Walkin’, talkin’ and touchin’

‘Mate’ Lydon was a Galway original, a character, a champion salmon snatcher and a great judge of porter. He was born in Rope Walk in the Claddagh in 1908. His name was Martin Lydon, but because he spent much of his childhood in his grandmother’s house, he was known locally as Máirtín Harte. He attended the Claddagh National School. He loved hurling, became a very good soccer player and was a regular on the famous Claddonians team which won the first ever Schweppes Cup in 1937. Our first image shows that team: seated Joe Flaherty, Jack O’Donnell, Martin Lydon, Bob Cantwell, Gus Flaherty, Thomas Lydon. Standing are Jimmy Connell, Martin Connell, Paddy Cubbard, Dick Ebbs, Jack Connor, Frank Fitzgerald and Eddie Cloherty. Mate usually played full back, and opposing forwards often found they had to take ‘the long way round’ to the Claddonians goal.

He worked for about 15 years in the foundry in Mill Street. A very good ironworker, making beautiful gates was his speciality. He subsequently worked on the docks for about 20 years. In the meantime, he put in a lot of practise at the art of salmon snatching. This often resulted in a visit to ‘Limerick University’, ie, Limerick Gaol. When he got to know the lads (wardens ) they got him to do an odd small job around the place. One day they asked him to sweep up the leaves outside the prison. He finished the job and knocked on the prison doors to be allowed back in. Nobody answered, and as he had a few bob in his pocket, he went to the nearest pub. When the publican and his clients heard Mate’s story, they stood him several drinks. He went back to the prison and spent 20 minutes banging on the door shouting, “Let me in before I’m robbed out here”. It was not given to many to be locked out of jail.

Work was alright for the working classes, and so he joined the ladies and gentlemen of independent means. “Walkin’, talkin’ and touchin’" now became his occupation. He was always out for the craic. He had his regulars for the tap and his regular haunts where he knew there might be prospects. He treated all of his ‘patrons’ with dignity, often creating the impression that he was bestowing something of value on them. If he had the price of a pint, he was content. If he had not, well … “Hello there Mate, how’re ya fixed for the rough touch.” He was happy to throw in a few anecdotes or even a song to the value of whatever you were going to give him. He could look a bit intimidating if he was jarred but there was no malice in him and everybody liked him.

On the morning after three government ministers had been sacked, he was seen on High Street singing, “When the goin' gets rough, ya must be tough with Blayney’s Fusiliers.” On another occasion, he was in court and the judge asked him to explain what he was doing on the roof of certain pub in the middle of the night while the guards were trying to get in the door, and his memorable reply was, “I was only trying to get a drink on the slate, your honour.”

Our photograph of Mate singing was taken in Eyre Square in 1971 at a benefit concert organized by the Mayor Michael Smith. He is accompanied by Ceoltóirí Chonnacht in the persons of Patsy McDonagh, Festy Conlon and Dickie Byrne. The song he sang was a personalized version of ‘The Holy Ground’ with a chorus of ‘Fine salmon you are’.

Mate died in May 1983 but he is still remembered with great affection and the yarns about him abound and his spirit are beautifully captured in this evocative poem written by Carmel Naughton, to whom we are grateful for sharing it with us.

Mate Lydon

When I strolled the streets of old Galway

As carefree as could be,

And I had the craic with any man

Who shared a jar with me.

They called me Matey Lydon

A good oul skin they said

And “walkin, talkin and touchin”

Was how I earned my bread.

The students they were all me friends

The odd professor too;

Sure I was often subsidized

By the Cellar’s motley crew

“Your time is up, you have to go”

Old Paddy used to say,

But I was cute, for out I went

And in the other way.

Now in walkin’, talkin’ and touchin’

Sure I had an honours degree

Me lessons came from the school of life

Good enough for the likes of me.

I got “further education” from Mountjoy and Portlaoise

Where the judge there recommended me

For the “keeping of the peace”.

I’d other qualifications when work got a biteen slack,

Till I was apprehended with a salmon on me back

Now to those who still remember me

And the man I used to be,

Know the times were tough and I was rough

But I kept my dignity.

So, when you’re passing the Cellar Bar

Won’t you say a prayer for me

For one of Galway’s real auld stock

From a time that’s ceased to be.

And I will not forget you

When you come to Heaven’s gates

Just tell St Pete to open up

That you’re a pal of Mate’s.

 

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