In the run up to the Four Characters exhibition taking place on the 12th March which celebrates four of Dublin's most well known and loved characters via prints, poetry, installations, drawings and etchings, we have decided to share exhibition organiser James Kavanagh's stories of each of these characters that "soulfully represent the rare auld times of Dublin". This week he tells us the story behind Thomas "Bang Bang" Dudley...
Thomas Dudley, AKA 'Bang Bang' to his fellow Dubliners, or 'Lord Dudley, The Divil' as he introduced himself as, was born in Inchicore in 1906 and raised in an orphanage in Cabra. He lived most of his adult life on Mill Street, Dublin 8 but basically owned the streets of Dublin City. He carried a big key which he'd use to 'shoot' people who crossed his path. When he shot people, he'd scream "BANG BANG!" – giving birth to his nickname. His large key, known as his '45', like the gun, was made of brass and is now on display in Dublin City Library on Pearse Street. People speculated that it opened the door to a local church, but Bang Bang said that Hitler himself gave it to him. I prefer the latter story.
The reason Bang Bang caused such rampage around the city was because of his obsession with gun scenes in John Wayne's Western movies. I read a lovely anecdote about a little girl who was riding a bus with her dad in the 1960s where Bang Bang boarded the bus and shot everyone. The passengers, including her dad, slumped in their seats and pretended their hardest to die. This confused the little girl thought all of the grown-ups had temporarily gone mad. Over time, she learned that Bang Bang had a gift: he was enabling adults to channel their inner kid and have the craic for a few minutes.
No one was exempt from a shooting, either. According to Bobby Aherne's book 'D'You Remember Yer Man', postmen would use parcels as 'shields', Guinness delivery men would pause their deliveries to enter a showdown and even tourists were known to join in on the fun.
In his later life, Bang Bang's eyesight began to fade and he was cared for by the Rosminian Fathers in Drumcondra's Clonturk House for the blind. On the 11th of January 1981, he passed away and was laid to rest in the Rosminian Fathers Community Graveyard. If there's anything that can be learned from Bang Bang's life, it's not to take life so seriously. Maybe we should all have a go of playing cowboys and Indians with each-other.