Preserving Dockers’ Nicknames.

Cónal Thomas has a delightful piece for Dublin Inquirer, Preserving Dockers’ Nicknames, from Rubber Legs to Long Balls and Bendego:

When a docker was known by a nickname, that would be his name until he died, says Paddy Daly. He started at Dublin Port when he was 16, in 1954. “People who worked with a man for years would never know what his Christian name was,” says Daly. There was “Swinger” Bisset and “Snipes” McDonald, “Rubber Legs” Gaffney and “Granny” Farrell, “Terrier” Caulfield and “Crab” Carberry.

Now “Masher” Hutch, “Boxer” Elliot and “Blue Nose” Byrne join these on the list of 180 nicknames Daly has recently compiled, recalled from his days down Dublin Port. […]

“The biggest thing you had going in your favour would be, say, a little bit of infamy,” says John Walsh, who worked down the docks between 1962 and 2009. “If you got a nickname that was sort of funny or self-demeaning it stuck in the foreman’s head.” In Daly’s time on the docks, men like “Eat the Baby” Carras, “Foot and a Half” Curley and “Canadian Joe” Reilly lined up under a wooden scaffold, seeking work in the morning “reads”. The “read” was a selection process. Carried out by the foremen, who stood atop the scaffold. Many foremen knew men only by their nickname, says Daly. […]

Research into dock workers’ nicknames is scant, for now. But they’re a tradition that existed in Ringsend for generations, says Declan Byrne, who helped to found the Dublin Dock Workers Preservation Society in 2011. Byrne reckons that two-thirds of deep-sea dockers in Dublin were from Ringsend or Irishtown. The remainder came from East Wall. […]

Both Byrne and Daly agree that a dock worker’s real name would often only be discovered through his obituary. Last year, Byrne received a Christmas card from George “Bronco” Dennis. “George?” says Byrne. “‘Who’s George?’ I said. It took me ages to figure out that was Bronco’s name!”

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    Re Bendego, the name for strikebreakers, there were Bendigo cigarettes, which sold at 10 for 3d, at a time when cheaper brands like Woodbines sold at 5 for 1d.

  2. @PlasticPaddy, I had wondered if there were any non-learned associations that the dockers would have been familiar with.

    Bendigo was reminiscent of Benedict Arnold to my American mind, but I doubted any possible knowledge of that US historical figure. I also considered Abednego being corrupted, but I couldn’t imagine a twisting of the Biblical tale to fit. Yours seems like a very plausible source.

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    Abednego can be corrupted to Bendego/Bendigo and was used as a first name formerly. But I don’t know of any famous Bendego in the early 20C, which I suppose is the relevant time frame for this nickname.

  4. Kate Bunting says

    See It seems the place in Australia was named after a man who was ‘handy with his fists’ like the famous 19th century prize-fighter. Maybe the docker was so named for the same reason?

  5. PlasticPaddy says

    Bendigo. A rough fur cap : named after a notorious pugilist.
    From : A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English Abridged from the seven-volume work, entitled Slang and its Analogues BY JOHN S. FARMER AND W. E. HENLEY LONDON George Routledge & Sons, Limited New York: E. P. Button & Co. 1905
    I just do not know if this word (or knowledge of the boxer) was current in Dublin at the time the nickname was given.

  6. John Cowan says

    This is the same W.E. Henley who wrote “Invictus” and the father of Margaret Henley, a friend of James Barrie’s who called him fwendy ‘friend-ie’ until her death at age five; Barrie’s use of Wendy in Peter Pan added it to the world’s stock of names. Henley himself, who lost his leg below the knee to bone tuberculosis, inspired R.L. Stevenson’s Long John Silver. Henley later lost his other foot to infection and was operated on by Joseph Lister.

  7. Bendigo. A rough fur cap : named after a notorious pugilist.

    Thanks for that, PlasticPaddy! That looks promising!

    The word bendigo was also also prominent enough in some way to have made it into Funk & Wagnalls’ A standard dictionary of the English language from 1893:

    This is an American dictionary. And then the Supplement (1909) of The Century Dictionary took it from the Standard Dictionary:

  8. John Cowan says

    The “notorious pugilist” was William Thompson, who got the nickname Bendy for his tactic of bobbing and weaving all over the ring. (The Muhammad Ali of his day, he claimed that in his career of 21 professional fights (boxing for money was illegal), he had never gotten a bloody nose or a black eye.) Bendy mixed with his actual middle name Abednego, yielding Bendigo.

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    Looking through the British newspaper archive, Bendigo/Bendego appears in Irish newspapers:
    1. 1845-1855 with reference to the fighter
    2. 1874, also referring to him, in his later character of revivalist preacher
    3. Late 1880s onward with reference to a racehorse Bendigo and his progeny
    4. 1905 onward with reference to the tobacco
    Picture adverts for the tobacco typically feature a horse or a race scene.

  10. Lars Mathiesen says

    One thing that duckduckgo is not good at is finding LanguageHat threads. So I’ll just mention that the first comment here connects to the recent discussion of how to price things worth less than a penny. (Whether .2 or .3d).

  11. Can you not do a site search on duckduckgo?

  12. David Marjanović says

    You can, the same way as on Google, but my impression is DuckDuckGo doesn’t crawl as often.

  13. Lars Mathiesen says

    Even for old threads, Google gets more hits, and much more often the relevant one, when I search for something like “ Lars something clever I said”. Maybe Google indexes more of each page of comments so DDG never sees my cleverness.

    I might set up an LH crawler/archiver myself, if I ever find myself with nothing else to do. Just so I have a flat-file version to grep. Or just lobby for one of the many advanced search plugins to be installed, the factory default one only searches in posts but I think most advanced ones let you include comments in the search.

    (Actually I have an idea for a tamperscript that will remember the last comment you saw on each thread and scroll you there instead of the last comment added when using the recently commented page. But don’t hold your breath).

  14. @Lars Mathiesen: My experience is just the opposite: that when I do the same kind of search for old comments, DuckDuckGo almost always finds what I was looking for. (I think it’s failed me exactly once.) On the other hand, Google sometimes misses things I know are there (and which DuckDuckGo can locate) quite a bit more frequently. Maybe there are systematic differences in how much is stored on different servers used by the same search engines.

  15. Lars Mathiesen says

    Maybe DDG just needs to know more about what I want, or I have idiosyncracy in specifying searches that works better with Google. I shall continue to kick against the pricks.

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