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20th Dec 2016

The Story Behind Johnny Fortycoats – A True Irish Character


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 Johnny Fortycoats…


Patrick Joseph Marlow, or Johnny Fortycoats as the city called him, rambled around 1930s and 1940s Dublin, wearing up to five coats and jackets. Not quite 40 coats, but Irish people do love to sensationalise. The reason he was so wrapped up was that he slept on the street, but rain or shine, he always promoted layering.


Fortycoats on glass by Kyle Cheldon

Fortycoats shamelessly lived off the generosity of Dublin folk, and even boasted to one reporter that standing outside mass of a Sunday was his most profitable time. He made enough money to afford the luxury of eating in cafes and restaurants almost daily.

However, he had a bad habit of spitting on the floor; a vice which soon resulted in entry refusal to his usual eateries.


Forty Coats by Ruan Van Vilet

The many coats he wore were known to house a labyrinth of pockets which contained comic book strips, sweets and small toys. As a result, he was known to have a flock of children who followed him begging for a ‘decko’ of his comics. ‘Decko’ being Dublin slang for ‘a look’.

Another thing kids loved to do with Fortycoats was ‘get a chase’ from him. Shouting things at Dublin’s characters in the hopes of getting chased was a very popular thing to do. Boys and girls would shout: “Fortycoats, how many coats are you wearing?!” and this, for some reason, would cause him to make a welcomed dash for the kids.


Fortycoats by William Murray

A funny thing to note about Fortycoats was that there was a number of similar-looking homeless Dubliners who ended up being mistaken for him. This meant that if one of them died, people would assume it was Fortycoats. A reporter for the Irish Press wrote about Fortycoats’ death, only to be met by the man himself, who questioned why his death had been prematurely announced.

The journalist soon wrote a retraction alongside a lovely quote from Fortycoats on where he planned on going in life: “Wherever me feet take me.”


Forty Coats in wire by Anna Moloney

Fancy a Fortycoats-inspired piece of art?
Come to Four Characters.


Fortycoats by Colm Mac Athlaoich