PreDumb Out Now Unofficially On The QT


In case you didn’t know, my new book PreDumb: Before I Came to LA is now out, online so far at least. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, all the usual haunts. Click on the links to go forth and have a gander. Otherwise go into your nearest book store and demand the speed up their orders. PreDumb is filled with tales of me growing up in Ireland, how I kind of came to be how I am sort of a thing. That was the plan at least. Might have detoured all over the place. Foreword by Robbie Williams which is mighty, cheers Rob. Now if you could all just read, review, share and spread the good word that would be tremendous and delightful otherwise I’ll go weep in the corner. Also, here’s a chapter:

Chapter 6

Simply The Best

I think I was twelve before I even became fully aware that there were Irish people who were black. Not black Irish as the American term goes (Irish people with dark features like dark hair and brown eyes) but actual black Irish people.

This realisation came about at a quiz one day. Quizzes are huge in Ireland. People love them. Community get-togethers. School fundraisers. Pub piss-ups. Christmas parties. Weddings. Funerals. Irish folk can’t beat a good quiz. Big fan of the trivial trivia.

“Name the second longest river in the world?”

“What country is Maputo the capital of?”

“What year did the Irish soccer team first compete in the European Championship?”

That kind of thing. Some laugh. Before smartphones ruined it all.

I used to do a load of quizzes growing up. Besides being a proud man with an elegant soul who loves golf, my Dad has always been a big quiz head. Always the quizmaster when his school held a quiz fundraiser. Also volunteered as the school’s soccer coach so it was a good balance. He worked in the north side of the city in a school a tad bit rougher than mine so the soccer side definitely helped make him a fan favourite with the students. Promoted to principal after a few years so he enjoyed working there as well. Personally I think the fact he was the quizmaster helped this along but say nothing.

My Dad prepared for upcoming quizzes like a master chess player deciding tactics before a big tournament. Studiously pouring over encyclopedias at home, standing in the dining room, books strewn across the dark mahogany table, pen behind the ear, ruffling his salt and pepper hair, mulling and debating which question would be just right – not too easy but not unfairly hard. This is where I honed my quizzical skills. David Hayes, the wizard like quiz professor, popping random facts and spits of knowledge at me. Soaked it all up. Let the gibber flow!

Represented my school at national tournaments and the likes, usually on a team of four – Me and three other nerds. Karl, Raymond and Donald. I never really considered myself a full on nerd. First of all we didn’t really use the term nerd much when I was growing up. Secondly I didn’t think I looked like one. The other guys on the school quiz team did in my eyes: Karl, skinny and tall with thick glasses and a love of playing air guitar while spouting Greek maths theorems; Raymond, chubby red-face, curly ginger hair, non-stop quoting Star Wars, and; Donald, a pale, sick looking weasel of a lad, forever dressed up as Spock from Star Trek.

I, on the other hand, considered myself just a boy with dark brown hair as bushy as a squirrel’s tail who happened to do his homework and be good at school (and also lived in a blissful bubble of self-denial). Considering that I did compete in maths competitions for my school as well – Saturday afternoons spent doing sums, subtraction, addition, division and so on – I see now I can no longer really fool myself about my former life. Although I did play various sports a lot so that convinced me I was half-and-half really. Soccer, Gaelic football, hurling, those kinds of sports. Not chess, backgammon and fantasy world role-playing. Nerdy on the inside, sporty on the outside. I was a chocolate bar slogan.

Anyway, one day at a school quiz an odd question came up that none of us had ever heard before,

“Name four brothers who’ve played soccer for Ireland.”

Sport. My strong suit, apparently. None of the other three had a clue about it, so all eyes turned to me. Raspy, whispered voices let loose,

“Come on, Hayes, do you know it? We need this one. You said you liked soccer. WHAT IS IT?”

“Calm down, give me a second, Raymond, I’ll get it.”

Hmm. Four brothers? Who the funk could they be? My Dad never asked me this one and he knew all the best sports trivia. Brothers, brothers, brothers? McCarthy? O’Toole? O’Malley? No. No. No. Oh no. I don’t know. This will not please the nerd group.

“Ehh, I don’t know.”

“You what?? What do you mean you don’t know?! Statistically you should know this!”

“I don’t know. I don’t have a clue. Never heard this question before.”

“By the son of Vulcan, you better make a guess.”

“OK. The McCarthy brothers.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Spock, I’m sure. That’s my guess. Next question.”

We raced through the next nine with ease. This quiz was already sown up. The others weren’t happy but I didn’t care. I just wanted to know the answer. Handed up our sheet. Engaged in awkward ten-year-old small talk. Waited for the answer. The teacher in charge took the mike and listed out the answers.

“Number one: Name four brothers who have played soccer for Ireland: Paul McGrath, Terry Phelan, Chris Hughton and Phil Babb. Number two: What Greek God was known for his…”

The teacher tailed off. I tried to compute. Huh? None of them are related. That’s wrong.

“Hey guys, that soccer question must be wrong, that answer makes no sense. This quiz is stupid. I’m going to go say something.”

Up I go to the teacher in charge, Mr. Cotter, an old bald guy with a thick brown mustache, decked out in a red tracksuit that went well with his whiskey coloured nose and cheeks.

“Sorry sir, the first answer is wrong. They’re not brothers.”

“The first one… Oh, they are brothers. It’s a trick question. They’re all black. Black. Brothers. Get it? Now back to your seat or I’ll dock you a point.”

Get it? Get what? That that’s wrong and you smell of stale booze? That I get. The answer I don’t.


When I got home my Dad asked if they had any good questions. Any new ones he could use in his next quiz?

“Yeah, I do actually: Name four brothers who have played soccer for Ireland?”

Seemed he already knew the answer. Asked me how I knew that. Told me not to tell my mother that question. Or really say it to anyone. Only then did I get it. It was kind of bad. Or was it? Not sure. All I knew is that I was clueless about black people.

As far as races go, Irish people are pretty white. Pretty and white, says you. Ah stop, says I. When I was growing up there were no black people in Ireland, none that I ever saw anyway. Foreign concept really, kind of like Russian folk, Chinese people or ghosts. Only recently did I learn about Frederick Douglass, the great black American abolitionist who came to Ireland in 1845 and gained support for his fight against slavery. He even gave a talk in Cork and was nicknamed ‘The Black O’Connell’ after the great Irish abolitionist and liberator, Daniel O’Connell. No one told me any of this growing up.

Nay. The first black man I remember was the one I saw in a porn magazine somebody had one day after school. Didn’t know what everyone was huddled around looking at so I popped my head in between two boys’ shoulders and took a peek. I must’ve missed the good stuff because all I saw was a page of ads full of naked women and bubbles saying Phone this number! Hot times guaranteed! Call me now, big boy! In the bottom right hand corner of the page I remember seeing the back of two naked women on their knees looking up at a naked black man holding what looked like a horse’s leg. Slowly read the caption… ‘Enlarge your pe-’ Jesus. That’s not a leg. And now I knew what ‘hung like a horse’ meant.

Next black person I saw was on TV. Pretty sure it was Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon “I’m too old for this s**t!” I was at my cousins’ house in Tipperary watching one their non-PG videos. All the cursing would’ve made it off limits if I tried to watch it at home. Shortly after that I saw Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop “Trust me!” This was on TV over Christmas on an Irish station. Sneaked a watch of it in the kitchen on my own late one night while pretending to get some cereal for supper.

For a while I thought all black Americans were funny policemen. Didn’t want to be racist or look stupid by asking any questions so I remained blissfully ignorant. I remember seeing some black English TV presenters as well. One guy presented a children’s show, one with a lot of puppets. They were all different colours too so it didn’t seem to out of the norm for the show. I was young. Dumb. Naive. Unaware.

The first time I met a black person was when I was thirteen. My team Tramore were playing a team called Mallow, a country town full of farmers. I played centre back and their only striker was a boy named Stanley. When I saw him my eyes shot open wide. Black as the colour with big, bright, white teeth and a huge friendly smile. Pure surprise. Not expecting this from a team full of country folk. It’d be different if they were from the city, slightly more cosmopolitan I would’ve thought. Even stranger, when he said hi to me, his accent was an even thicker Irish one than mine. Heavy Cork slant hung on every word.

“How are ya biy, best of luck day, alright.”

“Oh yeah, thanks, you too, brother.”

Gave me a weird look followed by a dazzling smile and a deep hearty laugh. High fived me then walked away laughing. Stanley was sound. Barely met him but already we were friendly. Look at me go! I think I was extra nice to him to make sure I definitely wasn’t racist in any way. If he tackled me late, I shrugged it off with a “that’s fine” and a head nod. He seemed to be one of the happiest people I ever met so wasn’t hard to get on with as it was, even if I did just meet him. Not that he scored or anything. Couldn’t be that nice to him.

Next black person I met was a girl named Mairead who used to be on the same bus home as me from school sometimes. Mairead was a big, strong girl, bit of a mix between Serena Williams and Tina Turner. My Dad was a fan of Tina Turner’s music at the time actually now I think of it. I remember the song Simply The Best being played over and over again on our record player at home. As an ode I used to sing a few bars of the song to Mairead when I’d see her,

“Dun dun dunnn dun, better than all the rest, better than anyone, you’re simply the best!”

 She got a great kick out of my warbling. I think she fancied me a lot actually, always gave me a big smile and would offer me a seat on her sturdy lap whenever the bus was full. We were always friendly to each other so sometimes I’d accept. Things soured though. Tupac Shakur was big in Ireland at the time as well so I attempted to bond with her over rap music. My constant repeating of lyrics offended her in the end.

“Yo yo yo, what up my… Em… Mairead, what up west siiide?!” Maybe I wasn’t saying “what up” correctly. Not sure. She seemed to stop taking the same bus as me after a while. Only nodded an awkward hello if ever I saw her around Douglas village as well. Tut. I messed up. Should’ve stuck to singing. My Tina Turner impression really is the best.

Simply The Best – Tina Turner

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