Bona Fide Traveller

Now, no history of the pub, as we know it, is complete without a mention of a delightful frequenter of pubs called by courtesy a bona fide traveller, who added to the gaiety of the nation until he was liquidated in 1960 by the reforming Mr. Charles Haughey. The engaging thing about him was that he had an insatiable thirst. To be a bona fide traveller you had to be at least three statute miles from the place where you slept the previous night, and this was important, you had to have the right intention.

Now if you mounted your bicycle on a Sunday afternoon (when the locals were closed) and cycled the statutory distance with the set purpose of obtaining intoxicating drink you were not a genuine bona fide within the meaning of the Act. You were, in fact, acting mala fide – in bad faith – and were consequently a mala fide traveller. In other words, you were a fraud, a cheat, a masquerader.

But if you happened to be the statutory distance or more from your abode and you suddenly felt thirsty and you repaired to the nearest pub to slake it, you were a genuine authentic bona fide, “the real Alley Daley”. You had the blessing of Church and State but you were too good to be interesting.

The official time for closing was 10.30 p.m. But the publican was permitted to remain open until midnight to attend to the wants of bona fide travellers. At least that was the intention of the Act. But in practice what happened was that the local customers who had been on the premises all the evening perhaps instead of finishing their drinks, stayed on after 10.30.

After all, having to travel three miles to do the bona fide was a bit of an imposition. After 10.30 they were all mala fides to a man. The publican was required to have a man at the door whose job officially was to admit only bona fide travellers. When in response to your knock he opened the door you were allowed in although the man knew and the publican knew that you lived just around the corner. The publican wasn’t going to turn good money away. After all he had sons to send to college.

Now when danger threatened, the man at the door sounded the alarm. From long practice he had a trained eye. He knew precisely when a raid was intended. If he saw ‘the guards approaching in the distance at a nice strolling pace all was well’. All that was needed here was to ask the noisier elements among the customers to pipe down.

But if they were stepping it out at a fast pace he would suspect purpose and the general alarm would then be sounded and there would be “a scatterin” out the back door and over the garden wall and the devil take the hindmost or perhaps upstairs into the living quarters and into a wardrobe or under the bed.

But the fellow huddled over the fire, not knowing his own religion, laboured under a handicap. Here there was a difficulty of communication and by the time the doorman would have established a dialogue to get the message home it was too late. The enemy was within the citadel and the publican would be lucky if he didn’t, subsequently, get his licence “embossed”.

Paddy Halpin [SHS, 1973]