Belturbet Nights

The very first bar I went into in Belturbet was the Cosy Bar, owned and run by Phil Fitzpatrick and his wife Kathleen (as in “Won’t you take me home Kathleen”). Phil is portly to say the very least and Kathleen is tiny with a mass of black bushy hair. By way of entertainment the Cosy has a jukebox full of old 45’s which nobody has ever heard of, a television in the same room and through the back is a radio. Last but not least is Phil himself who accompanies his own singing with a Piano Accordion.
Many are the times when the jukebox, the radio and the television are all blaring out together punctuated at intervals by the warbling Phil. Many of the words in Phil’s songs are altered during the course of the song to fit the occasion. If anglers are present then, “I’ve got the whole world in my hands”, becomes “He’s got a ten pound trout in his hands”. Likewise if football is on the television he will break into, “When the blues/whites/reds, go marching in” according to which team is playing at the time. Sometimes when he loses the plot altogether he will replace lyrics with a bit of yodelling. He is quite flexible is Phil.
He will do anything for anybody, within his power of course. He has a nasty habit however of shouting over to me to “Give us a song Mick”, because on one occasion when I was ratted I sang the whole of “Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at” on my own. If anyone wants to know what’s fishing well and where to avoid like the plague, Phil will know. The Cosy is the place where most anglers go to get the “gen”. It is a veritable magnet for anglers. There are fishing maps on one wall and along another are glass cases with stuffed fish and other animals on show. Through the main bar is a long narrow room with 2 pool tables and a dartboard.
Tall fishing stories and blatant lies are a speciality in the Cosy. The more Guinness is consumed the bigger the fish get! Phil will normally start his warbling with a short rendition of: –
“Olay, Olay, Olay, Olay, we’re on the march with Jackie’s Army” (Irelands World Cup song under Jack Charlton). Then he will drift effortlessly into “Here we go, here we go, here we go” (a simple little ditty he picked up during the miner’s strike).
It’s all good clean fun. The Cosy Bar hasn’t changed one jot since I first went in, well perhaps the fishing map has been updated and the phone takes fifty pence pieces now (and quickly as well!) but that’s about it. All the Germans who sail down from Enniskillen make a beeline for the Cosy because they know you can have a rousing sing song in there. One of the German’s favourites is “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, which they throw themselves into with gusto. If ever a song united three nations it is this one. The Germans nicked the song in the Great War so in friendly retaliation the Tommies nicked “Lily Marlene” in the Second World War. Phil does not know that one though; we’ve tried him out and he failed!
One night in the Cosy bar Phil had organised a Pool knockout. The winner was to get 4lb of beef. I managed to win through to the final but in the process of doing so I had managed to consume copious quantities of Guinness. This put me at a distinct disadvantage. My opponent was Pat O’Brien. Pat owned a second hand shop dealing in washers, cookers, fridges, all domestic appliances, bicycles and all things metal, which was right on the border in no-mans land opposite the Leggekelly Bar. Because of the threat of being spot checked by Gardai working the border he stayed sober.
Amazingly I took the second frame to make it 1-1, then the eyes went. I was seeing several extra balls, pink elephants and naked women everywhere by now. Pat then proceeded to thrash me in the deciding frame, walking off with 4lb of prime Irish beef. Phil produced an old trophy from nowhere and awarded it to me for my gallant if not impossible attempt to defeat the odds I had inflicted on myself. Suddenly Phil noticed the trophy had got “Cosy Bar 1983”, engraved on it, so he grabbed it off me, picked up a dart and scratched a 4 where the 3 had been. I still have that trophy to this day and would not part with it for all the tea in China.
On one occasion my mate Ado caught a 2lb 12oz perch. It had taken a large roach meant for a pike and got a bit tangled up with the large pike hooks so he had to kill it. When we got back to Andrew and Una’s we offered it to Andrew for his breakfast. Perch is a white fleshed fish and is very nice to eat.
That night in the Cosy bar, Phil got wind of this capture and offered Ado £25 so he could have it stuffed and mounted in a glass case. I’ve never seen Ado move so fast (apart from the morning after he’d eaten a dodgy curry). He raced back to Una’s who was just about to prepare the fish for Andrew’s breakfast. He whipped it off the chopping board and whisked it back down to the Cosy Bar. Phil duly handed over £25 and Ado bought the drinks (or maybe not…!)
It was a really magnificent fish but after a couple of days it was in a sorry looking state. Every time anyone walked in whom Phil knew, he would get the fish out of the freezer to show them, saying, “That’s a good fish, yes?” After numerous excursions into the open air, Ado’s perch finally made it to the taxidermists. When we returned the next year, it was in a case on the wall. It looked nothing like the magnificent fish Ado caught at Foley’s Bridge on the River Erne.
Instead it was a pale yellow insipid looking thing. Where were the dark green flanks, the distinctive black stripes, and the black spot on the raised dorsal fin and the crimson pectoral fins? It was the same colour as a pan of bad fat. People walk into the bar and pass comment on the elegant 6lb 10oz brown trout and the beautiful camouflage markings on the 32lb pike. Then they look up at Ado’s fish, burst out into uncontrollable fits of laughter and make comments like, “What the hell is that supposed to be when it’s at home?”
The most irritating thing about the whole affair is that Ado hasn’t been back since he caught it, so he hasn’t even seen it yet, and Phil, bless his little cotton socks, goes about telling people that I caught it. “Mick caught that” he’d say, and then point to me. I try to pretend I’m not the same Mick he’s pointing to. At first I tried to tell him but the die has been cast good and strong so I have given up trying to explain. I’m just flogging a dead horse. I just nod my head and say “Yeah, yeah,” now.
Phil, who incidentally is dead ringer for both Bob Hope and the leader of the 1916 Rising, Patrick Pearse, happens to have a good singing voice and often gets rewarded for his warblings by visiting anglers. I once counted 7 pints of Guinness lined up on the jukebox. He drank them all though! Then he would meander through the bar calling “Time please” in a barely audible whisper. Occasionally he would go into the snug, which has a bay window, and look up and down the street for the Gardai. Someone would shout, “Any chance of another one Phil”, to which he would reply “Okay but make it your last, the copper’s coming”.
Phil, by his appearance looks for all the world like you have just disturbed him watching the television and he has just come down into the bar to help out. I don’t know how a barman should look; perhaps he should wear a black pressed suit, with a natty red waistcoat and a dickie bow. Phil however has an assortment of schoolboy style jumpers, in grey, blue and burgundy, to go along with his regulation grey or black trousers and his flat black shoes. Sometimes he wears a tie but more often than not these days he wears a crew neck sweater.
You have to wear something warm in the Cosy Bar, because as many times that I’ve been in I’ve never ever known the heating be on. He won’t change and why should he. Everybody knows Phil the way he is, even though he doesn’t look like the richest man in town. Nobody will ever know until Phil joins the Barman in the Sky Club, how wealthy a man he was, but local legend has it that Phil definitely is the richest man in town. My mate Andrew Leddy has it on good authority that he is a millionaire!
Appearances can be deceptive. I was sitting at a bar once (I always seem to be at a bar!), at the Milton Park Hotel, in Scotland, when a bloke came in, looking for all the world as though he had just been dragged through a hawthorn bush backwards. As he wandered in the general direction of the bar all the locals stood up as one and chorused, “Good Evening Sir James”. Apparently he was the Laird and all the locals owed him a living. If he had been stood on a street corner in Sheffield, I would have thrown 5p in his cap then told him to get a job. So perhaps Phil is a millionaire but so what, all he ever does is run his little bar and sing to the tune of his own accordion. He is too old to join the jet set and I hasten to add, too shy.