Another of John Donald's Old Greenock Characters, presented, as ever, as the text was written....
Mary O'Neill, otherwise "Preachin' Mary," felt impelled occasionally, when in her cups, to favour townspeople with unsolicited views and opinions of things in general, and of the liquor question in particular. In that respect she is said to have followed the example of her mother, the original Preachin' Mary, a very old woman, who kept a little huckster's shop in Dalrymple Street, which, in turn, kept her. The daughter was a fruit hawker, plying her vocation in Greenock and at various coast towns on the firth of Clyde and adjacent lochs; and, latterly, her "entr’acte" cry of "Apples or Oranges "was familiar to habitues of the Theatre Royal.
Mary was a somewhat slim woman of middle age, with jet black hair sparsely sprinkled with silver grey, and dark complexion. She was clad in a dress of sober hued material, a shoulder shawl and a straw bonnet.
Everybody knew when Mary was in eloquent mood. Mounted upon an upraised barrel, a barrow, or whatever could be readily and easily utilised as a platform, she held forth to the delight, and-who knows? -perhaps the edification, of a quickly gathered audience. Strange to say, whatever other topics she might touch upon she invariably veered round to the curse of drink, and, as a friend of the writer remarked, “preached a very good sermon, too." She sought not to excuse herself, but rather put herself forward as an "awful example" of the effects of indulgence. Those who had never tasted intoxicating drink she specially addressed, wisely advocating total abstinence as the only sure safeguard against the insidious enemy.
“If ye never drink a first glass, ye'll never drink a second," she declared, beating her right fist against the palm of her left hand. "The first glass is the damned yin!"
To a lady who besought her to take the pledge, Mary replied:-
"I could easily tak it, but I could na' keep it; for if I could get haud o' a pailful o' whusky I wad drink it if ma body wad haud it."
Mary's outbursts were periodical, and while they lasted she would part with all she could command – stock-in-trade, baskets, and all-to procure the beverage she denounced, yet could not reject. When the bout was over, an appeal to some kindly shopkeeper enabled her to redeem and replenish her baskets, and, to her credit be it said, she never failed in the punctual repayment of such loans. In her sober intervals, Mary O'Neill was a quiet, well-behaved, and industrious woman.
We were very excited recently by the suggestion from Black Cassidy that we should create a range of Old Greenock Characters Top Trumps for if you get stuck in during a rainy playtime or teabreak. Let us know what you think about this potentially awesome timewastery...