Kevin O'Hara: The barber and the bridegroom

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PITTSFIELD — When Ralph and Jane Gleason of Otis, Ma., dismounted from their horse-drawn jaunting car after an exhilarating 45-minute excursion around the Lakes of Killarney, Ralph voiced one disappointment. "I only wish I had brought along a tape-recorder, because our driver, Paul, was absolutely hilarious. He's chock-full of amusing one-liners, such as, `Love is blind. Marriage is an eye-opener.'"

Ralph was talking about Paul Tangney, a colorful and engaging jarvey, who has been taking tourists around Killarney's world-famous lakes from the age of 7. Now, 40 years later, he's become a proper Irish seanachie — storyteller — with an endless repertoire of jokes, limericks, and happy-go-lucky stories.

Having had the pleasure of taking a few of Paul's delightful roundabouts, I'll make an effort to retell one of his comical yarns on this St. Patrick's Day, although my version will pale severely without Paul's lilting voice, impeccable timing, and the accompanying musical clip-clop of his affectionate mare, Ruby.

All that aside, here is my favorite Paul Tangney tale:

A young man walked into a barbershop in the bustling town of Killarney one Friday afternoon. "Sir, I'm in desperate need of a haircut, for I'm to be married in the morning."

"Well, son," said the barber, snapping the apron tautly around the bridegroom's neck, "that's one fatal mistake — getting married. Myself, I'd sooner join the French Foreign Legion. Now, tell me, who's the unfortunate bride-to-be?"

"Kitty O'Leary from Shop Street."

"Kitty O'Leary! Why, I understand that poor girl is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. And who, may I ask, is presiding over this dire ceremony?"

"Father O'Hagan."

The barber clutched his heart in disbelief. "Bejabbers! Father O'Hagan speaks so long and passionately about Our Lord's exquisite wine-making skills at Cana, that half of your wedding guests will slip out to Hannigan's Bar before you exchange your marital vows. And who'll be your photographer?"

"Neddie Nertney."

"You must be joking!" roared the barber, carelessly pruning cowlicks off the bridegroom's shaggy crown. "Isn't that blind bat scheduled for cataract surgery next month? And where, pray tell, will your reception be held?"

"Clancy's Hotel."

"My goodness, son, are you altogether mad? Their platter of lamb is so gamey, your guests will be pulling wool from their teeth for a week thereafter. And who's baking your wedding cake?"

"Mary Murphy.""That I may be dead! Mary Murphy's cake batter is better suited for a stonemason's trowel. And what band have you hired out?"

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"The Napper Tandy's."

"Sweet Mother of Mercy! That foursome of greasy-mopped tramps can't even tune a fish. And where are you spending your honeymoon?"

"We're going to Rome to see the Pope."

"You're not going to see no pope, you blathering idjut. All you're going to see is a little dove of a man perched high on a balcony over St. Peter's Square, while you and 50,000 other soul-weary pilgrims have your pockets picked clean by a scrum of slippery scoundrels."

The barber flashed a hand-mirror in front of the bridegroom's face.

"Now, give me five euro for my tonsorial expertise, and be away with yourself," he concluded, knocking the young chap off his chair with a wooden hairbrush. "If nothing else, at least you'll be sporting a fine haircut on your day of execution."

A month later, the story continues as the barber and bridegroom meet by chance on the streets of Killarney.

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"So, how's married life?" smirked the barber.

"Fantastic, sir. To quote a native poet, my lovely bride is the Sunday in every week."

"And how was Father O'Hagan?"

"Wonderful, sir. His blessed, eloquent words clung to the chapel's rafters like gilded gold."

"And the food at Clancy's"

"Brilliant. Their cuisine merits a four-star Michelin rating."

"And Mary Murphy's wedding cake?"

"Scrumptious. I'm still smacking my lips at the thought of it."

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"And your photographer, Neddie Nertney?"

"Neddie ranks with the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, for he caught every defining moment of our glorious day."

"And the Napper Tandy's?"

"Second to none. Indeed, our wedding party danced until their wobbling legs collapsed beneath them."

"And did you catch a glimpse of the pope in Rome?"

"Catch a glimpse! My bride and I had the privilege of having a private audience with him."

"You had a private audience with the pope!"

"That we did, surely."

"And what did our Holy Father say?"

"It wasn't what he said, sir. It's what he asked me."

"Well, son, pray tell, what did he ask you?"

"He asked me who in all blazes gave me such a dumb-looking haircut!"

Kevin O'Hara writes an annual St. Patrick's Day story for The Eagle. Visit his website at thedonkeyman.com.

                                        


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