The Tangler’s Hat – 1965
In the days when the Fair was the commercial and indeed social life-blood of small towns all over Ireland, certain rules of behaviour became rigidly entrenched in the process of buying and selling in the market place. One sacrosanct rule dictated that if a buyer was in negotiation with a seller, no third party could interrupt. Transgression of this rule usually resulted in a split head at the very least – and anyone who went to a fair was very much aware of this.
In the structure of the fair, the main groups were the sellers and the buyers, but between the two, there was a well defined slot occupied by the “middle man” known to both sides as “the Tangler”. He worked on commission, for either side and sometimes both. He had power too, for he could keep a seller occupied in useless conversation thereby keeping the sale “open” long enough for the Tangler’s chosen buyer to arrive and take over the negotiations. He was regarded as a smart operator and his presence was not always welcome. Nevertheless, where there was a fair, there you could find a tangler and many of them dressed “like their betters,” adopting the bowler hat as a badge of office with the short rain coat, polished leather leggings and boots serving to underline the classification.
The method of transporting small animals such as pigs, sheep, goats etc. was to carry them in a specially adapted horse or pony cart. Wooden creels would be lashed together and placed vertically on the cart and then tied down at the corners so that the result looked like a wooden cage tumbril fashion – about three feet off the base of the cart.
The story which follows and which is “sworn true” was told to me in the 1960s by a friend I shall call “Pat”.
There was a fair on one day towards the middle of April in the town of Enniscorthy and it was a fairly busy fair with a good share of stock being sold. Pigs had gone very well and by around nine o’clock in the day there were very few left.
A butcher, of enormous size, had bought several lots of porkers and he now turned his attention to a creel of strong pigs heeled up by the ’98 monument in the centre of the square. A larger than life bronze statue of a Wexford Pike-man gazed into the distance from the top of the monument, and the Butcher below looked even bigger as he strolled up and leaned his elbows on the top of the creel and eyed the pigs carefully.
At five minutes to nine, the Tangler was on his way down the hill from The Duffry to the Square. He had managed to “stand in” on two small cattle deals, and had collected four pounds for his trouble. He now had a commission to locate five or six good pigs for a dealer who would follow him down in five or ten minutes and he whistled a tune from “Maritana” as he contemplated the prospect of another couple of pounds in his pocket.
The Tangler’s bowler hat was tilted slightly down over one eye, his iron shod heels clipped on the pavement in time to his tune and as he arrived at the edge of the square, he turned back the collar of his raincoat and scanned the scene.
As he picked his way among the pens of fowl and knots of sheep, he paused deliberately to examine a tidy Welsh pony with exaggerated care and passing a bawdy observation with the owner, he felt good, damn good. Four pounds in your pocket felt good – the money gave him a feeling bordering on recklessness. Whilst appearing to examine the pony, his eye, practised and accurate, had homed in on the creel of clean, firm pigs by the monument, the same which was now adorned by the huge butcher, deep in parley with the owner of the pigs.
The tangler walked on, surveying the scene. As he turned the corner and faced the square from the far end, he spotted his dealer lighting his pipe, and signalled him by straightening his bowler. The dealer leaned back against the wall and puffed his pipe in reply. The tangler made two passes by the monument, on his mettle now to separate the butcher from the owner of the pigs. The butcher never stirred. He seemed not to notice the tangler, edging around on the blind side of the pillar, trying desperately to catch the owner’s eye, and to dislodge him from the conversation.
It was no good, try as he might, he could not get an opening. He backed off and stood on the footpath stamping his foot noisily to remove “something” from his boot. The dealer gazed straight at him and tapped out his pipe on the wall. He would not wait much longer now.
Suddenly the tangler moved, his mind made up. He stamped noisily towards the creel of pigs, banging his legging with his cane. As he drew level the owner looked round, the tangler took a quick breath and said “How much is he offering you anyway?”
A sudden hush fell on the scene and the tangler decided to walk on. His second step was about to hit the ground when a massive pair of hands picked him up by the front of his coat and slammed his back hard against the creel. His head swam as all the breath left his body and as the hands held him there, the butcher’s huge head was lowered to level with the tangler’s face.
“Lookit here you,” snorted the butcher, “if you don’t feck off outa here, I’ll put the brim of that hat around yer balls wid a clatter.”
He released his grip and the ashen-faced tangler slid to the ground amid the dung and feathers of a fowl pen.
At this point in the story, I tried to visualize the operation outlined by the butcher. I failed and said to Pat “Just how, exactly, could this happen?”
He smiled and said “Aw bejazes it could happen alright, you’d want to see that butcher deliver an uppercut.”
©Geoff Cronin 2005
About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017
There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.
Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.
Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory: