Celtic Illumination, part 49, German perverts, condoms and butter
As I mentioned before, life in Warrenpoint was very similar to the television series The Dukes of Hazard. I wouldn’t match any character from the television show to a person in Warrenpoint but the good humoured lawlessness was quite a feature of Warrenpoint life. The idea that the border, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, was a very important definition was of course a huge joke to many people. It didn’t matter how many customs men, or soldiers, or police you placed on the border, it was still possible to cross from North to South and back again without encountering one road block.
As a youngster I remember having to have the family car searched when crossing from the North into the Republic and then having to display a special paper triangle in the windscreen to show that you had legally entered the South. But this was Ireland and some custom posts would close at six o clock in the evening leaving the road wide open. The main smuggled items were petrol, cigarettes, poteen, condoms and butter. These items remained the stable units of local smuggling however other items would come into the flow now and again such as video recorders or new electrical devices.
The CB radio network helped greatly and with a huge community of truckers reporting on roadblocks the odds were quite often in favour of the smuggler. We were not full time smugglers. Someone would telephone, an order would be placed, a price agreed and the transaction would be put into play. A few years ago I was sitting in a pub with Peter, Phelim and my wife. The barman held a telephone receiver out to Peter informing him that the call was for him.
We didn’t know who was calling but we heard Peter, now operating as a truck driver, agree to buy five thousand, at one pound each, the following day. The receiver was returned to the bar man and we of course asked Peter what he was buying. Viagra he replied then excitedly telling us the price he knew he could get for them from his contact in Belfast.
Poteen was a favourite commodity, always in demand, not just from tourists but from many of the ordinary decent citizens. There was a fair amount brewed in the North but it was a great cloak and dagger affair to get some, much easier to drive into the south and fill a car boot. We all would find our own little niche, if we were interested at all, and as you may expect I eventually found mine.
You may wonder what relevance small scale smuggling has on a Master Candle Maker and future King of Ireland. Well; as King of Ireland I would be responsible for raising taxes and I should have first-hand experience of how certain people might circumvent the law. My chance to enter the smuggling fraternity came when I was working behind the bar at the Osbourne Hotel in Warrenpoint. I was only a part time bar man but would spend most of my free time there.
Warrenpoint had a large docks complex served well by a major road network. As such, many container ships from different countries came into Warrenpoint. The sailors would spend their free time in the pubs and clubs although the captains and senior engineers would socialise in more upmarket establishments such as the Osbourne. One captain, who was in charge of a vessel that went back and forth between Warrenpoint and Rotterdam, claimed that I made the best Irish coffees in the world. Had we then known that I was the future King of Ireland we would have been aware why I made the best Irish coffees in the world.
This fellow encouraged me to buy some smuggled cigarettes, which I did and sold them on, making a small profit. Staying within my own circle of friends I accepted his offer of being able to get anything I wanted and was soon moving quite a large quantity of booze, tobacco and cigarettes on a regular basis. He kept offering me German porn magazines, which were very explicit and crude although, truthfully, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on in many of the photographs, such was our innocence.
We established a good business relationship and I was bringing in specific orders. One of the three brothers, that owned the Osbourne, had me get him French cigarettes while another brother wanted a specific French brandy. I had been offered free passage to Rotterdam any time I wanted and as often as I wanted and this started me thinking of what adventures might lie beyond Northern Ireland.
One day my captain announced that it was too dangerous for him to take the goods off the ship. He could lose his job if he was caught while I was underage and would only get a slap on the wrist. It was quite a simple and plain statement which would have been hard to disagree with. I however found that for the first time I didn’t trust my captain and under no circumstance was I going to his ship on my own.
It was a Saturday evening and the weekly electric shuffle was beginning to fill with people. I managed to get one girl to agree to accompany me, to collect some stuff, and the pair of us set of for the docks. We boarded the ship and met my captain who brought us below deck to his cabin. Here he offered us a drink, which was Bacardi and coke with a squeeze of lemon. It was really quite nice but time was passing and I had to get back to work as the Saturday evening crowd would be growing as would the pressure on the remaining bar staff.
I asked if we could conclude the transaction and his whole demeanour changed. He wondered if it were possible for the two of us to get into bed, the girl could watch or, better still, join in. I now found myself in another ‘sleeping in underpants is unhygienic’ situation. But rather than shake and cry, this time I stood and clenched my fists. Business was forgotten about and I used every ounce of cunning and guile to get off that ship, unmolested.
The girl that had accompanied me was unimpressed, she never wanted to see me again or speak to me again, we were finished. I felt bad that she had been put in such a situation but knew also that our relationship was not the only thing that was finished, so was my smuggling career.