John McCullagh December 11, 2003
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I was scanning Newry Reporter back issues of fifty years ago when my eye fell upon a report from Newry Petty Sessions. Mr J C Austin R.M. on the evidence of Constables Ramsey and Moffett, found Bessbrook men Bernard O’Callaghan, William Walsh, Joseph Weir, Thomas McAteer and John Kane guilty of playing ‘pitch-and-toss’ in Frederick Street and fined each one ten shillings. 


Gambling now is state-sponsored through the National Lottery. It is also allegedly the fastest growing leisure time activity. Somehow it’s lost its fun.

We thought the police broke up our gambling and ‘pitch-and-toss’ schools because we were showing disrespect for the monarch’s image on the metal – a romantic notion that did nothing whatever to deter us. Our busiest ‘pitch-and-toss’ schools, held as an alternative to Sunday Mass-going, were located off the beaten track to hide from the prying eyes of both police and pious parents. The ‘richest’ local one where even half-crowns might be won or lost for ‘two heads’ or ‘two harps’, was under the electricity transformer behind Hollywood’s garage on Monaghan Street, an instillation much bombed during the IRA’s ’56-’62 campaign. We youngsters got short shrift. This was serious gambling and our pennies and ha’pennies were scorned. 

We were safer in our own school at ‘The Hut’ [Corrs’ shop] or better still, beside Sandy McNeill’s shed on the banks of the Derrybeg River. The police could approach only from The Wheel above us on Camlough Road where the Pighall Loanan wound down to The Meadow. They could be espied from afar and we had many escape boltholes.  

Until, that is, one sunny Sunday when they attempted a three-pronged attack, the others from Orior Road and Clanrye Avenue. All hell broke loose when the warning cry went up.


 ‘Rippppsss!!’


We younger ones were to blame for we were supposed to be keeping nick. The older men – some as old as twenty – had most to lose. Their tanners and bobs littered the ground awaiting the spin of the coins. They would be prosecuted if they were caught. There was the disgrace too but worse was the damage done to (already poor) job prospects from a criminal record. The wrath of parents, outraged at the bad example of non-Mass attendance before us younger ones, would also have to be faced. 

The putative prospect of physical hurt from swinging batons also had to be considered. Only the latter struck fear in the hearts of us younger ones!  

On the other hand, a lad who kept his nerve could profit enormously from just such a police raid. As Constables scrambled over garden walls in Helen’s Terrace after the older boys, a few of us held our ground and calmly removed ‘the evidence’ from the dust. We then (much less calmly) made our fearful way back, via rear gardens, to our own homes. Much later when the police finally retreated empty-handed, we slowly emerged to return our ill-gotten gains to their rightful owners.

No. 

 We did.  

Mostly!!

 


And I remember the calm after the storm. 

It must have been the late fifties, for Pat Boone was booming from a newly-acquired record player in McConvilles’s that ‘I’ll Be Home, My Darling’!  People were celebrating that no arrests had been effected.

And the sun was shining! 

Was the sun always shining then?  Or is this the ‘rose-tinted glasses’ effect?

By the way, Pat Boone is soon to do a Reminiscence Tour.  ‘I’ll be home’ for that!!

Did you know that he ‘discovered’ Roy Orbinson? 

 

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