THE lad was stripped naked, tied to a lamppost and looked ‘tarred and feathered’. This was not barbaric vigilantism — it was a stag night, though the lad wasn’t enjoying it.
Stag parties seemed to have monopolised the streets of Westport, Co Mayo, that weekend.
The town is the stag/hen capital of Ireland.
The fact that it was only 7.30pm on a delightful spring evening, and that the town was full of locals and tourists of all ages, didn’t matter a jot to the revellers. My 74-year-old mother was with me at the time and, like me, she is hardly some God-fearing prude.
She put it succinctly: ‘Aren’t there other ways of having fun?’
But ‘the fun’ may be about to end. The shock announcement last week, by Iarnród Éireann, that alcohol is to be banned on the 1pm Galway-Dublin service every Sunday is the first shot across the bow in a campaign to cut down on the anti-social behaviour all of us have experienced on trains and buses.
Iarnród Éireann spokesperson, Jane Creegan, said: “The decision was taken to make these services alcohol-free, because we have large groups of people travelling — particularly on stag and hen parties — that may, in some instances, engage in the over-consumption of alcohol and this can be intimidating to other customers.”
Similar restrictions, also banning people from bringing on their own booze, will be implemented on other services, including certain trains between Waterford and Dublin, at a future date, prompting a deluge of outrage on social media sites.
Ironically, the train company’s announcement came in the very week that John Butler’s laddish film comedy, The Stag, about a group of friends disappearing into the rural wilderness before their mate’s wedding, and which has the requisite male nudity and drug-taking, was nominated for next month’s Irish Film & Television Awards, amid much fanfare.
The movie, which features Brian O’Driscoll’s wife, Amy Huberman, hopes to follow in the huge success of the Hollywood stag-party movie series, The Hangover, starring Bradley Cooper.
So you take your pick: is Iarnród Éireann, along with countless hotels and pubs across the country, right in banning the wild antics of stag/hen parties?
Or are they all, as the movies celebrate, just boring old party-poopers, who have conveniently forgotten their youthful drunken escapades?
In fact, shouldn’t we all be honouring, or at least allowing, a tradition that is said to date back to the 5th century BC, when the fearsome Spartans celebrated the last night of a boy becoming a man?
Certainly, Galway City itself — which, for years, has jealously eyed Westport’s carving up of the stag/hen business — is hurriedly catching up.
Hardly a single minute, no exaggeration, of any hour at the weekend, in the city centre, fails to involve some kind of collision with a stag/hen party, which are more ubiquitous than ever in the city’s famed history of partying.
So serious has the plague become that only this week, in yet another clampdown, young city councillor Peter Keane has drawn up new, tough bye-laws to curtail the Bacchanalian excesses before the summer season begins.
Keane said: “The matter of alcohol abuse in public parks, beaches, and in general public space has become intolerable and we cannot simply stand idly by. Galway City is a major tourist destination and we must clean up our act.” Like other cities, such as Cork and Waterford, that have already implemented similar schemes, from this summer gardaí in Galway will be able to impose on-the-spot fines of €100, increasing to a court levy of up to €1,500, if payment is avoided.
Keane’s proposals also mean that gardaí can destroy bottles and cans, something, bizarrely, previously prohibited by law, causing a bureaucratic nuisance, because some police stations were obliged to keep the booze for some time after it was confiscated.
Not all agree with the new clampdowns, unsurprisingly. Coyote’s Late Bar, on the world-famous Shop Street, seems to make a virtue of the fact that it will welcome those shunned elsewhere. In the ‘latest news’ slot on its website, it cries: “thinking of booking your Stag/Hen party in Galway City? Then look no further!”
And as one local publican of a similar mindset told me: “Look, on any weekday night, with the students staying at home and buying cheap booze from discount supermarkets, the town is dead. How on earth are we to survive if we don’t accept this kind of business?”
Fair enough, perhaps.
Except, that is, when you consider that the French, typically civilised in these matters, refer to their own stag-dos as the ‘enterrement de vie de garcon’, which roughly means ‘the burial of the life as a boy’.
And in Galway City, like elsewhere, a lot of people wish the men behaved like men, rather than the boys they once were.