Jazz musician Paddy Cole is honoured with a mural in his home town of Castleblayney. The mural happens to be situated exactly where the town’s old customs post used to be. Chatting to Seán O’Rourke ahead of his 80th birthday, this piece of trivia led to a chat about the role of customs checks in Paddy’s young life in a border town, in an era long before Brexit was even a glint in Boris Johnson’s eye.
Having covered the musical highlights of Paddy Cole’s career, starting with his stage debut at the age of 12, Seán and Paddy got stuck into the smuggling stories. Good white bread was hard to get in Castleblayney after the war, and Paddy says the bread on the northern side of the border was much better.
“We were smuggling from when we were youngsters, on a much smaller scale. We’d go up into Crossmaglen, go on the train as far as Cullaville, walk up to Crossmaglen. Three or four white loaves and a can of paraffin oil and back down the road.”
A scout would then alert them to any customs patrols and the shout would go up.
“’The customs are coming up! And we’d throw everything we had into the hedge’
They’d retrieve their stash later. Paddy says the customs guys knew what they were up to and that it all felt very normal.
“We grew up with it as being a very natural thing.”
Paddy says while their activities were small beer, the kids “looked up to” some of the bigger operators. He told a story about an incident in his home town where someone was challenged about the amount of butter stashed in a car. Paddy says the man found a way of disposing of the butter before any more questions were asked.
“He sat into the car, pressed a button and the car went on fire. The butter was flowing down the street on fire and they’d no evidence!”
With the possibility of customs checks on the border hanging in the balance, Seán wondered aloud what kind of an impact Paddy felt a hard border, if it came to pass, might have on his native town.
“A hard border would be disastrous altogether, for our part of the country, for commerce, as well. A huge business has grown up between North and South, which is great to see.”
Paddy Cole says he’s loved having the opportunities to travel and play a huge range of venues, be it in Ireland, in Las Vegas and New Orleans or in places like Doha in Qatar. The 80-year-old presents a radio show once a week, plays golf and still gigs regularly, although not at such a hectic pace as in the past. Paddy told Seán:
“I’ve had a wonderful life in the business.”
Paddy Cole is making an appearance on The Dickie Rock Christmas Show in The Red Cow Moran Hotel on the 28th of December.
Paddy talks about his stage debut at the age of 12, being in the first of the “handpicked bands” his stint in Vegas, meeting Elvis and more in the full interview here.
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