Dublin had many eccentric “characters”, through the years. The names of Zozimus and Johnny Fortycoats people the streets and entertained the populace. Bang Bang was one of these chaps, who did not work for a living or come from a monied stock; rather he existed at the whim of fortune and the charity of the community.
Growing up, Bang Bang, real name Robert Dudley, was our local source of fun. He was born in 1906, lived his life, traveling trams and buses and “shooting” people with a huge church key as his pistol. He played cowboys with anyone passing by, whether they wanted it or not! In my time, the trams had gone, but the double decker buses had an open platform at the back for getting on and off, from which the stairs ascended to the upper deck. This was the normal habitat of the bus conductor and assorted baby prams. It was also a natural perch from which to ambush passers-by. People loved his antics, and joined enthusiastically in the games. Paddy Crosby, the broadcaster, recounts a gunfight in Marlborough Street, which lasted twenty minutes and involved several American tourists. At times, people were known to drop down dead, or return fire from doorways and behind lamp-posts. I’m talking about adults here, workmen, housewives and passing clergy, (with the exception of nuns, nobody shot at nuns, and neither were they known to return fire…) This may sound like quite odd behaviour, but as I mentioned, Bang Bang was appreciated, and people loved the unexpected entertainment. Personally, I was shot one time from the window of the No.82 bus, as it headed for Bangor Road. It was a single-decker, so no platform, but the bus driver obliged by slowing down and allowing a clear surprise shot at us gang of urchins!
His loud “BANG”, was quite startling, and one story we heard as children that he had been gassed on the Western Front. This added considerably to his mystique among us young fellow cowboys, but I found out much later that it was not true.
He lived in a single downstairs room in a dilapidated house on the corner of Mill Street and Mill lane. Much of the rest of the block occupied by O’Keefe’s the Knackers, a rendering plant. This emporium took in dead animals and made glue by boiling entire carcasses. The smell on a bad day would stop a clock. No doubt this was why Bang Bang was allowed stay there. He was an innocent, gentle person, and as children, we visited him and shared sandwiches and sweets. The sandwiches were provided by our mothers and aunts, with instructions to share generously, or we would get into deep trouble. ( Nothing tasted quite like liquorice sticks with cheese and tomato sandwiches, graced with the background odour of boiling glue…) The sweets were our own contribution. As I remember it, his room opened straight onto Mill Street and consisted of a bed and a large open fire, on which he attempted to cook. There was no electricity. His clothes were heaped on boxes around the room, and his bed covers included several manky overcoats. Local people looked after him, to the lovely extent that his door didn’t even have a lock.
Bang Bang told us one day that he was moving, that “the Nuns” were fixing him up with his own caravan with electricity. It was actually the Rosminian Brother’s, in Cabra on the North side of Dublin who looked after him. Losing his sight in later life, he finished his days in the Clonturk House for the Blind, and died in 1981. While initially he was buried in an unmarked grave, a headstone was erected in 2017, after fundraising by a café named after him.
I am privileged to have shared a little time with this gentle man.