He is everywhere, the teller of tall tales. Some are interesting for their inventiveness. Some merely boring as they relate their teller’s single-handed exploits. One Newry man who served in Korea – Joe by name, but I’ll not tell you his surname for he’d torture me – never tires of telling how he defeated that army practically on his oneyio.
Then there’s mere boasting to outdo the previous tale. In our youth we commuted to and from the City by hitching a ride. Leo McSherry had as little as the rest of us but needed to demonstrate he travelled quicker, better and in style. You got a lift inside ten minutes, Leo was away in five. Your lift was in a Toyota, Leo’s benefactor drove a Jaguar. One day he was telling a particularly outlandish lie when my pal interrupted: ‘You can’t beat this one Leo, and it’s the God’s truth. No sooner did we drop our duffle bags on theDownshire Road than down lands this helicopter. We were in Belfast City Centre within twenty minutes!’
George Connellan is a master of the tall tale. Listeners used to stand with bated breath and a mixture of delight and disbelief at his straight-faced brazenness and capacity for outrageous invention. I still cannot tell which tales had a modicum of truth. He built a swimming pool in his garden when he lived in the Glen. He neglected the formality of a survey and didn’t bother with the expedient of lining the pool to prevent seepage. In the three weeks it took to fill her, the water pressure fell for miles around and no one knew the cause. That is until the dam broke and there was a tidal wave down Glen Hill that took gardens and cars in its path.
He had a guard dog and a neighbour with a prized, well-groomed cat. Obviously the one hated the other (animals, that is) and it was the mutt’s ambition to devour the cat. Sure enough George came home one day to find his dog growling contentedly with the dead cat at his feet. It must have put up a good fight for it was covered in mud.
His neighbour not being home, George quickly dusted the dead cat down and laid it out on the mat on his neighbour’s porch, as though the cat had died in its sleep there. He then retired to the safety of his living room to await developments. He couldn’t believe the wailing and roaring of his neighbour when she came home to the terrible sight. He ignored it as long as he could, then rushed out to her aid. Unfortunately his dog followed him, with a particularly pleased expression on its ugly face.
‘What’s the matter, Missus?’ George asked.
‘You ask me what’s the matter? You know what’s the matter! It’s that dog of yours!’ she roared. ‘Just look at it. Happy now, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t understand’, said George innocently. ‘Is your cat all right?’ nodding in its direction.
‘My cat,’ she spoke slowly and deliberately, ‘As I think you well know, died yesterday under suspicious circumstances yet to be ascertained.’
She was making her own opinion of these circumstances well known.
‘I had to bury her in a grave I dug for her in my garden. And now that savage mutt of yours has gone and dug her up, and placed her corpse on my doorstep to torture me further. Either you or it, I don’t know which’.
Mention any story and he can top it. High diving? He was at a circus one time where yer man dived from a fifty foot pole into a wet sponge. Lost in the Sahara when he was serving in the French Foreign Legion he dropped out of the column and knocked the door of a convent. A nun came out and exclaimed to him, ‘God, George it’s you. How are they all in Newry?’ It turned out she was a cousin, twice removed, of Rose Marie, who is a cousin, trice removed of George himself.