Back in the 1970s Northern Irish bars stopped serving drink at 11pm and you were out the door at 11:30pm. If the publican or bar staff did not comply with this rule they could expect a visit from those big lads in green, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. But when you're in your teens or twenties and you're having a good time you don't want to go home before midnight. That is why if Kevin was around we'd often end up back in Meadow Street. Kevin, God love him, did not have the usual family thing going on, his Mum was dead and he lived with his Dad. Ned was a real character who usually spent his weekend evenings drinking in O'Rawes, a pub which, for some reason, didn't seem to have an obligation to close at the usual time. Ned would roll in some time after midnight in the best of form and, if he was in the mood for it, call in to see who was around and have a bit of craic with the company. Though not with me, for I was heart-feared of him.
The Wee Manny and a friend
Kevin had a wee terrier dog called Trouble. Trouble was also a character and danced only to his own tune. He had a back leg missing due to a brush with a moving vehicle but it never kept him back. The leg he lost was the one that he used to balance on when he needed to piss. You'd have thought he would have swapped balancing legs but not Trouble. Instead he somehow managed to balance on his two fore legs while he lifted this one remaining back leg to make his water. It was a sight to behold. Trouble was not one of those dogs who bothered himself with people and while he was prepared to tolerate the weekend invasions of young post-pub visitors he would not take kindly to being petted or stroked. Indeed he would have taken the hand off anyone who would have tried it.
Ned could be sharp too. Sometimes after he'd gone to bed he'd rise again and come down to us and order everyone out of the house. The thing to do was to look down, stay quiet and allow him to grumble himself back to bed. Nobody ever left. Oh - many the good night we had there and even the odd bad one too.
Christmas Night 1976 and I'd just been dumped
I remember one Christmas time when the bars had been packed and afterwards Meadow Street. Someone, I forget who, had a bit of hash and he rolled a joint. I was anxious to give hash a go for I'd never tried it before. The joint made its way around the room, everyone taking just a few drags. At last it reached the girl next to me. I was so excited. But she smoked and smoked and eventually finished it and stubbed it out. Then she remarked, “I don't know what people see in that oul stuff for it never does a thing for me!” I had to wait a while longer for my first smoke of a joint.
A few weeks ago I passed by Meadow Street and I thought of the scores of evenings we trekked there after the pub, not wanting the evening to end. And I thought of a tale that a musician friend had told me. Way back in the 1960s Cream were playing in Ireland. A local music promoter was driving them around and invited the band to stay in his home. The story is that Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce took up his kind and hospitable offer. But what of Eric Clapton? Apparently he was so wasted that he spent the night sleeping in a van in Meadow Street. I'm sure he wasn't the last.