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Bye bye, Bang Bang: a great Dublin eccentric gets his due

Plaque erected to Thomas Dudley, a playful son of the city who always stuck to his guns

Thomas “Bang Bang” Dudley

Thomas Dudley, better known as “Bang Bang”, was on Monday remembered on the spot where he had been forgotten about for more than three decades.

He died in January 1981 at the age of 74. His last years were spent in the care of the Rosminian Fathers at Clonturk House in Drumcondra, their home for the blind.

For years Bang Bang had been one of the best-known characters on the streets of Dublin. He was born in 1906, a birth year he shared with his great hero, John Wayne. He would descend on bus and tram passengers in Dublin, point a large brass church door key – his “Colt .45” – at them and shout “bang bang” in the style of the cowboy films.

Two years before he died he was immortalised in The Dubliner’s song The Mero which included the line “Bang Bang shoots the buses with his golden key”.

People loved his childlike innocence, although it concealed a tragic life. He grew up on Clarence Street, Dublin, the son of John Dudley, a chimney sweep, and his wife, Mary. His father died when Bang Bang was seven. His mother died, too, but it is not clear when. In any case, Bang Bang spent much of his childhood in an orphanage in Cabra.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheál Mac Donncha imitates Bang Bang at the unveiling of a memorial in his honour. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“Bang Bang was incredibly vivid for those who knew them and impossible to explain to the generation that came after him,” said Dermot Bolger, the author of the play Bang Bang.

There was a small gathering at his funeral in 1981. “I couldn’t believe how few people there were. I expected a huge crowd,” local man Brian Gleeson remembered.

Unmarked grave

Bang Bang was buried in an unmarked grave in a little cemetery at the back of Clonturk House, along with a few dozen other former residents of the home.

Thirty-six years later, his final resting place has been marked with a plaque, unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mícheál Mac Donncha.

Extracts from Bolger’s play were read by an actor, and the musician Daragh Lynch sang The Mero.

Joe Tyrrell, the grave digger at the time, told the large crowd assembled for the occasion: “People become famous for murdering people or doing something else. I became famous overnight for burying somebody.”

He noted the crowd was at least “100 per cent” bigger than the one that turned out for the original funeral.

The plaque in memory of Bang Bang, at St Joseph’s Rosmininians, Drumcondra. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

The plaque was organised by Daniel Lambert, who heard about Bang Bang from his fellow supporters of Bohemians FC. He was so taken with the story that he named the Bang Bang cafe on North Leinster Street in Phibsborough after him.

He put a notice in his cafe lamenting that “Bang Bang never got a tombstone. We think that is very sad.”

Within days, he raised enough money to erect a plaque.

“Life is more boring and sanitised today. Everyday life is heavily sanitised. A lot of the mystery and excitement has gone out of a lot of people’s days,” he said. “Bang Bang is somebody who never stopped playing. He brightened people’s days up. That’s kind of lost in modern society.”