O’Sullivan’s Last Sip

 This story was first told by my pipe, peat and potato grand daddy. Then, later in America, we heard that version out of the mouth of me Da. Either way it’s a keeper. As my own dear mother put it, “Your father could go on for as long as the porter held out,  but he was nothing compared to that noble liar that stood six foot three in your grandfather’s boots.

We always thought grandfather’s stories were of the highest quality because he never let up. He told them over and over until even he believed every word to be the God’s Truth. If not, he practiced hard at making it so. To take away an Irishman’s creative conversation is like taking wings away from the birds, clouds away from the sky. It’s almost like lending an ear to the loquacious with nothing to wash down the words. Parched like the Snakes of Courtmacsherry. Dead air.

See what you think.

I remember the old man grabbing for a smoke wrapped up tight in his Mizen Head blanket. It had been a departing gift from his sister, Kathy, who created the thing while summer raged on, for at least two steamy weeks, on Ballinskelligs Bay. Grandfather had come to Buffalo in 1922, the year Ireland had become a Republic. The rebel faction had finally succeeded in convincing the English that they had worn out their eight hundred year welcome, but the economy was yet no better for it.

“You ask how Paddy died, children…well I’ve bloody told you. He fell off a ladder while painting the local courthouse. It was quick curtains. He didn’t suffer that we know of. Now that was a time in America! Back in Ireland the only way a bloke like Paddy would get near a courthouse was on his way to jail.”

The Erie County Courthouse from which Poor Paddy fell some an estimated  five stories from his painting ladder onto the rainy street below.

The Erie County Courthouse from which Poor Paddy fell some an estimated five stories from his painting ladder onto the rainy street below.



My grandpa feigned irritation to make a point. His many forehead folds, coming to a frightening fruition just above his left eye socket, reminded one of a pierced pirate grown angry at the sea. It was also the look of a man who had aged early, struggling to keep the landlord at bay in Ireland, and his family fed in America.

“Now ‘yis shut up and I’ll tell you of his wake, the finest I can recall. There were people from all over Buffalo, some from Boston and New York. Even a few from the Prod side of the family up in Nova Scotia. All the close lads were hunched up against the casket swilling Guinness and wee glasses of Tyrconnel. At first everyone was almost mute at the sight of poor Paddy O’Sullivan all dressed up in the box. His widow, Mary O’Sullivan looked grand in her grief.

“Too young a man to go so soon,” wept the widow, Mrs Walsh.

“Have you ever seen such a lovely corpse,” echoed the boo bird spinster Mrs. Brennan, her bony hand on the coffin.

“I’ll have another porter,” whispered Mrs. Nolan, herself creeping up on the ripe old age of 90.

Paddy’s mates had gathered within spitting distance of the casket as if some shabby honor guard intent on sacred purification.

“His journey could be a long one,” said Johnny McCann toasting Paddy’s memory. “We’d better have another too.

“What will we do in our paint clothes without Paddy’s singing?” asked Mickey McCormick, a man who had spent the better part of his life slapping paint on some of Buffalo’s finer homes. ‘Tis very sad and no amount of whiskey can make the pain go away,” he cried, “but we can at least try.”

And so the afternoon progressed with the entourage at Paddy’s feet growing larger as evening approached.

“Bring me another pint too, would you Martin?” asked Michael Maloney, a brick layer who had gone to high school with the deceased. “A lovely man was he, none too smart mind you, but lovely.

“We haven’t seen Nellie Boyle,” said Brian Donovan, a third cousin of the deceased. “She and Paddy went round and round before she met up with Harry whats-his-name. That lad had turned to the life of whiskey. Teeth of the Banshee, the man was a disgrace! A sadder fiddle tune I have not heard. The souls of Irish sailor boys! God save the Orange and Green, and give me one more.”

“Oh, you haven’t been around,” answered McCormick. “He’s all dried out and starched up for his own funeral. Look at him, repentant and sober. Pathetic little man, saints preserve him.”

Another voice chimed in: “It was always a good idea to keep an eye on Paddy when he was around your woman, God love him. I wouldn’t trust him any farther than the porch, meself.”

The O'Sullivan siblings at Paddy and Mary's wedding.

The O’Sullivan siblings at Paddy and Mary’s wedding.

Soon the topic turned to the parade of attendees.

“Look, there’s Annie Collins,” said McCormick. “She’s a wild one. Almost looks like an angel in her black. I wonder what she’s wearing underneath it all.”

“Martyred Christ, lad! Have you no respect for the dead?” chipped McCann.

“Oh but she’s quite well alive,” was the response from Mickey McCormick, “and I dare say that after another whiskey punch may be prime for the plucking.”

“A wake is no place for your womanizing,” warned Mrs. Nolan who had overheard the conversation. “Have some respect for poor Paddy up there. His rambling days are over ever since he lost to the ladder yesterday.”

“Look there’s that Colleen O’Shea. Out living in the suburbs, she is, with that Italian. I recall her wandering the streets of Cobh, her hand out for bread. Now she’s got her own car! Her husband even lets her drive it!”

“Shameful,” plied Walter Brannigan, covering his son Eddie’s ears playfully as the gossip grew.

“Paddy used to keep company with that one before she struck Sicilian gold,” said Marty Callihan, “but if that’s the worst of him he surely lived the life of a saint.”

As the beer and porter flowed the conversation flowed right along with it. Soon there were songs of Ireland and songs of children leaving the ould sod for a better life in Australia or America. There were more songs about Kilkenny and Killarney and Kenmare. Songs of West Cork. Rebel songs. The lilt of it all, lubricated with eternal stout, was astounding and all of Paddy’s faithful were quite impressed with the charm and wit, to be relied on heavily at a time of distress.

“Mary Cronin, is it?” burped Michael Maloney as a pretty young lady entered the inner circle.

“Oh, and there he is,” she bowed her head, fingering her rosary.

“If I could just get her away from the rosary and into a glass of porter the night might not be so very cold,” whispered Michael to his friends. “She’s a fine one…”

“I hear she had a thing with Paddy, at least the way he, God bless him, use to tell it. Quite the live wire, herself,” quipped Maloney.

And there it was. Thirsty brethren courting Paddy one last time, mourners dragging themselves across the smoky parlor, whiskey disappearing at a frantic pace, church bells announcing the end of another March day, Paddy up there smug in his lace curtain casket. The poor, the well-heeled. Relatives and friends all in attendance to send poor Paddy on his way.

“More ice for the corpse!” shouted Mrs. Brennan, who had now taken over a mistress of ceremonies for the while. “Buried Wolfe Tone! The man is melting. The next thing ya know he’ll be dehydrated!”

Someone came forth with a bucket of ice and gingerly poured it over Paddy’s limp body.

“Hand me a few cubes for me porter,” said McCormick with a grin. Paddy won’t miss them.”

A song was forming in the sides of their mouths. More pours and more foam: “Good-bye dear Paddy, Good-bye me lad, Lucky in love and laughter, a passing oh so sad.”

Michael stood up and gazing at Paddy announced that he was about to take on the bar with a frontal assault. Orders were barked and he was off to fill glasses. Somebody then managed to spill porter on dear Paddy much to the chagrin of Mrs. Brennan who made herself busy cleaning up the mess.

“And the whiskey told stories,

as parades filled the door,

soon nobody was talking

’bout darlin’ Paddy no more!”

It was eleven. Many of the mourners had adjourned. The priest had gone home and the ladies began clearing away the mountains of food that had once crowned the wake. A final toast to Paddy, to someone, to Ireland’s honor, to the shamrock, to that gray, dead man in the lovely black suit up in the nice velvet box.

“I really didn’t know him well,” said Philip Healy who had came all the way from Ohio, but I thought I’d pay my respects, his mustache covered in foam.

“We worked together back in Hell’s Kitchen before moving up to the lake,” said Sam O’Neill. “I hadn’t seen him in ten years. Faith! The beer is still cold.”

Soon the company had dwindled down to just a few. Most now had their backs to the casket intent on socializing with the living. Occasionally someone threw another bucket of ice on the corpse. A late mourner strode by the guest of honor engaged in tardy tears. Small mumbles turned to laughter at a moment’s notice.

“I’ve got to get another bottle,” said McCormick. “There’s one in me room.”

“Let the cat out while you’re up there,” shouted Mrs. Brennan. “Marty, you go with him to make sure he doesn’t fall on his fat arse.”

The two men rose and it was Michael, I think, who first laid eyes on the empty casket.

“Wrath of the fairies!” he shouted. Paddy’s gone!”

The others jumped up as one and were scared out of their wits.

“Where could he be? Who could have taken him? Is it the witches? The leprechauns themselves?”

Thirsty gobshites camped out all night long between the stout and the porter.

Thirsty gobshites camped out all night long between the stout and the porter.

They all looked around at each other for some explanation but none was forthcoming.

“We must find him before he… he, hurts himself further,” said McCann.

“Yes, find him before his grieving widow, Mary, finds out he’s taken leave,” said Maloney. “If he’s out on the town she’ll have us all by the necks!”

And so, as is often the case with the inebriated, an impulsive, poorly organized search was mounted and all of the men ran out of the funeral parlor in different directions desperate in their quest. They searched the docks and the parks of Buffalo. They wandered along the lake calling his name. No Paddy.

“I’m beginning to feel a bit foolish out here looking for a dead man,” said McCormick. “We’ve looked in the pubs and even at the union hall.”

“How hard can it be to run down a dead man in a rented suit?” said Mrs Nolan. “Keep looking. If we don’t find Paddy there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Aye, and all this grand party for nothing,” added Maloney.

Hours went by. It was now half passed three. The bloodhounds had scoured the city, had shaken down Buffalo with a fine tooth comb. Now they were getting thirsty again.

“Let’s call off the search and go back to the parlor,” said Maloney. “Maybe something has turned up.”

Slowly the red-eyed entourage made its way back to the wake, and there, to their great surprise was Paddy, in all his horizontal splendor, a slight smile on his face, but still pale in his casket.

“Did you see Paddy come in?” asked McCann to a residue of sleepy guests.

“No, we didn’t,” was the answer. “The poor man has been lying there all the night. Will you show some respect!”

“Give us all one,” said McCann. “I think we need it.”

As the clock crawled toward dawn the assembled gathered back at the foot of the coffin. Not sure of what they had witnessed each man was about his own thoughts. Had Paddy grown bored at the slow pace of his own funeral? Was he really dead? Where would his soul go for all of eternity?

His shenanigans had grabbed the front pew. He was once again, maybe for the last time, the center of attention. The next morning the casket bearers showed up early intent on putting poor Paddy firmly into the ground. Perplexed and talked out, they went about their sullen chore unable to forget Paddy’s last jig.

Years later the riddle had not been answered. It still lay curled up at the foot of the casket or in the hearts of Paddy’s children. Were the pookas busy that night? No sense getting your locks up. We’ve got porter here. Go ahead cleanse your pallet, love. Let’s raise a glass to darling Paddy! After all, he couldn’t be expected to hold it for eternity.

Who’s to say the dead aren’t thirsty too

After howls from the dark banshee,

It seems all too clear

Paddy filled up on beer

And just got up to pee.

                                                                                                         -Kevin Haley








Filed Under: Lifestyles at Risk

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.