Down memory lane
A day in Madden’s and the Felons

I had occasion to go into town during the New Year and I must confess I was taken aback at the changes that have taken place, especially when I saw what had replaced the Hippodrome and the Ritz.

This emotion came in the same way as when I look what they have done to Celtic Park on the Donegall Road, it’s just simply a disgrace. The only place I kind of felt at home in was Smithfield Market, and even that has lost the magic of its heyday when everyone spoke to everyone. There is a carefulness about the place now that is a sign of the times – people are visibly very wary and no-one can blame them. I wouldn’t be there at night for all the tea in China!

I want to remember this week Madden’s Bar at the corner of Marquis Street and Berry Street, which is still going as strong today as it ever did. Madden’s was the first ‘early house’ I ever used and it holds a lot of stories and a lot of laughs.

It was the mid- to late-50s and I was carrying the hod to big Joe Coyle (RIP) and John Cassidy. I loved that job, that is until the day they told me that I had to start putting bricks in the hod. We were building houses in Coolnasilla, and it seemed like every brickie and hodsman in the city was on the job.

Those who remember it will probably agree with me that they were happy days indeed.

At that time Madden’s was run by a great character, Kevin Rooney, who took great delight in dropping drink trays behind punters who were trying to get their head talking to the rest of their body. Kevin caused many a nervous man to utter uncouth yells of anger at this tomfoolery; Kevin just laughed.

Madden’s had two men behind the crammed counter and I don’t recall them ever being under any undue pressure. Big Joe McGarrigle and a gentleman I can only remember as Owen had every customer down to the proverbial ‘T’. They knew what everyone in the place would order and acted accordingly, they were a treat to watch.

The place was choc-a-bloc with men who were, and still are, legends. It’s hard to know where to start.

I will begin just as you walked in the crammed hallway, and just as you arrived at the bar you could not help but notice big Harry and Seamus O’Rawe, Alby O’Rawe, big Eddie Dalzell, and that great conversationalist Albert Price. That was some line-up. The one thing Albert loved was a bit of confab, he was a master at it and he was great craic.

Madden’s was not a big bar and the men I have mentioned were all six-foot-plus and with physiques to match. They stood and smiled and talked small talk. Many in the bar had been in jail for their beliefs but did not talk shop.

The majority of the crowd were either dockers or worked at the building game. I was usually with Brian Finnegan, Paddy and Malachy Murray from Short Strand, and Brendan ‘Doc’ Doherty. They would get the big spoon out by slagging Al Bryson and his sons, Jim and Al Jnr, along with Jackie Haughey and Peter Haughey, Jimmy and Danny O’Prey and big Basil McAfee from Ardoyne, a great hodsman and a gentleman to boot.

The court jesters were big Ned Connolly, Rab Quinn, Dan McDonnell, big Eddie Dooley and Paddy Toland. And lined up against this outfit would be the Burnses and the Kanes, all top class tradesmen.

If anyone had taped these sessions along with Thursday afternoons in the Felons Club on the Andersonstown Road they would be millionaires – there was just no script.

In the middle of this hubbub and doing a bit of stirring was the inimitable Hector who would have kept a nation going. On hand to get the sing-song started was the elegant Jack Brennan with his stylish clothes, walking stick and brilliant red rose.

I met Jackie last Sunday night as I was going into bingo in St John’s and it was better than winning the lottery. He looked great.

I told Jackie where I was going and he quietly said, “It used to be a sing-song Fra.” I felt helpless.

It’s great to meet mates we haven’t seen for a while but when, like me, you reach 48 it gets a little less frequent.

Then there was the great Paddy Corrigan with his rendition of ‘Where is the Man?’ By now Madden’s was jumping.

Danny Feeney would have sung ‘My Lagan Love’ and then Jimmy Gardiner would give us a version of ‘Old Man River’ that would have done Paul Robeson credit.

By this time Herbie Smith would have his pork pie hat on, and with his brother Hack by his side Herbie would have given his brilliant monologue ‘The Face on the Bar Room Floor’ – pure class. Dixie Cordner would then sing ‘The Legion of the Rearguard’. Ah, memories!

I’ll finish now with a little event that happened in the Felons at Milltown after the Easter Sunday parade one year. The club was packed and big Seamus O’Rawe was doing MC. Seamus called Oliver McMullan from Rodney for a song. Oliver casually lifted his guitar, got a comfy chair and had Seamus fix the mike to suit him.

The hall went quiet waiting on Oliver’s effort. He plucked a few strings and began singing, “When I was a boy and old Shep was a pup”. Well, bedlam broke loose.
Seamus dived from the side of the stage roaring “That’s not an Irish song” and tossed Oliver, guitar and chair into the middle of the floor. Oliver’s mates from Rodney went bonkers yelling that Shep was born in Donegal. By this time Seamus was doing a war dance.

After about twenty minutes Seamus got order restored and called Jimmy Gardiner for a song. As was expected, Jimmy went into his favourite, ‘Ole Man River’, at which the Rodney outfit went berserk with big Paddy Cooke and wee Paddy McAllister leading the protest with howls of “That’s not an Irish song!” Seamus calmly replied: “I agree, it’s not Irish, but it’s about people fighting the same cause as ourselves.”

But the Rodney crowd booed and protested until Oliver was finally allowed to sing ‘Ole Shep’. It’s called democracy, folks.
There’s not a lot of it about.
Good luck.

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