallen.
“I can touch his fingers but can’t get a grip, Mister,” wailed Anto. “He says he’s up to his neck in water down there.”
Vinny peered down into the dark cavity. He could hear Ossie splashing around and could just make out his face. “Hang on young fellah, I’ll get you out.”
Lying down on his stomach, Vinny took command. “Anto, grab my ankles and don’t let go while I lean over the edge. Ossie, try and push yourself out of the water, arms over your head. Keep kicking with your legs.”
Leaning into the abyss, arms outstretched, Vinny made contact with Ossie’s fingertips. As he tried to grasp the slender wrist, it slipped away from like as bar of soap. Ossie cried out as he splashed back into the water.
“Mister, mister, I can’t hold you any more,” shouted Anto. All Vinny needed was another few inches. “Grip both my ankles and give it everything you have for 10 seconds,” he barked.
This was it, the last chance saloon. He dropped his arms down into the chasm. “Ossie, push yourself up as best you can. Now,” he roared.
Suddenly, he felt fingers on fingers. He immediately slipped a meaty paw around Ossie’s wrist and bellowed: “Anto, pull for your life, son.”
For a split second, Vinny teetered on the brink. But then, he felt himself being dragged back. Soon, his stomach was back on level ground, then his chest, neck and then with one great heave, Ossie was landed safely.
As the two youths and the middle-aged bus driver lay gasping on the tunnel floor, exhausted but safe, the throw of torch lights appeared from the direction of the Casino.
“Tell ye what lads, there’ll be no heading on the razz tonight,” panted Vinny.