“I swear to God, I was driving out the Abbeyleix Road, this morning and cross my heart, I saw a cock pheasant thumbing a lift. He had a sign for Ballacolla.”
That's just one of the lines by Pat Critchley that should give you a flavour of his new book 'Bruno'.
Friends and family gathered to celebrate the collection of stories, yarns and poems when it was launched last week in the Killeshin Hotel. It's sure to be a big hit with anyone who has an interest in local and sometimes surreal folklore as heard, told and retold and now put down in black and white for infinity by a local hero to many.
The book is named after Will 'Bruno' McEvoy, a neighbour of Pat's in the area of Laois where Stradbally, Portlaoise and Ratheniska converge.
“Many a time I talked, listened and learned from him. We will miss him on the lane,” writes Pat in the foreword.
But Bruno is just one of many characters who feature in the publication and many have colourful nicknames. The Kettle Flynn, Cowboy Carroll, Hesh McCormack, Zulu Brown, the Giant, Skerries Phelan, Scoby 'No Surrender' to name but a few.
If the book is a vessel for local yarns, craic and characters well, there was a certainly an abundance on the launch night of stories told publicly and of course privately, among those who gathered.
Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Connie Conroy who guided the various speakers with some aplomb without cramping their style and delivery, coaxing the craic out of them in the process.
First out to tell a tale or two was Clare native Mick Lillis who said “the best decision he ever made” was to invite Bruno into his home.” He said he “made it a policy” never to pass him on the lane. He told how Bruno was an expert in fitness even if Bruno's weights included the axel of a cart.
Shay Flannery, Mountmellick thespian, excelled in reciting some of the poems in Pat's book such as Banding Hurls, Duffle Coat. Before concluding with a recitation of the poem Kettle Flynn, he urged people to pick up a copy.
“You won't want to put it down. It is a wonderful social history. It is wonderful craft from Pat. Enjoy it,” he said.
Another big character present, who himself has one of those memorable nicknames that has achieved national status in hurling circles, was Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett.
Before taking the audience on a winding road of tales involving himself and Pat, notably with the Mere Mortals, Cheddar described Pat simply but warmly as his “best friend” who was helpfully “great craic.”
As for the man himself, well, once the niceties of thanking everyone were out of the way, Pat Critchley does what he does best, tell stories about characters.
The subject matter was “his favourite” Paddy Dea who was known to many from his days and words saving turf with the townies during Portlaoise summers.
Pat's new book is available in Allbooks, Martley's, Dowlings, Parish Centre, Bookmark (Easons).
Scroll through the gallery of pictures above of pictures taken on the launch night by photographer Alf Harvey in the Killeshin Hotel Portlaoise.