Everyone out west has heard of Mick Stanton. He’s the market man, the fellow with the hat who sells the fruit and vegetables. And when the market shuts up, he’s always to be found at his favourite bar in Ballindereen. Or is it Clarinbridge? Or maybe it’s Vaughans of Kilfenora? At any rate, I found him in Rafferty’s Rest of Kilcolgan, gradually making his way home to Kinvarra. Munster were playing one of their European Cup epics at the time so conversation was necessarily submerged in loud congregational ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’.
Mick orders me a pint. ‘Its tradition,’ he states, ‘that if you were here longer, then you stand a drink for anyone joining you.’ He is a funny mischievous man who takes life easily and makes me laugh. He must have been a very cheeky child.
I still don’t know what age he is. Initially he said he was eighty-two. Then he said he was only codding and he’d be sixty-eight in July. And, finally, he said he’d been doing the market thing for at least sixty-five years. It’s the way he is. He talks in riddles. When I ask how big his family is, he replies: ‘I have four sisters and everyone of them has a brother.’ It takes me a while to figure out that he comes in the middle, sandwiched, as it were, between sisters.
Whatever about the year he was born, his place of birth was Kinvarra, a colourful fishing village on the southern shore of Galway Bay. His childhood home lay near Dunguaire Castle, home to the Kings of Connaught in the 7th century.
Everyone knows him wherever he goes. ‘Hello Michael! Hello Mick!’ He doesn’t mind at all. ‘I call myself a Clare–Galway man,’ he says diplomatically, ‘but its true the Clare people do appreciate me.’ He is perhaps referring to his recent anointment as ‘best dressed man’ at the Galway Festival by The Clare People. Mick is a married man with four children. I met one of them later who assured me this was true.
He sets up his stall five days a week – primarily in Roundstone, Connemara or Ennistymon, but also on the streets of Galway town. He has been selling apples and oranges to Irish Travellers all his life. He says that unlike other supposedly upstanding citizens, they have never tricked him in any way. That said, he has a vigorous respect for their mysterious ways. When his sister inadvertently ignored a Travelling woman by name of Biddy Ward, she invited upon herself an unusual curse. ‘She had twin girls before the year was out!’ he whispers conspiratorially. Mick made sure he paid Biddy full heed whenever he saw her after that.
‘I’ve met tinkers and tailors and soldiers and sailors,’ muses Mick. ‘Rich men and poor men and beggars and thieves. And I never fell out with any of them.’ If people are short a few euro, he will let them off. ‘That’s what I’ve done forever and I’m not going to change it. Everything evens out in the wash. What you give comes back double.’ He knows this is a powerful truth although personally I wonder does this mean I now owe him two pints?