Every second year around the begining of March, 20 or so of us used to come over for the biennial rugby match at Lansdowne Road. From the late 1970s until the middle 90s this pilgrimage took place with the same nucleus and those on the periphery changing each time depending on their circumstances. We were always scrambling to find enough tickets to satisfy the numbers and nearly always did so.
Except for our first visit when we stayed at the Montrose and our last when we stayed at Jurys, on the corner of Lansdowne Road, we always stayed at the Burlington. Over the years we got to know some of the staff and they helped us navigate our alcohol clouded journey round South Dublin.
In the early years we were always invited to a reception in the Directors Suite, on the top floor of the Bank of Ireland’s headquarters in Baggot Street. Where on the Friday afternoon before the match we ate and drank our fill in the company of many a financial guru and the Chairman’s own chief guest, the Chairman of the Bank of England. I remember one year, half sozzled after copious quantities of free wine talking to the English Chairman’s wife who seemed amused by my Mancunian humour and insisted on tarrying awhile. On that same day the Bank of Ireland’s manager of UK operations hushed the gathering with a tip for a horse running in the 3.30 that afternoon. The horse, Money Talks, won at 12 to 1 and financed a couple of future trips for me.
In about 1989 two of our regular guys, a man from Ahascragh in Galway we will call Col and a chap from Killala way we will call Des were rooming together. In retrospect not a good idea as they came from different ends of the entertainment spectrum. Col liked to booze early and therefore hit his pillow before midnight, whereas Des, a market man, was always early to bed and had six or seven hours sleep before waking at 3.00am fresh and alert to enjoy the last few hours in drunken company before being first at the breakfast table.
So come the day of the match and a few pints beforehand followed by a few after and Des was hitting the hay at about 7.00pm while the whole town it seems was in the bar downstairs and Col was only halfway to oblivion, ordering pints with gay abandon at that long bar in the Burlington, which that time seemed to have the finest bar staff in the world. Four hours later Col was slowing down, coughing, spluttering and slurring and something somewhere was telling him to hit the sack.
He headed for the lift and with key and plastic tag in hand, he was deposited onto his floor and with some help pointed in the direction of his room. He realised he had to be quiet as he looked at the snoring supine form of Des and he was slowly undoing his tie when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. There on the wall above his bed was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen and he vowed there and then to liberate it and take it home to his wife. He stood on the bed to retrieve this masterpiece and whether it was the quality of the sprung mattress or his over consumption of Guiness and Green Bush, he started to topple over, landing with an almighty crash on the floor which sent a searing pain up his right leg. Mindful of Des and his need for sleep and the fact that his original raucous execrations had not woken his partner, Col steadied himself, the pain was severe and after some minutes having regained a semblance of strength, he started to crawl to the door into the corridor. He managed to open the door and looked out into the never ending passage
After a few minutes he spotted two ladies of the night. On weekends like this the hotel was teeming with these gladiators and these two had obviously just done a trick and were on their way down for a much needed throat wash and another client.
Col called to them and after a minute they tottered towards his prostrate form. He explained his plight and asked for their help, which must have appealed to their entreprenurial spirit and they soon had the pain wracked Col back in his room and onto his bed. They were just folding his trousers and tidying up the place,which is something inherant in women, when Des awoke, aroused by the Ahascraghan curses and the giggles of the two roses. He saw the two ladies and immediately understood their calling and his Catholic outrage had no bounds, he jumped out of bed holding his family’s well worn jewels in his left hand and with a few choice West Mayo oaths aimed as much at Col as the two fillies, he shepherded the duo out the door, threw a few more fecks at Col and went to the bathroom to urinate and wash. Coming gradually to his senses, he realised that his friend needed attention, called reception, asked for medical assistance and readied himself for his late night foray, knowing that Col’s cure was more than he could muster.
Des was soon ready and the hotel doctor was on the scene in minutes, diagnosing that Col’s leg was probably broken and ordering an ambulance. Des had more urgent duties and proceeded to the bar pleased with his supervisory role, met the remnants of our party and ordered a round of drinks. “21 punts please” said the barman on delivering the round and Des put his hand in his pocket, nothing, not even a bus ticket. Every pocket was searched looking for the elusive ackers, but to no avail. Des borrowed the money temporarily and headed once more for the stairs thinking he must have left it down in the room. Nothing.
Then the realisation of it came to him. The two Florence Nightingales had cleared him out and in the clear light of day after the post mortems of the previous night took place, it seems that Col was cleaned out also. A good night’s work for some, a dry one for Des and a painful and very expensive one for Col.
So always remember when drunk in a foreign field, keep drinking and go straight to breakfast. There is plenty of time for sleep when you hit your own cot back home.