BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Paddy O’ Halloran was the barber to whom Callan lads of all ages turned to for a haircut from about 1950 onwards. His shop in Bridge Street remained an integral feature of the street- and the town- up to the day of his passing in 1995.
Paddy became apprenticed to a barber shortly after leaving school in the late forties, before setting up his own business. Males ranging in age from eight to ninety-eight filled his shop each week for more than four decades. Paddy was a great socialite, a factor that played a huge part in his success.
Fellows who just wanted a chat, or to hear the latest news or gossip boosted the numbers of customers on any given workday. You’d be sure to meet someone interesting or informative in the shop…apart from whatever topic of conversation Paddy had initiated.
You’d hear more about local current affairs, the sporting scene or the latest scandals in Callan while waiting to have your hair cut than you would at the Cross or in the pubs.
He had an uncanny understanding of almost any gripe, grievance, viewpoint, or situation brought to his attention by a talkative customer. He’d size up the fellow within seconds and manage to attune himself to the man’s wavelength and then be one or two steps ahead of him in grasping the fundamentals of the topic he’d raised.
His powers of concentration were phenomenal: He could have a wide-ranging chat about any subject under the sun, while clipping a head or shaving a man with a cut-throat razor…and at the same time be pointing to an article on the sports page of a newspaper and looking out the window to see if such and such a person was passing the shop yet.
A noted pillar of local society prayed one day when Paddy began a comprehensive and flowery description of a sporting event.
As the blade sliced away Jack’s facial hair, beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and he recited a Decade of the Rosary, beseeching God and Our Blessed Lady not to allow his untimely departure to the next world.
But he needn’t have worried: Nobody ever had cause to complain about Paddy’s skill as a barber. He cut tons of hair from the heads of Callan men without shedding a drop of blood.
You didn’t need to be a customer to start him off on one of his favourite themes: In between cutting and shaving, he stood in the doorway facing the street to greet passers-by, having a friendly, shrewd, or convivial word for everybody.
Those who knew Paddy have never quite gotten over his absence from the doorway of his little shop.
Jack Marnell and the Pope
A legendary yarn associated with Paddy’s barber shop concerns a man called Jack Marnell. Jack had a big heart and a wonderful sense of humour, which made him a target for every wise-cracker in town. But one day he had his revenge, which involved gag that’s never failed to bring a smile to Callan faces.
Jack was having a haircut in Paddy’s barbershop.. Six other local men awaited their turn, and Paddy saw his chance to start a bit of slagging.
As he clipped away at Jack, the barber addressed one of the other men in the shop, asking him if he had visited any intriguing places or met any interesting people lately. Turning around, he winked to the man, but Jack saw Paddy doing this in the mirror facing him.
The other man said he had just returned from a trip to Aras an Uachtarain, where he had met President De Valera. And what did he say to you? asked Paddy. “Oh he complimented me on my part in starting up the local branch of Fianna Fail, and he had good reports about me”, he revealed.
“And what about yourself?” Paddy asked another customer. The second man described a holiday in South Africa, where he had shot a lion, two tigers, and a rhinoceros, each with a single shot in the forehead. Paddy whistled admiringly, and encouraged the rest of the lads to tell their stories.
A third man claimed to have seen a ghost that scared the wits out of him, and the fourth recalled speaking to Padraig Pearse a week before the Easter Rising. As they rambled on, all the men looked sideways at Jack Marnell, wondering what outrageous story he’d come up with to best their own.
When they’d finished bragging, Paddy gave a delicate cough and said: “Well, Jack, I suppose you haven’t met anyone extraordinary or been abroad lately, or have you?”
Paddy had completed Jack’s haircut and Jack was examining the job he did in the mirror. As he viewed his reflection closely, scrutinising the handiwork, he began to speak.
“Oh begob, Paddy, I have”, he declared, “Last month, I went to Rome and who did I get to meet but the man himself, the Pope, the holiest man in the world. He was in a lovely golden armchair. Four strong fellows carried him high above the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, and yer men, the Swiss Guards marched alongside. And would you believe? He called me over to him.”
Barely containing his amusement, Paddy quipped “and ah, Jack…you won’t mind me asking: what did the Pope say to you?”
Paddy nudged one of the lads as he waited for an answer.
Without blinking an eye, Jack replied: “He looked at me and he said: Who in the name of Jesus cut your hair?”