I LIKE hats. And caps. I have quite a nice collection of headwear, worn and aged, like myself, dispersed between Dublin and Belfast, Donegal, the car boot and all the places in between. It used to be customary for men to wear headware. Look at any old photos. Dunchers and flatcaps galore. Peaky blinders in multitudes outside factories, mills, shipyards, farmyards, public houses, marts, markets, country fairs. Hats were also popular. Paddy hats, trilbys, bowlers. Though bowlers were more for Orangemen on parade or English civil servants on The Mall. Country men were hat and cap people. Christy Ring even played hurling in a cap. So my grá for head gear used to be widespread. And now its coming back into vogue. Especially the omnipresent baseball cap. It is the preferred head covering for rappers, golfers, other sports people, urban youth.
I have a couple of baseball caps. And a few hand-knitted wooly hats. Síle Darragh knitted me a dark blue tea cosy-type one. Lucilita a white one. Both were too big. But very warm all the same. Wooly ear warmers. There are really fine knitted yokes for sale in expensive shops in the west of Ireland. But they are very dear. I covet one of those. Hint hint. Extra Large.
I also have a Stetson. It was presented to me in Texas. It has an enormous brim. I only wear it indoors, usually while watching Westerns on TV. I haven’t the nerve to wear it outdoors. Before the presentation our man in America, Larry Downes, was very concerned that the Stetson should not be a black one. Apparently the bad guys wore black ones. So he insisted that my Stetson would be white. So it is. I never told Larry but I preferred a black one. I favour Jesse James or Billy the Kid over Hopalong Cassidy or The Lone Ranger. But Larry had his way.
I have another hat which I’m also shy about wearing outdoors although I like it very much. It’s not unlike the one Martin McGuinness wore during the Easter Centenary events. I wore mine as well. I would like to have the nerve to wear it more often the way Martin started to do. Martins hat now features in many posters and pictures of him. I think the hat darkens his face too much and he looks too stern. He was stern sometimes but my best memories of Martin are when he was hatless and happy.
One day he and I were going to see Brit Secretary of State Peter Mandelson. On the coat stand outside his office a hat was perched. To Martin’s chagrin I put the hat on my head and we breezed in to talk to Peter.
“I have a hat like that” Peter told me cheerfully. “I wear it in the grounds of Hillsborough House.”
“If you want to get ahead get a hat,” I replied, removing it and placing it on my knee. “You have very good taste in headware. That’s something we have in common.”
When we finished our meeting I put Peter’s hat back on my head and Martin and I left.
“You can’t take his hat,” Martin hissed at me. “That’s stealing”.
“Stealing! They stole our country,” I said. “In the gospel according to Cleaky, I’m liberating it. This is appropriating the Imperialist Misappropriators.” Cleaky was a great liberator. An outstanding appropriator.
One time in Australia John Little gave RG and me some fine head covers. We picked up two Koalas as well. Ach is é sín scéal eile. But that’s another story. No Koalas were harmed in the telling of this tale.
I like tweed caps. I have one which belonged to my friend, the late Kevin McKenna. We swapped caps one time. I wear Kevin’s cap regularly. I also have a cap belonging to another friend, the late Stan Corrigan. His lovely wife Kathleen gave me it. It is that cap which triggered this column. I lost it last week after the recent Ard Chomairle meeting in Dublin which mandated Mary Lou to explore the possibilty of agreeing a Programme for A Government For Change.
I was distraught about the loss of Stan’s cap. I realised very quickly after the meeting that it was missing. But where? I enlisted the help of Saint Anthony. Again.
Was it in Dawn Doyle’s car? No she told me when I phoned her. Or out the back of Ard Oifig where RG picked me up? No. There was no sight of it when Keith searched the back lane in the dark in the midst of Storm Ciara.
Next morning the search continued. I prowled the back lane of Ard Oifig before being summoned heartbroken into a meeting. While I was so engaged, that darling man Mick O Brien drove back to the CWU building where the Ard Chomairle met.
He returned triumphantly.
“I have your hat,” he declared and handed me a Russian Cossack type piece of hairy millinery.
“That’s not my hat,” I told him as I tried it on.
“It’s lovely on you,” Mick told me. And so it was.
But I was still fretting for big Stan’s cap. Negotiations for Government? The Sinn Féin surge? The posturing by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s leaders? Shadowy friggers running Sinn Féin? I focused with my comrades on all this but beneath my new, well nearly new, Cossack hat my wee mind refused to give up on big Stan’s missing cap. Apart from the sense of loss how could I face Kathleen? She’s a Tyrone woman. Hell hath no fury like a Tyrone woman chastising a man, particularly a Belfast man. My nerves were wrecked.
“An bhfuil cead agam dul amach?” I asked Mary Lou. “May I go out?”
“Tá” she said “Yes, but please take off that Russian hat.... and get your hair cut.”
I exited despondently stage left, as sheepishly as Micheál Martin after Mary Lou scalped his arse. Out the back of Ard Oifig the old Dominic Street flats, now demolished, are a building site. I made my way gingerly through the muck. A burly workman greeted me.
“A great election result,” he said.
“Yup,” I replied, “Did you find a cap?”
“Is it a Bugatti?” He asked.
I wondered if he had a selection of caps. A Malloy. A Hanna. A Magee. But no he only had one. Stan’s Bugatti. He pulled it out – a grey wet crumpled item – from beneath his yellow high-vis vest.
“That’s it!” I cried as I resisted the urge to hug him. Instead I told him about big Stan. His eyes welled up with tears.
“I’m glad I found it,” he told me.
“You look very like a painting my Granny had of Saint Anthony,” I told him.
He looked at me warily.
“Thank you,” I gushed.
“No problem. Tell me one thing,” he asked.
“Anything,” I replied.
“When are you getting your hair cut?” He asked.
“Soon,” I told him. After all he did find big Stan’s cap.
He smiled at me and as he turned away I really could see that he looked remarkably like my Granny’s picture of Saint Anthony. I felt an urge to fall on my knees in the muck to offer a prayer of thanks to him but I suppressed this. So instead I just thanked him again. He smiled beatifically.
Now I’ve Mick’s Russian hat as well as big Stan’s cap. It’s great. No need to worry about the wrath of Kathleen. Or Mary Lou. Unlike Micheál Martin. If I had two heads I’d be landed.