dennis from tipperary

I was working in the bar of the Savernake Forest Hotel, near Marlborough, in the latter part of 1968, the year before the last Irish Troubles started. A lunchtime regular for a time was Dennis, the man in charge of the gang working on the railway that ran in a cutting alongside the hotel. Dennis was an Irishman. A very large Irishman with black curly hair and fists the size of my head, but he was softly spoken and pleasant-mannered.

My drink at that time was Guinness and bitter, also known as a ‘black and tan’ (if you don’t know why that is significant, look it up), and one day there were just three of us in the bar, not unusual on a weekday lunchtime. There was Dennis, me, and old George, a local who had retired to that part from London. Casual conversation ensued and George said, “What part of Ireland are you from Dennis?”
“Tipperary sir.”
“Oh” said George “I was out in Tipperary.”
“Now when was that sir?” said Dennis.
George, bless him, oblivious to the sensitivities of the topic, said “I was out in the barracks at the time of the Troubles.”
Out of the corner of my mouth I said, “Keep quiet, George.”
“What?” he said.
“Just keep quiet” and he did and we all went on to talk about other things.
Some time later Dennis said to me “And what would you like to drink, young fella?”
Without thinking I said, “That’s very kind of you Dennis, I think I’ll have a black and ta … a … a … ”. I suddenly realised what I was about to say, but by then it was too late.
Dennis looked at me for a moment then, leaning over the bar and looking me unflinchingly in the eye, said quietly but very seriously, “Not when I’m fucking buying you won’t.”
I said, “I’ll have a Guinness and bitter then.”
“That’s alright”, he said, and we quietly got on with drinking and chatting.