The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

John, Pat and Neil Sedakas


George Young • 5 June 2004

I recently visited Glasgow, a place where there is a sectarian divide,a place not too dissimilar to Belfast. The reason for my visit being, a friend of my wife was having health problems and like most women, my wife thinks that she can resolve the problems of the world, so, to Glasgow we had to go.

As we were travelling over to Scotland on the ferry, my wife informed me that her friend Bridie's husband John is a Protestant and a Rangers supporter, though why she felt it would make any difference to me, I don't know, because as I have said before, I was born a Protestant, a republican one, but a Protestant never the less.

On arrival in Scotland, the first thing that happened was, I was stopped by Special Branch and asked for identification and after being detained for threequarters of an hour( the shortest time I have ever been detained by any police force), supposedly, while they authenticated my identification,( they were actually searching my car) I was allowed to carry on my journey to Glasgow.

Bridie, my wife's friend, stays in Dennistoun in the East End of Glasgow, which incidentally, is where Parkhead, the home of Celtic Football Club is situated and as I discovered later, a public house called the Loudon Bar.

So, after what felt like a lifetime of driving around in circles (we got lost about five times), we finally arrived at Bridie's and were met and greeted by Bridie and her husband, John, at the mouth of the close (the opening to a three storied tenement building) where they stay.

Bridie looked an awful lot different from when I knew her as an eighteen year old in West Belfast back in the seventies, at the outset of the Troubles. Then she was, Bridie Gallagher, a raven haired, rosy cheeked, Irish beauty, who always had an opinion about everything and who according to her, was never wrong. Now, she looked like a frail old woman who was obviously seriously unwell, and who, as I listened to her talking, had developed a half Irish, half Glasgow accent, but I suppose if you live somewhere for thirty years you do pick up some of the colloquialisms.

John, actually looked more Irish than I do, with his bright red hair and face to match, I thought he looked like the epitomy of what an American film producer would think any Irishman should look like, but John wasn't Irish, he was Scottish and as I was to discover later, very proud of that fact.

After the usual introductions, John said to me "Awright big yin, rey tell me yer wan ae us", so not knowing to what he was referring, I smiled politely and nodded. To which, he then replied, "Efter ye get a tightener, we'll leave the wimmin tae talk awe that wimmin's shite an' a'll take ye tae a right good boozer, ye'll like it there, nae Taigs allowed".

Now I don't know about anybody else, but talking in the manner in which John had just done, is not the best way for anybody meeting myself for the first time, to actually ingratiate themselves, but as I looked at my wife and saw the look that says, "Don't you dare say anything", I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and kept my mouth firmly shut.

After we had what John had referred to as a "tightener", which I learned meant something to eat, John stood up and said, "Heh Bridie, while you 'n' yer Mickey pal ur reminiscin', me 'n' ra big yin ur gonnae head doon ra Loudon fur a cupla beers, awright".

To which she replied "Aye, nae borra"

So off we went to the pub, myself and my obviously religiously bigoted companion.

As we approached the Loudon Bar, John turned and said to me, "See this boozer, it wiz oan ra telly, know thoan programme aboot Britain's hardest pubs, thurs some real characters in it, a'll need tae gie ye a knockdoon tae Big Robie".

I couldn't help wondering if the makers of the programme had ever thought about visiting the Felon's Club.

The first thing I noticed about the bar that we were about to enter was that it had no windows and had the Glasgow Rangers crest emblazoned on the doors and on the tiles on the floor as you walked in.

Once inside, you were treated to what can only be described as a shrine to Glasgow Rangers Football Club, with paintings of players past and present decorating the walls and even the toilets, as I discovered later.

As we moved closer to the bar, people were shouting greetings to John and I didn't quite catch what he had said, so he repeated himself "Whit ur ye wanting? Don't take ra heavy, A'm sure they piss in it." he said, I told him lager would be fine.

Turning from the bar John said "Ersi big man" and shouted "Awright Robie, how ye daein',
ris is Bridie's mate's man fae Belfast, ris is George, its awright, he's wan ae us".

Robie was a man in his forties about six feet tall and built like an ox. The first thing I noticed about him as we shook hands, was that he had the letters UDA tattooed across his knuckles, and I automatically made the assumption that he was your typical loyalist moron of whom I had seen hundreds over the years, but his hand shake was firm and his eyes didn't leave mine, as he said in a quiet, slightly cultured sounding voice, "Alright George, how are you and how are things in Belfast, anything changed since the start of the peace process?"

I replied that not much had changed for the working class people and that it was the same old story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

To which, Robie looked straight into my eyes and said, "Ah, a rare commodity in this place, a socialist like myself, everybody in this dump is either a dumb orangeman who pays homage to the English queen or a Tory who extolls about all the good things that Maggie Thatcher did for Britain, but when you ask them to name one, they immediately change the subject. Basically, the biggest majority of them, don't know their arse from their elbow."

At this point John excused himself and said, "A'll leave yuse two tae talk shite, A'm away tae talk tae JayJay."

Robie then informed me, with a little glint in his eye, that the person who John was going to speak to, is the only Catholic who drinks in the pub and that the reason for that is, JayJay's mother hasn't told him what his religion is yet, as it might be too much for him to take in at the one time and that the reason John is talking to him is that, he is the only person in the pub who John can feel intellectually superior to.

So, I sat and entered into a political conversation with a person, who although he held a completely different viewpoint from my own regarding the politics of Northern Ireland, was putting forward some valid points about the loyalist side of things and I began to realise that this man was no moron.

As the conversation developed, I discovered that as a nineteen year old, he had been in the British Army and had been stationed in Belfast in the eighties and that he had encountered first hand what he called "that bullshit war". He told me of people who had been in the same unit as him, who had been killed and of others, who after their tour had finished, had never been quite the same.

I replied, without trying to give away where my own loyalties had lain throughout the conflict, that to the republican side at that particular time, it hadn't been a "bullshit war".

Although I didn't tell him that there were an awful lot of us who perhaps felt that way now.

He then, to my astonishment, told me that he could understand the Catholics' point of view and said, "Any people who are being pissed on from a great height, in my opinion, have the right to take up arms to defend themselves, I don't care whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Moslem or Hindu. As a matter of fact , if the English Army had marched into Glasgow, I believe that every Glaswegian, be he Protestant or Catholic, would have been taking up arms."

Just at that point John returned and caught the end of what his friend had been saying, "Aye yer dead right big man, we widda booted they English bastarts back tae where they came fae," he said.

At that point I excused myself and went to the toilet, two pints of lager is generally my limit at any one time and I had drunk about two and a half, so a visit to the toilet was definitely required.

When I entered, there was a guy already using the toilet who turned as I came in and said,

"Awright big yin, you big John's wife's mate's man fae Ireland, the big mans a Neil Sedaka", which all came out as one long word and left me wondering what a Neil Sedaka was.

"A'm JayJay, ra bigyins brand new, thick, but brand new. Ur you a Tim bigyin? A um, A'm ra only wan allowed in ris shoap. Ray awe think A'm daft , bit JayJay's no' as daft as awe ray balloons think he is".

JayJay then went on to tell me all about the day that Rangers had won the league championship and that the pub had been encircled by about two thousand irate Celtic fans who were intent on wreaking their own personal revenge on all the patrons of the Loudon.

"Aye, they were gonnae murder the lot ae us, but JayJay jist took his Tricolor badge oot, stuck it oan his jaickit an' walked through the lot ae them".

And I thought, he's right, he isn't stupid and more astute than myself and probably most of the bar's customers.

After I had finished what remained of my third pint, John asked me if I wanted to head home, so we said our farewells to Robie, JayJay and a few other people who John had been in conversation with, when, as we were opening the door to leave the bar, Robie called me back and whispered in my ear, "Give my regards to West Belfast".

I then nodded , as did he, we shook hands and both John and I left.

John and I didn't converse too much on the way back to his house, just the odd comment about football in general and who we both believed would win the European Nations Cup. "France".

When we got back to John and Bridie's, John fell asleep. My wife, Bridie and I sat and talked about the old times till about 3:00am, before retiring for a well earned night's sleep.

In the morning after we had breakfast, we said our goodbyes, as my wife and I were going to visit a cousin of hers on the other side of Glasgow, where we would stay the night.

So, after getting directions from John on how to best negotiate the journey to the Gorbals on Glasgow's south side, we set off.

As we travelled, my wife informed me that Bridie had a brain tumour and that she was going into hospital the following week to have it removed. There wasn't a lot to say about that, so for the remainder of the journey, we remained quiet.

After about a half hour's journey, we duly arrived at my wife's cousin Maggie's house. John's directions were absolutely spot on.

Maggie and her husband Pat live in the high flats that are dotted around the Gorbals and after finding the correct block, we made our way via the elevator to Maggie's house.

Arriving at the correct house we knocked on the door and it was opened by a man who could have been John's brother, who immediately threw his arms around my wife, giving her a massive hug and shouted, "Heh Maggie, its Grania an' 'er man."

I then heard the scurrying of feet along the hallway and a woman, who I presumed correctly to be Maggie, appeared and gave my wife the same treatment as her husband had before her.

After the normal introductions, we entered their house.

As I sat down, Pat spoke to me, saying, " See efter big man, when the pubs open, A'll take ye tae a good boozer, O'Neil's its called, its wan ae they Irish theme pubs, its full ae Celtic supporters, ye'll like it in 'er."

I nodded politely, but had the feeling of de-ja vu.

So, we sat around drinking tea, while my wife told them all about our visit to Bridie and John's place.

When my wife mentioned John and Bridie's names, Pat said, "Bridie's a Neil Sedaka, bit A cannae go him, he's an Orange bastart."

There he was again, the singer of Solitaire and I was just going to ask what a Neil Sedaka was, but Pat carried on saying, "Know whit, she says A look like him an' A said tae her, Aye, an ra Pope's no' an Italian. Look like him, aye rattle be right."

I was going to tell him that he was absolutely right, that the Pope wasn't an Italian but I didn't think it would go down too well, so I sat with my lips sealed and said nothing.

At precisely twelve noon, Pat stood up and said, "Maggie, A'm gonnae take ra bigyin ower tae O'Neil's fur a pint. Ur yuse wantin' tae come tae?"

To which both spouses replied in the negative. So we set off to the Irish theme pub.

It was about twelve thirty when we arrived at the pub, we had to get on a bus to get there and as we walked through the door of the bar, I caught the sound of "The Fields Of Athenry" blaring out from a jukebox.

The place was amazingly busy for that time of the day and every second person, it seemed, was dressed in the green and white hoops of Celtic Football Club.

Pat said to me, "Grab a seat, an' A'll get ra beer, whit ye wanting?"

I told him that lager would be fine and off he went to the bar. I sat down at the nearest table, where two people were already seated, a man and a woman. Both he and she had the same mode of dress as every other person in the place, so they were obviously Celtic supporters.

As I sat waiting for the return of Pat with the beers, I decided to light a cigarette but my lighter seemed to have run out of gas, so as I busily flicked away at my lighter trying to get it to ignite, the gent at the other end of the table, leaned over and flicked a lighter under my nose to give me a light, which I duly took, I thanked him and settled back waiting for the return of Pat.

The man then said to me, "You, Irish?" To which I replied in the affirmative.

"Fae wher?" he then asked, to which I begged his pardon, as I didn't understand the question.

The woman then said, "Whereaboots in Ireland ye fae?"

At which point, Pat had returned from the bar and replied for me, saying, "He's fae Belfast, awright Kevin, Mary, how yez daein'. Ris is Maggie's cousin's man, his name's George."

Pat obviously knew both of them, so as Pat did the introductions, I shook both of their hands. As I did so, Kevin leaned forward, pulled at the front of his football top and said, "You know whit rat is?"

I replied that I did and told him that it was a Celtic top.

At my response, he erupted into laughter and said, "Naw no' rat, ya bamstick,rat", as he pulled at the front of his football shirt yet again. It was then that I noticed, to what he was referring.

He had a badge with a Phoenix on it, the badge of the Provisionals, he wasn't a Provo, but he was putting me in a rather awkward situation, as I didn't quite know how to reply to the question, so I thought I had better reply in the affirmative to see where the conversation would lead, which I duly did.

He then retorted, "Ye must be wan ae us." and patted me on the shoulder, I just smiled.

His wife then asked if I was on holiday and how long I would be in Scotland, so I told her about Bridie's situation and that my wife and I would be returning to Belfast the following morning.

Pat then asked, "Whit did ye dae last night then, did ye go oot wi' that Orange bam?"

Presuming that he was talking about John, I said that I had and that we had gone to his local bar for a couple of beers.

In total amazement, Pat roared, "WHIT, ur ye aff yer heed, rat balloon drinks in ra Loudon, its full ae loyalists, if ray foun' oot rat ye were a Tim, ye coulda goat murdered in 'er. Somebody should drap a bomb oan rat dump."

I told him that everyone I had met there had been courteous and friendly and that I had enjoyed the conversation, although I must admit that what he had said sparked a realisation in me which I hadn't thought about, the previous night.

It was the first time in my life that I had ever, knowingly, drank with loyalist supporters, which to be perfectly honest, provoked a certain sadness in me.

Both Pat and Kevin proceeded to tell me the same story, which JayJay had told me the night before, about the surrounding of the Loudon by Celtic fans and of the running battles between rival sets of fans, before and after the incident.

After we finished our third beer, Pat and I decided to make our way back to his place, so after we had said our goodbyes to Kevin and Mary we set out. When we arrived, we discovered that his house was full of our two wives' relations, so the rest of the evening was spent listening to all the family reminiscing.

In the morning, as we walked to our car, after saying our farewells to Maggie and Pat, I remembered something, turned back, walked up to Pat and enquired of him what a Neil Sedaka was.

He erupted in laughter and said, " Its Glesga rhymning slang, it means rat yer a cracker."

As we travelled back to Ireland on the ferry, I couldn't help thinking about what Robie had said, regarding the scenario of English troops on the streets of Glasgow and of what he believed would happen. It made me quite sad that the people of Ireland had never adopted that attitude with regard to Thirty Two Counties, perhaps there would not have been any conflict between Irishman and Irishman but as the song says "What's done is done."

I just hope that it is not, "lost and gone forever."




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

7 June 2004


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John, Pat and Neil Sedakas
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