News from Nelson: my dear old Friend
As regular readers of my Blog will know, I have made many friends down the centuries – but probably my best friend of all was Bang Bang. Born as Thomas Dudley, I used to follow his escapades from the top of my Pillar by placing a spyglass to my one good eye. Such adventures as he had! ‘Shooting’ people with an old church key – and these to be grown-up adults – well they went down like tenpins shouting and roaring with ‘pain’. Bang Bang’s inspiration was the Westerns which he saw when he went to the flicks – he was usually admitted free of charge and if he went in the afternoon his young friends were also let in with him. He fancied himself as a cowboy riding a horse but as he couldn’t afford a horse he went for the next best thing – the buses! In those days (I speak of the 1950s and early 1960s) the buses in Dublin had an open platform at the back and while the bus was already moving Bang Bang launched himself triumphantly onto the platform and from this his trusty steed he resumed ‘shooting’ calling out ‘Bang Bang’!
When he became old and frail, and having lost his sight, Bang Bang was taken care of by the Rosminian Fathers in Drumcondra and when the time came, he was buried in their graveyard. He left behind the goodwill and fond memories of Dubliners and also his precious key which he left to his faithful friend Gerry Doherty who visited him every week without fail. In 2011, Gerry presented Bang Bang’s key to Dublin City Council and it is on display in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library & Archive.
Lord Mayor of Dublin Gerry Breen, Aongus MacAnally and Gerry Doherty with Bing-Bang's key (2011)
So when I heard about the two special Bang Bang events which took place on 28 August, I was delighted. They were events of commemoration and celebration which were organized by Daniel Lambert and his sister Chloe, owners of the Bang Bang café in Phibsborough. When he found out that Bang Bang didn’t have a headstone, Daniel put a collecting jar on the counter and in next to no time, he had enough to raise a plaque to the intrepid marksman. At an afternoon ceremony in the Rosminian Cemetery, the plaque was unveiled by an tArdmheara Micheal Mac Donncha and my colleague from the Reading Room Leo Magee recited the poem which he had written in honour of Bang Bang. Needless to say, Mr Key was an honoured guest at the graveside, Bang Bang’s cherished companion.
Mr. Key was centre-stage again in the evening, when celebrations took place outside the Bang Bang café. The author Dermot Bolger spoke about the importance of Bang Bang to Dublin folklore and revealed that his own play about the Dublin cowboy would be premiered at Bewley’s Café Theatre this autumn. The actor John McCann then recited a poem about Bang Bang, again written by Dermot Bolger. The historian Donal Fallon gave a talk on the history of the 1950s in Dublin – the era when Bang Bang was most active. I needn’t tell you that all of this performance took place on the back of a 1950s bus, courtesy of the National Transport Museum. And of course my own sociable self was there, sitting at the back of the bus and keeping an eye on Bang Bang’s key. The children were fascinated by Mr Key, asking if they could be photographed with him, while the adults shared reminiscences with him of the glory days with Bang Bang. The celebrations concluded with Dublin coddle served to all and very delicious it was too. And that evening and the following day the media was full of Bang Bang and his adventures and for a little while we were all young again.
More News from Nelson next month!
About Nelson's Head
The Head from Nelson’s Pillar is on display in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library & Archive. As Admiral Nelson is a valued member of staff, we have invited him to write his own monthly blog.
Read more News from Nelson
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- First Cat
- Ships Ahoy!
- Rear Admiral!
- Dear Friends and Fellow-Sailors, an introductory blog from Nelson's Head