Bingo had become popular in Newry and weekly sessions arranged by local parishes and clubs were a lucrative way to enhance their funds. It was also a welcome social event for many of the residents, and better still if you managed to shout, “CHECK!’ and win a cash prize.
Most Friday nights I accompanied my mother to an out-of-town Bingo session. The free bus would pick us up at Dublin Bridge and many more enthusiasts would board at Bridge Street and Dublin Road. The mood was light and the craic was jovial until we arrived at our destination. Soon it turned serious! The caller announced ‘Eyes down’ and everyone became focused on the game in play.
One night just before Christmas a special announcement was made that there would be an extra game in the ensuing weeks; each week the prize would be a 22-24lb turkey which could be collected the Friday before Christmas.
My Mum was one of the lucky early winners, but we continued to attend until that fateful Friday before Christmas!
There was pandemonium in the hall as the various winners climbed on stage to collar and catch their prize. Amid much heavy fluttering and squawking, squeals and guffaws, roars of encouragement from the audience, appeals to leave the poor, dumb birds alone, swearing and laughter, the numbers of unshackled turkeys gradually began to diminish!! The air was heavy with feathers and litter deposited by the frightened poultry! Those who hadn’t won a bird were nevertheless regally entertained! Eventually we managed to catch ours. A further dilemma!
Tie a piece of string around its neck and take it on the bus with you. Sure, it can sit on the luggage area at the front.’
We alighted at Dublin Bridge and again, praying that no-one I knew would see me, I was compelled to lead the turkey down River Street to our house.
Olwen and Liam Dean on the Tide Wall opposite 12 River Street. Dublin Bridge Rail Platform is behind Right, Dromalane Mill behind left, the Steam Packet and Albert Basin between these!! Houses in distance are Glenvale Crescent.
‘ Now what do we do?’ I asked my mother.
Liam is in, and he will help you take the turkey into the back yard.
Jim and Brian will be finished their factory shift at 11.00pm and they will know what to do then.’ Our sister Irene was living in London at this time.
Jim had previously worked for Murphy’s of Abbey Yard and Brian had worked as a messenger for Downey‘s butchers of Monaghan Street. They would know what to do!
Liam and I tried to get the turkey into the back yard but it had other ideas! It started flapping its wings aggressively and clucking loudly. Liam and I turned tails and ran out of the house – quickly followed by our mother. It was a cold December night so we sat on the tide wall huddled together to keep ourselves warm until Brian and Jim came walking towards us.
‘Why are you sitting there like three eejits?’ Brian enquired, solicitously.
Mammie told them to go into the house.
When they did, we suddenly heard a peal of ear-splitting laughter that must have been heard by the whole of Newry too.
Brian came running out and explained that the turkey was asleep on the armchair in front of the fire.
Sure enough when we looked, the turkey was indeed perched on the armchair asleep -enjoying the heat of the fire. Jim was ordered to do what he had to do! But Brian, an animal lover pleaded with him.
‘Don’t kill it, arr fella, we could keep it in the back yard as a pet!’
Mammie by this time had had enough and gave them the sharp edge of her tongue,
‘Brian, stop your rambling and give me peace or it won’t be the turkey that will be hung up at the back of the door.
Mammie’s cousin Nurse Phyllis Kearns always said it was like a pantomime in our house!
She would certainly have got her money’s worth that night!
I don’t think any of us quite enjoyed our Christmas dinner that year.
Every mouthful reminded us of that turkey comfortably asleep on the armchair and enjoying the warmth of the fire.
As for Brian: he is now a vegetarian. Enough said??
Whenever I relate this story to friends in London they look at me with disbelief.
Well you can’t really expect them to understand, having never lived in Newry!
… born before 1986 …
… born before 1986 …