Christmas Eve 2003 in the Railway Bar saw the unravelling of a story which had puzzled Wilbur Lundy from the Meadow from many a year earlier.
Myself and Liam Boyle were lucky enough to be present and witnessed the whole turning of events. Wilbur’s eldest son Billy was a keen dog lover and hunter [very much still is]. However the story dated back to the time when Bill was 11 years old – and was pieced together by the other two offspring of the Lundy household – Gerard and Robert plus information that Wilbur had unknowingly volunteered – what you are about to read, took years to unravel.
Wilbur had set a magic age limit of eleven for his sons to accompany him hunting with the shotgun. When Billy reached that special age he became dog- and hunting-crazy. Soon he had a ferret and was spending every spare minute in ‘Sharkey’s and Woodsie’s’ fields – he roved even as far as the 18 Arches – hunting poor defenceless rabbits.
Billy then teamed up with John ‘Couger’ McCusker from the Armagh Road and his dog loving and hunting was unstoppable. He became the proud owner of his first hunting dog ‘Spring’. Spring was a large white lurcher and was sold to Billy cheap as he had a terrible medical condition for a dog – epilepsy! Believe it or not, the dog was known to take massive fits and convulsions out of the blue and reports have it that when they occurred, young Billy was nearly having a coronary attack to match.
Wilbur was a hard but very fair man and he really had to pull Billy and his hunting ethics into line a few times – the child really was out for a vengeance and tried to kill every rabbit in Newry at one time. It is well known that on his last day at St. Patrick’s Primary School – they were getting to watch a film on the big projector before being released – well, the film was no other than ‘Watership Down’ and Billy boy left early in serious disappointment of his fellow pupils, Julian Stack, Joe Kavanagh, Johnny Hanna and Mickey Devine who were all crying in sympathy for the poor Rabbits.
It was just about this time when the Lundy’s got new neighbours at Derrybeg Drive. Peter and Peggy Kelly had just moved into number 36 and to Billy’s surprise, one of Peter’s daughters had a pet rabbit. Well, what a commotion it caused. Wilbur told him in no uncertain terms that there would be ‘wigs on the green’ if the rabbit was touched.
This then became an embarrassment to the boy hunter – he had now joined the ranks of more serious hunters ‘Cripper Martin’ and his cousins Andrew and Paul McKeown. These boys were dishing out serious slagging and bad manners to Billy for allowing this rabbit to be in such close proximity to him and his beloved hunting dog, Spring.
But his dad Wilbur’s stern words about the Rabbit not getting touched far outweighed the social disgrace Billy was enduring from his new hunter friends.
Incidentally I believe they were better known as the ‘oxy gang’ due to their oxford shoes culture. Poor Cripper Martin still tries to turn back the clock – and still has his oxfords on!
Anyway to complete the story. Wilbur was giving his wife Kate a lift over the town for a spot of Saturday morning shopping, while the three boys were in their pyjamas watching some cartoons (apparently it was the Incredible Hulk and the youngest fella Robert was hiding behind the couch in terrible fear of the green monster). It was at this time that it all happened. Billy went out to the kitchen with the intention of getting a bowl of Frosties cereal when suddenly he let a deafening scream. (Nicky Smith, the neighbour on the other side of the Lundy house remembered it well, claiming it woke him abruptly).
Gerard and Robert ran to assist their elder brother – and looking from the kitchen window, all the three Lundy boys could see was the big white Lurcher tossing the next door neighbour’s rabbit up in air like a rag doll. Billy was so white in colour he matched the dog’s brilliant coat.
He and Gerard ran out to the back garden and after a brief struggle, they managed to get the rabbit away from Spring. Billy was in a serious state of panic and didn’t know what to do. I’m pretty sure he was thinking of Wilbur’s words and promises of a severe punishment should anything happen to Kelly’s Rabbit. Billy guessed what had happened: that Spring jumped the wall between the two houses and had easily taken the rabbit from the flimsy hutch. The dog must have had the rabbit from the middle of the night, for stiffness had set in and it was rock solid.
A plan was hatched and Billy dished out the instructions to his two younger brothers. Robert was told to go and get his mothers hair dryer and comb and Gerard had to go and get some shampoo from the bathroom. Billy then proceeded to wash and shampoo the Rabbit under the kitchen sink removing all the dogs’ slobbers, saliva and dirt from its soft brown coat. The rabbit was subsequently dried and brushed using Kate’s hair dryer and brush. It looked perfect. ‘Better than new!’ Billy exclaimed. All he had to do now was get it back in the hutch without the Kelly’s noticing and before Wilbur got back from shopping with Kate.
Over the fence he went, real commando style and he quietly put the rabbit back in the hutch. The rabbit was so stiff at this time that Billy was even able to stage the rabbit perked upright with a piece of carrot in his mouth. The mission was a success and Billy marvelled at his quick thinking and the avoidance of a good tanning from Wilbur over his dog’s actions.
The following morning Wilbur was leaving the house early for 8 a.m. Mass (which apparently he still does to this day) when Peter Kelly joined him for the walk to St Brigid’s. The two men were passing comments about the weather and what-not. Peter then started telling Wilbur of a strange hullabaloo with his pet rabbit.
‘Something very fishy is going on’, Peter said. ‘I went out to the hutch late last night and the Rabbit was there.’
Wilbur didn’t really understand what Peter’s issue was.
‘What’s wrong with that, was it not supposed to be?’ he asked.
‘No!’ Peter said. ‘The poor thing died on Wednesday and we buried it down the back of the garden in our flower bed.’
Now for those of you who don’t know Wilbur Lundy, you can usually find him standing (never sitting) in the Railway Bar most Friday nights. Mind you, if you are looking for Wilbur, you won’t find him there during Lent. He has legendary ‘Will Power’ and he totally abstains from the sauce over the Lenten Period. Even the glorious St Patrick can’t drive him out of the house for a one off celebration.
More of you will know Wilbur for his famous cry while working as a Swimming Instructor in Newry Swimming Pool,
‘Put Your Head in the Water’.
Wilbur worked there for over 30 years and has probably given everybody in the whole of Newry and Mourne a lesson or two at some stage. Now, when you do confront Wilbur for a bit of banter, you will no doubt have to listen to some of his other yarns and tales of old, for the man is a natural historian, and his story telling ability is second to none (well at least at the start of the night).
Wilbur is well renowned for his world travels – he was just a young lad when he headed off to sea, earning his keep tending ships engines and plotting paths. Two famous stories that I have heard regurgitated were based around the coast of Africa and the Suez Canal. In fact, it was these renowned chronicles that got Wilbur the first job in Newry Swimming Pool, for at that time there were no qualifications or formal lifesaving lessons – but as you will read, he was a worthy applicant.
It was a coarse evening and they had just passed the coast of Madagascar, when a ‘man overboard’ wail was bellowed about the ship. Now, for those of you not familiar with shipping abilities – it was not possible for the ship just to stop for she was a big tanker and their turning circle was about 4 miles! Now the poor fella who went overboard didn’t have a chance, and we aren’t talking about the shark infested waters – No, not that, it was just that he couldn’t swim. Well, to the astonishment of the rest of the crew, Wilbur grabbed the lifebuoy ring and flung it overboard and he quickly followed himself after he undid his boots. The champion knew that he would be in the freezing cold, shark infested water for at least 45 minutes before the rescue boat could get to him, but fearing not for his own safety he risked life and limb to perform the dangerous rescue. I understand he received a promotion and a fair few pats on the back.
Well following that escapade the man was nearly outdone by a bet when travelling on the Suez Canal. Now for those of you not too well versed on geography, Wilbur will be quick to tell you exactly about the wonders of the Suez Canal and how it links the Mediterranean and the Red Seas. Anyway, the lads were on a merchant cargo ship on this occasion and they were docked right slap bang in the middle of the canal, waiting for some paper work to be completed, when they started a stone throwing competition. The deceiving size of the canal had them think they could reach the bank with the fling of a stone. Now I understand that when onboard a ship, the crew liked to gamble a bit and as the old saying goes, they would bet on two flies going up a wall. Wilbur was challenged and the bets rolled in thick and fast. Could he swim to the bank of the Suez Canal and back to the ship again within an hour? Now, the misleading appearance of the canal gave Wilbur the illusion that a quick 20 minute dash could have him there and back – easy peasy!
Let’s cut a long story short. He succeeded and claimed his prize, but never again was his holler heard!