Tales from a day in the life of a working-class widow

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The Independent Online
Brendan O'Carroll's stage act consists of tales, often improvised, of working-class life in Dublin, and exchanges with the audience as well as conventional gags. He deals particularly with the lives of working- class women, and his book Mammy is about the life of a widow, Agnes Browne, struggling to bring up seven children while dreaming of dancing with Cliff Richard. The following extract, which shows O'Carroll's ear for the dialogue of his city and was read by him at the book festival, has the widowed Mrs Browne and her friend, Marion, in the social security office:

"Your husband - is he working?"

"No, not anymore."

"So, he's signed on then?"


"Why not?"

"He's dead."

The girl was now silent. She stared at Agnes, then at Marion. "Dead?" both women nodded.

"Now, your full name?"

"Agnes Loretta Browne."

"Is that Browne with an E?"

"Yeah, and Agnes with an E and Loretta with an E."

The girl stared at Agnes, not sure that this woman wasn't taking the piss out of her.

"Your maiden name?"

"Eh, Reddin."

"Lovely, now your husband's name?"

"Nicholas Browne, and before you ask, I don't know his maiden name."

"Nicholas Browne will be fine. Occupation?"

Agnes looked at Marion and back at the girl, then said softly, "Dead".

"No, when he was alive, what did he do when he was alive?"

"He was a kitchen porter"

"And where did he work?"

Again, Agnes looked into Marion's blank face. "In the kitchen?" she offered, hoping it was the right answer.

"Of course in the kitchen, but which kitchen? Was it a hotel?"

"It's still a hotel, isn't it Marion?"

Marion nodded.

"Which hotel?" The girl was exasperated now and the question came out through her teeth.

"The Gresham Hotel in O'Connell Street, luv," Agnes answered confidently. That was an easy one. The girl scribbled in the answer and moved down the form.

"Now, what was the cause of death?"

"A hunter," Agnes said.

"Was he shot?" the girl asked incredulously. "Was your husband shot?"

"By who?" Agnes asked this question as if the girl had found out something about her husband's death that she didn't know herself.

"The hunter. Was your husband shot by a hunter?"

Agnes was puzzled now. She thought it out for a moment and then a look of realisation spread over her face.

"No, luv. A Hillman Hunter, he was knocked down by a Hillman Hunter - a car!"

The girl stared at the two women again, then dismissed the thought that this was Candid Camera ... in an effort to ease the tension she said: "That must have been a shock".

Agnes thought for a moment. "Yeh, it must have been. Sure, he couldn't have been expecting it."