“Another pint of Davenport’s and a Bushmills chaser please, Steve,” said Mickey as “My Little Son (England’s Motorway)” by the Dubliners played on the pub’s ancient jukebox. Today was the final day of business in the Shamrock, one of the last pubs left now in the inner city Sparkhill district of Birmingham. Many of the public houses and bars in the area had closed in recent years due to the beer tax, smoking ban, and the ever-growing Muslim population. After tonight’s last orders, the Shamrock was bound to be renovated into another Bangladeshi restaurant.
“I sure will miss this place. I remember the days when Sparkhill was mostly Irish and I recall the very first time I drank in this very pub.”
“Oh yeah,” said Steve the bartender, rather disinterested.
“Yeah, was back in ‘75, used to get some real crazy fuckers in here back then. At the time, me and my twin brother Danny, God rest his soul, had been given a hundred hours of community service, or community payback as you kids call it these days.
“Back then, there was this mixed race lad that lived on our street called Leroy Diaz, he was a real lunatic, I mean this guy used to walk around Sparkhill in his underwear and wore a shower cap on his head, on some evenings you would see him up on the high street howling at the moon like he was a wolf. Anyway, this one day, Leroy decided to use the street as a driving range and put a golf ball right through our ma’s front window. So me and Danny went outside and filled him in. I mean, we really beat the living shit out of the lad.
“Many years later, we found out old Leroy had got into a lot of debt with the Cooney brothers, and they took him out and buried him up in the Clent Hills somewhere, allegedly. Anyway, I digress: Danny and I were sentenced to a hundred hours community service for the grievous bodily harm of Leroy. We got lucky with the judge as we were both first time offenders.
“So, at Her Majesty’s pleasure, we get put on this painting and decorating job at this mental hospital out in the sticks somewhere near Henley-in-Arden for our final week. The strange thing was that all the patients in this lunatic asylum all seemed fine and relatively sane. Most of them were really talkative and came across as rather well-spoken and intelligent, although my brother Danny didn’t trust them one bit. On our final day, one of the patients tapped Danny on the shoulder, and poor old Danny, God bless him, must have shot ten feet into the air in panic. I remember he screamed, ‘Get your crazy hands off me you fucking lunatic.’
“The patient was this middle-aged guy with big, thick-rimmed glasses and grey hair and he spoke with dulcet tones like he was Stephen Fry. He said to Danny, ‘I’m not the lunatic. That would be you, dear sir. I’m not the man that’s working for a living. I get three square meals a day and accommodation, all for nothing. If anybody is the lunatic here, sir, it is you. See that tall steel security fence outside? That’s not to keep us in, that’s to keep lunatics like you out.’
“I just burst into uncontrollable laughter at that statement; I found it so fucking hilarious and totally on point as well. As I said, that was our last day of community service. Our probation officer drove us back to Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, and we got on the bus back to Sparkhill.
“After we alighted the bus, Danny and myself decided to celebrate the end of our dues here in the Shamrock. It was about seven o’clock on a Friday evening when we walked right in here. Man, it was fucking mental. The place was filled with Irish road workers and navigational engineers who had clocked off work a couple of hours earlier. There was one man throwing up in the corner, one was doing gambols on the floor, another one swinging off the ceiling lamps, another was snorting cocaine off the bar. Also, a culchie and a Rastafarian got into a rather violent altercation over a game of dominoes.
“After being in here around half an hour and on to our second pint of Guinness, bricks started flying through the windows of this place and in storms like thirty skinheads trashing the place and beating everyone in sight. Fists and legs flying in all directions. The Irish lads in their inebriated state stood their ground and armed themselves with beer glasses, pool cues, and bar stools. Me and Danny hid behind that very jukebox over in the corner. We were only 17 at the time.
“We found out later that the skinheads all came from Chelmsley Wood and thought they would come up to Sparkhill to bash the Irish. This was 1975 and there was a lot of anti-Irish sentiment throughout the city back then because of the Birmingham pub bombings the previous year.
“The fight—or should I say riot—moved outside onto the street. Then, all of a sudden, this Pakistani gang shows up with cricket bats and iron bars, they begin to attack everyone outside this place. Apparently, they heard skinheads were in the area and thought they must have been looking for them.
“Danny and I managed to escape out the side entrance over there, only to be nicked outside by the old bill and thrown in the back of a police wagon.
“Next morning, we ended up in court, and despite repeatedly pleading our innocence, we got sentenced to six months in Borstal for breach of the peace and being repeat offenders. Yep, that patient with the Stephen Fry voice in the lunatic asylum was definitely on to something.”
Joe Murray has been a merchant mariner for many years and has been lucky enough to travel the world with his job. He took up writing short stories as a hobby to distance himself from the drinking culture that is heavily ingrained in his occupation. Murray was inspired by his father, who used to enter short story competitions for Ireland’s Own. His stories are often like an enjoyable mix of Dennis Lehane and Irvine Welsh. Murray divides his time between Somerset, England and Ibiza, Spain.