© Eamon O'Leary
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
One chapter from a collection of stories about growing up in the 60/70’s. Hopefully humorous in parts.
The First Durex Machine in Cork
Sex was banned in Ireland in the 60’s and 70’s. A crowd of gobshite politicians theoretically governed the Country. In reality, the Catholic Church ran the show. Sex and any mention of it deemed evil. All works of art depicting nudity in museums had to have their “little bits” covered up lest they corrupt the population.
Remember that old favourite “Where Do You Go My Lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt? Banned. Decreed too suggestive. Radio Eireann, the national broadcaster, was ordered not to play the record. Many harmless books by Lee Dunne, Edna O’Brien and other acclaimed authors also got the chop.
To keep everyone in line, The Church had The Mission. For two weeks every winter, a group of travelling sadists took over the parish church. They were mostly from a tribe called The Redemptorists and they’d conduct indoctrination sessions every night. They were real pro’s and brilliant orators. The sessions were segregated. Men one week, women the following week. Every aspect of life and religion was covered but one night was always devoted to dealing with “sins of the flesh”.
It would all start calmly enough, with yer man going through all the Adam and Eve stuff and the need for couples to procreate. He’d be blathering away in a whisper for ages and many would nod off. Then all Hell would break loose.
The Padre would be roaring from the pulpit, scaring the shit out of everyone who now sat bolt upright. Adultery, Fornication, Masturbation and any Impure Thoughts whatsoever would guarantee you a place in the deepest fires of Hell for all Eternity. On and on he’d rant until it was time for the Rosary and, of course, the nightly collection.
Many a young lad who’d only just discovered the pleasures to be had under the blankets was sent home scared out of his wits. There were rumours that you’d go blind or that it would fall off if you were at it too much but Jeez – Hell for all Eternity was a different story.
The Impure Thoughts also threw us. Everyone I knew constantly thought about girls. All they had to look forward to now was the fire of Hell.
Contraception was totally forbidden. Eternal damnation was waiting for anyone who ever donned a rubber. Was it any wonder the maternity hospitals were so busy?
Johnnies (condoms) were a constant subject for discussion at school. None of us had a clue what they even looked like, what they were for, how to use them or more critically, who to use them with.
That was all down to sex education. There was none. Many an embarrassed father tried his best. A friend was summoned one evening; “Come into the parlour son. I need to talk to you. Before you go to university, you need to know a few things.”
The father paused, trying to come up with the appropriate words.
“Son”, he said, “there are two things in this life that can get you into trouble” and without uttering another syllable, the poor man proceeded to point his finger at his tongue and then at his dick. End of sex education.
It was against this backdrop that I made my first trip abroad.
After leaving school, I'd joined a small rugby club where all the players were former pupils of my school. There were all sorts – solicitors, doctors, dentists, engineers and accountants who came from the “A” classes. The geniuses from the “B” classes had more menial jobs working in banks, insurance companies or the civil service. The mix was completed by a fair few dossers and chancers who’d done sweet feck all for the previous six years
Traditionally, rugby clubs would go “on tour” every few years to coincide with an away International. A “friendly” match was arranged in Cardiff in 1971.
I’d never been on a plane, stayed in a hotel or been away from home, so the excitement was unreal. About thirty of us made that trip. We were staying on Queen Street, in the Angel hotel. Paddy Mc, Frankie Doherty and myself shared. Two large windows looked down on the street below and the room had a wash-hand basin in it. Magic. Pure luxury for us. The jacks was down the corridoor.
We agreed a few house rules early on. The wash basin was only to be used for washing the face, washing the teeth and pissing into. It was definitely forbidden to try and have a dump in it.
Our match was fixed for the Saturday morning at 10am. On the Friday night, our hosts collected us and took us back to their club for a “get together”. That was when things started to go downhill for me.
Their clubhouse was a corrugated shed left over from the Second World War and furnished with long prison like benches. The kitchen was made up of two gas ovens in one corner with a Burco water heater. In another corner was the bar. To get things going, they plied us with some kind of witch’es brew called Bitter from huge enamel jugs. Jeez. It was vile stuff but and it’s a big BUT, it was free. It was probably homemade and tasted like a bad mixture of Brasso, paint stripper and cod liver oil. We lashed into it.
The “meal” was something else. Someone had unsuccessfully tried to camouflage some inedible cut of meat by putting lumps of it into pastry together with wedges of carrot and onion and gallons of gravy. Pork pies they called them. The locals gobbled them up like savages and we puked trying to swallow the stuff.
“I can’t eat that shite” said Paddy Mc.
We survived on peanuts and crisps.
I was paralytic by 10pm and have no recollection of being taken back to the Angel by Paddy and Frankie. Apparently, I missed a great night as the session went on ‘til dawn. Most of my night was spent in the aforementioned crapper down the corridor. Every peanut, crisp and everything else duly made their escape from my innards.
Everyone was destroyed the next morning. Slowly it dawned on us that we were meant to be playing a match. I wanted to die. Our opponents collected us and we headed back to their club. They were buzzing around like a fecking swarm of wasps, all full of life and enthusiasm. We were diseased.
There were very few coloured people in Ireland back then and it was a bit of a novelty to see a sprinkling of them around Cardiff. I never expected to be playing against one. A massive black guy led their team out. Jeez, he was fecking huge. A handsome giant, about six foot three with big, shiny thighs and about seventeen stone.
“Must be playing in the second row,” I said to Seanie, one of our forwards. “You’ll never win a line-out with him there.”
The game got going around ten thirty after we eventually managed to get fifteen on the pitch. I immediately went into deep shock. The black guy wasn’t playing in the forwards. No. He was on the wing. Opposite me. I possessed a delicate Woody Allen type physique, was quite fast and normally a reliable tackler.
But these were not normal times. On this occasion, given my terrible hangover, self-preservation took over. I decided to give Black Beauty free rein so to speak. By some miracle we managed to score first. A drop goal straight after the kick off.
Unfortunately, we took casualties from then on. The first scrum ended up being a rather messy affair. Just as the ball was put in, Paddy Mc, our hooker, who was feeling very poorly, puked all over their front row. Mayhem. The Welsh guys went crazy and there was a great scrap.
Naturally, I kept well away. I never did get too involved in the agricultural side of rugby and avoided rucks, mauls and scrums at all costs.
Paddy just made it to the sideline before throwing up again and from then on, we never had more than thirteen players on the pitch. We went down narrowly on a score line of 52 –3.
Black Beauty went over for three tries after I managed to just mistime all my tackles. We got a right bollocking after the game from the club president.
“Ye were a disgrace to the club, your city and the country. Useless, the whole fecking lot of ye”, he said before releasing an odious fart and heading off for a cure.
No showers after the game. Instead everybody from both teams piled into a giant sunken bathtub. We washed in a mixture of muddy lukewarm water, deep heat, spits, pee and blood. Then we got the smell from the kitchen.
They were at the pork pie lark again. Some of the lads starting empty retching in the bath and I managed to jump out before Johnny F, one of the props, threw another gusher. Very much the worse for wear we made our excuses, thanked our hosts and headed straight to the famous Cardiff Arms Park. Wales beat the crap out of us 23 –9. At least we saw the magical Gareth Edwards and Barry John play.
After the match, we headed back to our hotel to get a quick hour in bed. We couldn’t get close to the Angel. There were millions outside, pushing and crushing trying to get in.
Two huge bouncers, each with an Alsatian manned the door.
“Residents only” they’d shout.
Although we had our keys, it took ages to get in. The place was packed. About ten bars, all rammed to the gills. A few of us resisted the temptation and headed upstairs, past more bouncers, to our third floor rooms. I was just about to doze off when a beaming Paddy Mc came in. “Just did a bit of shopping” he said, throwing about a dozen packs of Durex on the bed.
We weren’t long coming back to life and quickly opened a few of the treasures. We pulled them, stretched them and then some eejit blew one up like a balloon. It was huge.
“I wonder how much water it'd hold” said Frankie making his way to the sink to conduct his experiment. “Must be a gallon in here.”
“What the feck are you going to do with it now?” asked Paddy.
The scientist managed to tie a knot in the top of the Johnny and announced that his invention would make a great bomb. We laughed. In a flash, he’d opened the window, looked at the crowd below, whistled loudly and when the Welsh miners looked skywards, he dropped his bomb.
Fecking Brilliant. We fell about the place laughing. More bombs were quickly launched in a similar fashion. The crowd below got soaked. The effing and blinding could be heard all the way to the third floor.
We became quite sophisticated. The four corners of the bed sheets were knotted together. Loaded bombs were attached and we chucked the lot out the window. Some did float like parachutes for a few seconds and others burst in mid-air but the end result was the same. The crowd below were getting much wetter and much angrier.
We quickly ran out of stock and I was dispatched to get fresh supplies. I made my way to the bog downstairs. One massive toilet serviced all the bars in the place.
It was tiled top to bottom, even walking into it created an echo. I made a quick piss. Having managed to figure out how to use the Durex machine, I legged it back to continue with the bombing campaign.
How Fecking stupid could you be? We were so dumb we'd never thought what would happen when the miners managed to wrangle their way into the hotel. Neither did we think how easy it was for them to pick out the rooms that the bombs were coming from. (we were launching from two adjoining rooms.)
I made it to the top of the stairs just in time to see about a dozen bruisers race along our corridor and literally kick both doors clean off the frames. What followed wasn’t pretty. They beat the shit out of the lads.
Naturally, there was no point in me intervening given my fragile frame and, of course, I was wearing glasses.
The Welsh took their revenge and threw everything in the room out the window. Bedclothes, mattresses and our clothes went off into the night.
I went in search of the cavalry.
“Hurry”, I told the receptionist, “our rooms have been broken into.”
A few bouncers were dispatched to check out the story. The miners were well gone and the rooms resembled a war zone.
After much discussion, the hotel agreed not to call the police and allowed us to sleep on the bare floors. There was nothing else for it, we went on an unmerciful bender.
Sunday arrived the same as Saturday. I was dying and beginning to think that this “touring” business wasn’t what I’d expected. I had no clean clothes. Managed to borrow from some of the others. (Jeez, I thought, the ma will kill me when I get home).
Our flight home wasn't ‘til 7pm. With money running out it was going to be a long Sunday. Everywhere in Cardiff was closed. Even the pubs only opened for a few hours. Around lunchtime we managed to swallow a few pints and a game of poker started.
Then one of the older lads came back after taking a dump with some bad news.
“I don’t believe it.” said Charlie. “The fecking Johnny machine is empty. I’ve orders from dozens of the mates. They’ll kill me if I go home empty-handed”.
Very much the worse for wear, he headed off to try and find another supply source.
A few of the more devious lads got thinking.
“If that machine is empty, it must be full of money.”
“Yeah,” said Seanie, “almost all our money.”
A reconnaissance team was sent to check out the scene. They returned with glum faces.
“No way. You’d need a fecking crowbar to get that thing off the wall.” Silence for a while. Then we remembered the debris in our room. We got two decent sized timber planks, all that remained of the wardrobe.
Big Seanie managed to get his hands on a small hatchet, the ones you'd see in a glass case near the fire escape. The crew was assembled and look-outs posted.
We made our way into the dungeon of a toilet. It was an impossible task. We hacked away at it for ages but Mr Durex was not going to move without one hell of a fight. One of the lads, a dentist, says he had come across wisdom teeth that hadn’t been as hard to pull as this machine.
At then eureka. With one mighty lash from the hatchet, the whole front of the machine exploded across the tiled floor, accompanied by a silver flood of two-shilling pieces. The noise was heard all over the hotel. Some ran, some hid in the shit-houses but most of us crawled around the pissy wet floor like rats, gathering up the money like street urchins.
We managed to make our escape before any of the staff figured out where the huge bang had come from. Our pockets were bursting and walking was almost impossible.
The police arrived. Stupidly, we were all sitting in the bar slugging back pints, paying for them from the stacks of two-bobs in front of us. I think the police thought the whole thing was a great laugh but the manager was freaking out. He definitely wanted action.
“Constable, I’ll have you know that there was over four hundred pounds in that machine.” (a massive amount of money in 1971).
Negotiations started and our President did a great job.
“I’ll do my best to get some money back for you,” said Mr C, “but my lads can’t be blamed just because the bloody Johnny machine fell off the wall.”
We had a quick whip around and came up with about seventy quid.
The manager wasn’t pleased but the officers told him there was little they could do.
“We cannot arrest and charge all thirty sir.”
The irate manager reluctantly agreed and the deal was done. However, before handing over the money Mr C piped up.
“There’s one condition before I give ye the money. We get to keep the Johnny machine.”
Although the machine was in bits, we were surprised when the manager agreed to our demand.
We headed for the airport shortly afterwards. As I had no suitcase, I was given the Durex machine to mind.
Back in Cork parents, wives and girlfriends were waiting for our arrival. Security wasn’t an issue in those days. A rope was all that separated those waiting for passengers from the customs and arrivals area.
Baggage handling was a simple affair. One very slow carousel cranked its way lazily around the arrivals area. Fair play to the guys who unloaded the plane. The first thing loaded on to the carousel was …. yes ….. the first Durex machine in Cork. It did a full lap of honour before any of the suitcases appeared.
I’ll never forget the look on my old man’s face as he watched it go round and round presumably thinking to himself, “Where did I go wrong?”
The customs started giving us grief but quick as a flash, a recently qualified solicitor made a name for himself. Arguing through a massive alcoholic haze he waffled.
“All we have gentlemen is a simple piece of metal with some lettering on it. There is no reason to refuse it entry.”
The customs guys were flummoxed. After some deliberation and a few phone calls, the Johnny machine was finally allowed to enter dear old Catholic Ireland.
A massive cheer went up from all the lads. Thankfully, the club president relieved me of my responsibilities and took it away with him.
The machine was relocated in the gents’ shit-house in our modest clubhouse the following night. The word spread like wild fire;
“Did ye hear the news? The lads in The Old Boys have a Johnny machine in the club.”
“Jeez, are you serious, how are they getting away with it?”
“Don’t know and don’t fecking care, I’m going up there on Friday to get some.”
For the next three or four weeks we had to turn people away from our disco as the horny Cork youth came hunting for rubber. We weren’t totally stupid. We got a “Temporarily out of stock” sticker printed.
For months, we got great mileage out of that bit of metal. Eventually the intelligentsia figured out that all we had was the cover of the machine and, like the rest of the country, definitely no rubbers for sale.