In the middle part of the last century there was many a pitch-and-toss school in and around Newry. The one I remember most was the one in Dromalane Park. It usually started after 10.30 Mass down at the football pitch.
There were first the ‘looker-outers,’ usually young boys who had a ball and looked out for the police. If they were seen then the shout went up and the members of the ‘toss school’ took up playing football. The boys had it down to fine art and I don’t remember anyone getting caught by the police at the toss.
Then there were the ‘stookies’. They were in charge of the money of the person tossing the half-pennies. It was their job to get as much as possible on for the person tossing the two coins who had to ‘head’ the half-pennies. The call might go up ‘heads two shillings’ or whatever and if one was betting on him not to head the coins, then the reply was ‘harps your two shillings’ or what ever part of it you liked. If he headed the coins then he collected the money and stayed ‘in’ until he harped the coins. The ‘stookie’ would get a few bob from the player if he won. The stookie would then start into playing the toss so the money went round. It was never ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ by the way it was always ‘heads’ or ‘harps’.
It was pretty hard to cheat at the toss but people were sometimes found to have a two headed half-penny but woe betide the person caught with one. To make sure that all was above board the ‘harps’ side had to be up front so that the punters could see them. Many a wage was lost at a toss and many a person went away with quite a bit of money. This is one such story.
One Sunday at about 1.30pm the toss was going well when a gentleman, who was on his way home from certain club for his dinner, stopped at the toss. The call went up: ‘ Heads a pound’ and the said gentleman said, ‘I’ll cover that.’ He duly did, and went on to cover any other bet with any one who would take his money. The player harped the coins and lost. The gentleman won his money and continued to back ‘harps’ for about twenty minutes and won every time. He then bid everyone good day and went home leaving the school nearly broke.
The next two Sundays he proceeded to do the same and again broke the school. On the forth Sunday things changed. The looker-outers were told to forget the police and watch out for a certain gentleman. The shout went up, ‘Here he comes!’