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Bang Bang, Forty Coats... Remember any of these Dublin characters?

They’re all written about in this new book by Bobby Aherne.

Diceman The Diceman Source: Ruan Van Vliet

EVERY TOWN AND city in Ireland has its characters – in Dublin, they’ve had the Diceman, Forty Coats and Bang Bang, to name but a few.

This trio are among 100 intriguing and unusual men and women featured in Bobby Aherne’s new book D’You Remember Yer Man?, a humorous and well-researched look into the lives of Dublin’s famous characters.

Aherne first came up with the idea for the book in 2011, encouraged by the lack of information about such people. He enlisted Dublin artist Ruan Van Vliet to illustrate the stories of the likes of Liverpool Annie and Decco the Caveman for his pocket-sized read.

“I found out about a few interesting characters – Bang Bang and Forty Coats – and I realised there seemed to be a lot of them. And I thought it would be interesting to read a book about them,” he recalls.

He looked online, in second-hand bookshops and libraries for a book dedicated to characters, but consistently found himself empty-handed. There was only one thing to do: write the book himself.

As he was working in the Leprechaun Museum at the time, Bobby was already reading plenty of books about folklore. Among them was a book called The Imaginary Beings, by Jorge Luis Borges, which is all about fantastical creatures.

“Everyone is going to have their own character”

“I thought that a similar kind of book, except about these Dublin characters, would be interesting,” explains Aherne.

There are only three characters in the book who are still living – Aidan Walsh, Jenny With The Dogs and Pat Ingoldsby. The rest are from a time span that stretches back 40o years.

To find out more about the individuals, Aherne first started talking to people about the old characters they remembered, and from there he came up with a list of 100 names.

“Everyone who reads the book and is from Dublin will say ‘you left out so and so’ and that is part of the fun of it. Everyone is going to have their own character,” he says.

From there, he undertook lots of researched, reading “dozens of books about Dublin in the rare old times”.

Dancing Mary Source: Ruan Van Vliet

The people in his book “weren’t politicians or they weren’t people who ruled over Dublin”, says Aherne.

“They weren’t particularly important but just in being themselves and being slightly left of centre and standing out from the crowd, whether dressing differently or having a strange quirk, they were the people who are better remembered than most of their peers”.

Sometimes, it was like a “game of Chinese whispers” to find out their real-life stories, he says. “The nature of folklore is these stories changed when passed from one person to another”.

“I think a lot of them are inspirational characters too – they might have fallen on hard times and might have had financial troubles but usually they found a way to figure a way out of their rut”, he ventures.

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For a lot of the people in the book, he chose not to lay out their life story. “Some people have only a few lines. A lot of that was my decision – it’s more fun if only one bit of information about that person was given”.

He keeps dates vague, with the intention that “if you read it start to finish I think you might come out thinking all these people might be still around”.

Tragedy

There are some tragic characters in D’You Remember Yer Man. “Some of them would have been in perfect health – young men who went to fight in a war and came back with post-traumatic stress disorder. There was no mental health service back then and they were left to live out their lives.”

What appeals to us about these characters? “It’s probably some sort of nosiness that is inherent in the Irish character,” laughs Aherne. “Checking to see what the neighbour is up to. Being very preoccupied with what the neigbours think and what others think about your life.”

Some characters in the book were well-known because of being entertainers, singers or buskers. Others were people with normal jobs who stood out some way. “Hairy lemon was a dog catcher but because he had yellow skin and ginger hair he became a man of interest,” describes Aherne.

The book isn’t just for people familiar with the characters, and it’s not just for people who dwell in the capital. “I tried to assume no knowledge of Dublin,” assures Aherne.

The illustrations by Van Vliet add another edge to the book.  “He did an amazing job,” says Aherne. “He did a super job of making them cartoon-y or surreal which I think goes along with the tone of the book.”

D’You Remember Yer Man? is published by New Island books and is out now.

Read: Mary Dunne – the O’Connell Street dancer – passes away aged 87>

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