IV Pg 12 - West's Awake - When you needed a bit of craic, thank goodness for the rascals!

In Fermanagh, the local rogue was a colorful character who livened up the community

Cormac MacConnell

I’M chuckling constantly all week with that kind of gut chuckle which is only generated for us by the deeds of rascals. I use rascals in the old Fermanagh sense of the word where rascals and rogues, without ever causing harm to anybody or anything, infinitely brightened the realities of the communities amongst whom they lived.

And this was at a time in the 1950s and 1960s and onwards when communities, especially in the harsh borderlands of Ireland, needed all the craic they could get.

Back then as a cub reporter with the Fermanagh Herald, constantly visiting the town of Irvinestown, especially for championship GAA games which Fermanagh nearly always lost (gallantly of course!), the pain of losing was usually lessened by hearing the latest yarn about the rascality of local character Barney Curley, the most colorful townsman in a colorful town.

I met the man only twice or three times briefly, always in a cockpit of laughter and jokes, and he was well worth listening to. He might be selling GAA hats and flags near the entrance to St. Molaise Park and he was never alone.

You would know intuitively, in some fey way, that he was the kind of townie that would like to have a bet on a horse and you would equally know that the bookies made more money from his pockets than they ever put back into it.

Now I moved away down south and west and lost touch with Irvinestown and its characters, and it was the better part of 20 years later when I next heard the name Barney Curley, and again it was connected with rascality and craic.

But by this time the bookmakers were the victims of Barney’s flamboyant namesake son, by then an equally flamboyant character known as a gambler and entrepreneur.

I know nothing about horse racing and gambling, but young Barney hit the

Headlines — and the bookies — in the mid-1970s at a small country racecourse called Bellewstown in Co. Louth by engineering a gambling coup which netted him and his cronies an estimated £2 million (when a million really was huge money) through the exploits of his own horse called Yellow Sam which, until that day, had no form and accordingly started the race at long odds.

Barney and his cronies put their shirts on Yellow Sam all over Ireland in a betting coup which heavily depended on one friend tying up the only public telephone line to the track with calls about an allegedly dying aunt in Irvinestown and, by tying up the phone, preventing the bookmakers from laying off the heavy money flooding in from everywhere on Yellow Sam and cutting their losses.

Yellow Sam cantered home, the bookies lost infinitely more money than they had ever taken from the original Barney, and a gambling legend was dramatically born.

And last week, decades later, at different tracks right across England, did it not happen that four horses with no form at all, some of them not having raced for two years, won their small races with considerable ease.

And, as punters queued up to hit the bookies for an estimated £15 million sterling across England, did it not slowly emerge that all of the horses, in their recent pasts, had been connected to or trained by one Barney Curley.

There is some system called an accumulator in British betting — maybe it is International — whereby your winnings on one horse are then  automatically placed on your next selection, with the prices enhanced, until the end of your selected list, and that is the way it was done. Barney Curley was back with a bang and everybody was laughing except the bookies.

I never met the man. I believe that when he is not gutting the bookies he is a private kind of person with a passion not only for equestrian events but for aiding impoverished communities in the Third World which he visits often between coups.

Last time I heard of him before this week’s headlines was when he flamboyantly raffled off his castle home somewhere in the Midlands about

20 years ago. You can be sure he did not lose money on that operation either!

You have foul weather over there at time of writing. It is not good over here either, and these weeks of the winter are always on the dark side.

So let us say thanks to the Almighty for the presence among us of the occasional lighthouse of a rascal that makes us laugh down in the gut.

That column I was warning ye about lately, that will cause tormentation for some, is currently being marinated in my zany head. Sometime very soon...