Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Evening Herald, December 2008


Parkgate Street, Dublin 8

high nelly
Someone once told me that the longer the pause a person leaves after telling you they need to ask a favour, the bigger the favour they’re likely to ask. A short pause signifies a small favour, such as “Can you pass me that newspaper?”

A longer pause signifies a bigger favour. “Can you lend me this month’s rent?” perhaps, or “I’m going to need that last parachute.”

When my cousin Eamon called last night, a silence of terrifying duration ensued.


This isn’t good.


This definitely isn’t good.


We’re into dead hooker territory right here.

“Your Auntie Geraldine is going to be in Dublin tomorrow” he splutters. “I’m very sorry. The woman will listen to no one.”


But he’s clearly already rehearsed his lines.

“Your cousin Deirdre will meet her off the train and show her around the shops. She’s got basketball at five…”

(Since when does Deirdre play basketball?)

“Your aunt Margaret would come in, but she’s very busy.”

(The hell she is. She’s a civil servant.)

“What do you need me to do?” I ask.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

“The train leaves at 6pm” he says. “Make sure she’s on it.”

He says it so casually, as though this were something that was remotely within my power to guarantee. Auntie Geraldine’s annual shopping trips to Dublin are the stuff of family legend. And let’s just say, her shopping prowess is only half the story.

So it is that, at 5 o’clock this afternoon, my great aunt and I find ourselves seated in the lounge bar of the Ashling Hotel. Heuston Station is just a couple of hundred yards away, on the other side of the river. But it might as well be the other side of the galaxy for all the good that does me.

“Have a drink, good lad,” she says, peeling another note from her purse.

For a small lady, she can certainly put away those G&Ts. I didn’t even see her drink that last one.

“I don’t think we have time for another one, Geraldine.”

“Ah, don’t be silly.”

This isn’t a suggestion. She may be 84, but Auntie Geraldine could still have me for breakfast.

“This ladeen from Derry,” she begins. “Do you think he’s too young?”

I have no earthly clue what’s she’s talking about.

“Oh, I think he’s too young alright,” she says, answering her own question. “But once he gets on stage he just oozes confidence.”

She’s talking about the X Factor television programme again. I’ve already explained that I don’t watch it, and consequently have no opinion on it. But, as with anything you ever say to Auntie Geraldine, I might as well have been pissing in the wind.

“He might be a bit too cocky though, is he? I said, d’you think he’s that bit too cock, ha?”

I don’t reply. She notices the empty glass in front of me and turns around, sharply.

“Hey? Where in the name of God is that fella with the drinks?”

Patience, also, is not one of Auntie Geraldine’s strong points. A Christmases ago, when she still had a car, she broke down in the midlands. She got towed a nearby garage, but didn’t enjoy the ride very much. When the first stretch of downhill road presented itself, the tow-truck driver happened to look in his rear-view mirror.

There was Auntie Geraldine attempting to overtake.

So what hope have I of putting manners on the woman?

“Okay,” I hiccup. “There’s no more time, Auntie Geraldine. We have to go. Put your jacket on, Auntie Geraldine. This is it. For definite this time. We going.”

When I return from the bathroom, she’s sitting down again. Another pint of lager and another G&T have materialised on the table in front of her. The woman is a holy terror.

She gives me a conspiratorial wink.

“Sure there’s no hurry on us at all. Sit down, good lad.”