Thomas Dudley, who died aged 74, is still referred to today. The Dublin carried a large Church key in his pocket which he would drag on members of the public in play-like shootouts.
Editor's note: Below is an extract from Bobby Aherne's book “D’You Remember Your Man?”. Aherne's book the stories of over 100 of the city’s most eccentric inhabitants – the likes of Bang Bang and Hairy Yank, Shellshock Joe and Endymion. Here is an extract:
During the 1950s and 1960s, a bedraggled man by the name of Thomas Dudley would regularly jump on board the back of a bus, point his weapon at the driver’s head, bark at him to ‘keep driving’ and then open fire at fellow passengers and passing pedestrians. He sometimes spiced things up for his own amusement, playing a macabre little game where the goal was to shoot everyone on the lower deck before the conductor even had a chance to call for fares.
How did such a ruthless and cold-blooded killer manage to evade the law for so long? Well, it helped that this was Bang Bang: one of the most adored personalities in Dublin, and a man who used a huge brass key instead of a gun. Some people claimed that this key opened the door to a local church, but Bang Bang maintained that it came all the way ‘from Germany, from Hitler himself.’
It was commonplace for Dudley’s victims to shoot back at him. Commuters would use their umbrellas as rifles, whilst the bus conductor took aim with his ticket machine. And as the bus rolled down O’Connell Street, guards on the beat – noticing the ensuing carnage – got down on their knees, steadied their shots, and targeted Bang Bang through the imaginary crosshairs of their batons. Bedlam ensued, as rush hour Dublin turned into a full-blown battlefield.
Born in April 1906, Dudley was raised in an orphanage in Cabra. He became obsessed with cowboy films as a child, just around the time that Dublin’s first picture houses were opening their doors. This was when we were given The Metropole, The Tivoli, The Ambassador, The Pillar and The Corinthian (which was even dubbed ‘The Ranch’ due to the amount of Westerns they screened). When John Wayne – born the year after our hero – became the iconic figurehead of the genre, Dudley had found his role model. And when our own Lone Ranger first laid his hands on that mysterious oversized key, he had found his six-shooter.
It wasn’t long before Dubliners knew to keep their eyes peeled for Bang Bang as they went about their day, knowing that he could appear at any moment, brandishing his ‘firearm’ and slapping his rear end as if he were on horseback.
Bang! Bang! You’re shot. If yeh don’t die, I’m not playin!’
People would happily drop everything to join in the game. Postmen rummaged through their sacks, hoping to find a parcel big and strong enough to act as a shield. Bank clerks on lunch breaks feigned wounds and slumped to the ground around College Green. Guinness workers stopped loading barrels onto their horse and cart, and took cover behind them instead. One Marlborough Street shoot-out lasted a whole half hour, after a gang of American tourists overcame their initial bewilderment and started retaliating.
The inner-city kids always put up a fight, ambushing Bang Bang in packs. Still, they were no match for that loaded key, and it wouldn’t be long before the usually lively streets of Blackpitts were piled high with slain baddies, and Dudley emerged victorious to die another day. He even had a habit of appearing at the cinema, guns blazing, during the most dramatic scene in the movie. The packed theatre would be watching a tense standoff, or sitting with bated breath as the sheriff made his ultimate arrest when suddenly Bang Bang would storm in and turn the place into a bloodbath.
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Some people noticed patterns in his behavior. If you shot him outside The Metropole on O’Connell Street, he’d shout ‘Ya missed me!’ But if you got him by The Corinthian on Eden Quay, he’d fall to the ground and roll down to the curb, fatally wounded (although, moments later, he’d jump up and swing onto the back of the next bus headed up towards Summerhill). He once fell off a bus during a particularly nasty gunfight. People gathered round to see if he was hurt, but he just brushed himself off and jumped back on board, proclaiming ‘Carry on, I’m okay. Take this stage to Medicine Bow.’ In a moment where a lesser man might break character, Bang Bang instead came out with a clever reference to the American Western TV series The Virginian.
Later in his life, Bang Bang took to introducing himself as ‘Lord Dudley, the Divil’, managing to both elevate and deprecate himself in a single breath. His eyesight deteriorated with age, and he ended up living in Drumcondra’s Clonturk House, a home for the blind run by the Rosminians. In 1979, devastated by the death of his distant soulmate John Wayne, Dudley declared ‘me pal is dead.’ Eighteen months later, to the day, Ireland’s most loveable sniper followed his hero to the great gunfight in the sky.
The whole city was mine. Everybody knew me and I knew all their faces. But they had no firearms. I was the only one with a license.
Check out this short rare interview with "Bang Bang":
* Bobby Aherne’s “D’You Remember Your Man?” is available from newisland.ie.