Public Enemy No. 1 …
1949 was also a year of high drama on Henrietta Street. Dublin City, like Chicago and London, had its share of gangsters and criminals. Chicago had Al Capone also known as Scarface, London had the Kray twins, and Dublin had the Lavery and Nolan gangs, more like Robin Hood and his merry men than mobsters. Nolan had the ability to escape from Mountjoy Prison at will, or indeed from any prison. Lavery had family and friends he could trust all over Dublin, one such family lived not just in our street but in our house.
Lavery used to disguise himself as an old man. He wore bowler hat, long grey false beard, stooped his shoulders and walked with the aid of a walking stick. To me he looked like he was hundred years old.
I remember one Saturday morning going to the barber shop in Capel Street, which was always exciting as you got a proper haircut, with plenty of hair oil that often ran down your face and ears, but you smelled nice. Sitting next to me waiting for his turn was the “old man”. He turned to me, gave me a smile and a wink. My legs could not run fast enough to get me home to tell my friends. One morning, shortly after that, as I was getting ready for school, there was a loud bang as the hall door was flung open. There were raised voices and heavy footsteps running backwards and forwards. We looked out the window to see a black Mariah (police car) outside and about twenty policemen running around. They arrested the old man, who no longer had stooped shoulders or grey beard he stood tall and young, even younger than my Dad. As I came out of the door, I gazed transfixed as I watched a policeman reach out and pull a gun from underneath our window sill, I watched him break open the gun and count the bullets.
I was raging that I had to go to school, as all the other kids and grown-ups didn’t seem to be going anywhere. It was like a holiday. The excitement continued when I came home from school. Floorboards had been ripped up all over the place revealing cartons of tinned milk, bully beef and ham, cases of brandy and whiskey, and chocolate bars galore. It was like Aladdin’s Cave. Most of my neighbours were grabbing the stuff and bringing it home … all that is except my Mother, who deemed it stolen goods and would not touch it. Our only consolation for missing out on the goodies was Mam made a big pot of Dublin coddle … and you couldn’t beat that!
More from Peter Brannigan tomorrow, when he talks about the family moving to Donneycarney.