Vinny gives a double decker to rowdy duo

On a guided tour of St Francis Hospice Vinny gets a festive fasting idea


At first glance, the bulky snoring shape, leaning against one of the pillars outside the Bank of Ireland in College Green in the small hours of Sunday could have been mistaken for a down and out.

On closer inspection, Vinny Fitzpatrick had a badge on his lapel which read ‘Festive Fast for Francis’ but few folk at three in the morning could be bothered to get down on their hunkers to check it out.

To the late-night revellers, and there were many, Vinny, unshaven and unkempt in a hoodie and tracksuit, looked akin to a vagabond, all wrapped up with no place to go.

That he was on the final leg of a 24-hour fast to raise money for St Francis Hospice was known only to a very few, and most of them were a few yards further along, towards Westmoreland Street, belting out Christmas Carols.

Vinny had been among his fellow fasters for most of the day but a combination of battle fatigue, and hunger, had overcome the 55-year-old who had settled down for a quick kip. The pillar was icy cold, and bone-hard but as Vinny could nod off in an earthquake, he had no problem grabbing 40 winks.

Vinny was only hours from completing his task which would earn St Francis Hospice €500, courtesy of Dublin Bus, who had agreed to Vinny’s late request to support the local charity’s festive initiative.

It followed the bus driver’s visit to the hospice where, against the odds, he’d bumped into Nails Noonan, an old school pal from their days in Joey’s. Perhaps bumped wasn’t the correct term, as Nails was glued to a bed and on his last legs with lung cancer, which was not surprising as he was a 40-a-day smoker since the time he bummed a John Player No 6 on his first day in secondary.

Heavy metal
The Noonans had lived on the same road as the Fitzpatricks in Clontarf and Nails and Vinny travelled on the old 30 bus to and from Fairview for six years. They were never close as Nails was into heavy metal, cars and anything he could smoke. He also pulled birds at a rate that made all the lads in Causeway Avenue green with envy, particularly Vinny – although he never admitted it.

At 18, Nails had gone to Bolton Street Tech to study carpentry and soon after had left Clontarf for good.

Vinny hadn’t seen him for over 35 years until their paths crossed in the hospice, when he was being give the grand tour by the Hospice director after he donated his cheque for €50,000.

Years of hardship
Nails was hooked up to a ventilator and his wife, Nuala, gave the impression that she had suffered many years of hardship with him. “He was hard to live with, as hard as his name, Nails,” she said stonily.

Vinny had nodded and blessed himself. He was about to take his leave when Nails opened his eyes, wrenched the inhalation apparatus off his mouth with a skinny hand and rasped: “Vinny Fitzpatrick, as I live and breathe.”

Poor Nails wasn’t about to do much of either for longer but Vinny leaned over and squeezed the veiny mitt of his old pal. “Keep us a place behind the bike shed upstairs, me ol’ mucker,” he said softly.

The visit had left an imprint on his kindly soul and when he spied a poster in the reception about the Festive Fast for Francis, Vinny felt he had to do his tu’penny worth.

It explained his petition to Socket Twomey for support from Dublin Bus for the charity gig. “Every business in the Northside is on board except us, Socket. Consider the number of people we ferry to and from the Hospice everyday on the 29A; the least we can do is sign up for it,” he said.

Socket had agreed, on the condition that Dublin Bus should have a representative on the fast, and that someone should be Vinny.With commendable diligence, he prepared for battle at dawn on Saturday with a carbo-loaded breakfast of sausages, pudding, egg, tea and mountains of toast.

At the meeting point opposite Trinity College, there were about 20 fellow fasters. All were armed with enthusiasm and buckets, while the co-ordinator, a Catweazle type called Cosmo, had a guitar “to help with all our Christmas songs,” he beamed.

The first four hours went by in a blur; the next four passed quickly enough, especially for Vinny who called in four natural breaks, and dashed into a nearby Boylesports on Grafton Street to catch the racing from Aintree and Sandown.

Long after midnight, fighting fatigue, Vinny had a word with Cosmo, still going strong with his strumming and humming, and informed him he was having a short time-out.

Kicked his shins
Minutes later, for that’s all it was, Vinny felt someone kick his shins. He stirred and opened an eye. “Here, leave it out,” he growled. There were two of them, both middle-aged from what Vinny could see, and clearly worse for drink. “Look at him, a sponger. Get off your backside and get back to work, like the rest of us,” said the taller of the two interlopers.

Vinny got unsteadily to his feet, stiff from the cold and lightheaded from the lack of food, and approached the busybodies. Their eyes were shining and he could get the whiff of alcohol off their breath.

The taller one jabbed a finger into Vinny’s tracksuit. “Hey, I know you. You used to drive the buses out our way.”

His companion giggled. “What happened? You lose your way?” he said, leaning a beery head towards Vinny.

With a glance to his right and then to his left, to check no one was around, Vinny made his move. First, he drew his knee sharply into the groin of the taller intruder, who groaned as he folded like a cheap suit. Then, he grabbed the coat of his cohort, close to the throat and swiftly nutted him on the bridge of his nose.

“That’s top decko and bottom decko, lads,” he said sotto voce before moving back to join his fellow fasters.“Anyone know the one which begins Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? It’s one of my favourites,” he grinned.