Inside the butcher’s shop C&N Meats on Meath Street, a shrine hangs over thick cuts of beef.
In three photos, the same man wears a wide-brimmed ten-gallon hat and a matching white tuxedo. His eyes are shut as he sings into the microphone, and a man is playing the accordion behind him.
Stuck on the window of Noel’s Deli further south on Meath Street, among the collage of black-and-white images and newer colourful shots and flyers, a black-and-white photo shows the same man, slight and old, leaning diagonally forward as he heaves a bulky wooden handcart up Thomas Street.
“The Great Paddy Allright”, it says above the image.
“Everybody just loved him,” says Noel Fleming, the owner of Noel’s Deli.
People still pass by the shop window and smile when they see his face, Fleming says. “He should be remembered because of the joy he brought to people.”
Paddy Alldritt, locally known as Paddy Allright, was one of the last of Dublin’s “tuggers”, Fleming says.
They used to be a common sight, lugging around fruit and vegetables and furniture by hand cart, says Fleming, until they were replaced by delivery vans and disappeared from the city’s streets.
Paddy Alldritt was born on North King Street in the 1930s according to an audio recording Fleming has of Alldritt talking about his life.
But he wasn’t really known as Paddy Alldritt. “If people in the Liberties can’t pronounce your name, they call you whatever,” says Fleming. “He was known as Paddy Allright.”
Fleming knew Alldritt well from the decades he spent trading in the Liberties.
When, at 13, Fleming began to work in grocers on Thomas Street, he didn’t take too much notice of the older people around, he says.
Alldritt was the exception though, Fleming says.
He wasn’t just an ordinary man doing a job that nobody else wanted to do, he says. “He actually loved doing what he done. He loved the interaction with the dealers.”
He had his catchphrases and a signature style.
“The bingo has them all gone mad,” Alldritt often said about the traders in the Liberties. And he’d always have a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth, Fleming says.
Hail, snow or sunshine, Alldritt would be out pushing his cart in an oversized brown duffle coat and a large flat cap that hung half way down his face.
The coat was three times too big for him, says Tony O’Rourke, owner of Oh Rourke’s! Cafe on Usher’s Quay. “I used to say, if the fella who Paddy robbed the coat off ever caught him he would be in trouble.”
Fleming would see Alldritt on his way to work most mornings, heading out at 6am.
Alldritt would push his cart from his home on Cork Street, where he lived with his wife Betty, to the Daisy Market, which used to be between Capel Street and the Four Courts, to collect the orders of flowers, fish, fruit and vegetables that had been placed by Thomas Street traders the day before.
Alldritt had steep hills to conquer to get his cart back to the Liberties for deliveries. “Where he got the strength from, I don’t know,” says Fleming.
People on the street often stopped to help the slight older man push the hand cart on the sweeping inclines up Augustine Street or Winetavern Street by Christ Church Cathedral.
One particular lorry driver sometimes put his car into first gear and pushed the hand cart uphill with his van, Fleming says.
When Mark Curran, a student in 2000 at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, would see Alldritt, he was struck by it, he says.
“It was the Celtic Tiger,” says Curran, who was doing a photography project in the neighbourhood. “And there was this man in his duffle coat, pulling stuff by hand through the streets.”
Like many Liberties locals, Sr Brigid Phelan often bumped into Alldritt. Outside of deliveries, Alldritt would pick up odd jobs with his hand cart, she says.
Sr Phelan needed a couch in her Oliver Bond apartment moved half a kilometer away to a top floor apartment in St Audeon’s House.
Alldritt came knocking at her door offering help.
“This was astonishing to see,” Sr Phelan says. “He was a small man. Five-foot nothing I would say.”
He lifted out the couch on his own down onto his barrow and wheeled it over, she says. “He had extraordinary physical strength.”
Fool Me Twice
Vans began to replace tuggers on Dublin Streets sometime from the second half of the last century, but Alldritt was the exception, Fleming says.
Alldritt hadn’t intended on being one of the last tuggers in Dublin.
He bought a van in the 1970s, Fleming says. “A couple of fellas borrowed it from him and they used it in a robbery.”
When the Gardaí arrived to Alldritt’s door asking about the robbery, he got such a fright that he didn’t want to use the van again, he says.
A couple of years later, Alldritt was at the market when some men approached, telling him about a van they could sell him at a discount.
Fleming says he got into the van and twisted the key to turn the engine on when the man told him to.
“The man told him, ‘Give the engine a good rev,’” Fleming says, and Alldritt heard a machine purr.
“Next of all he paid them the money and off they went,” Fleming says.
All this time, Alldritt was unaware of another van parked alongside. As he had revved the engine, the men in the van beside him had revved their own engine – so that it sounded like Alldritt’s van was working.
When the men left, Alldritt, confused as to why the van would no longer run, popped the bonnet to see there was no engine.
“That would be Paddy, he’d be so innocent,” Fleming says.
Paddy the Artist
“He had a great ear for music. He could hold a tune and he was pitch perfect,” Fleming says.
“The transistor radio was the best thing that ever happened to Paddy,” Fleming says.
Alldritt would often be seen with the portable radio on his cart singing along to whatever song was on the radio.
Sr Phelan says: “He’d never miss a do anywhere and he would make a dramatic entrance whenever he could.”
A second-hand clothes shop on Thomas Street supplied much of Alldritt’s karaoke wardrobe, Fleming says. If a sequined jacket or a ten-gallon hat came in, the owner held it for him.
“Paddy would get up on stage and put these things on. Before he even started singing people would be falling around the place laughing,” Fleming says. Not at him, but with him.
Bakers Pub or the Thomas House were among the pubs where Alldritt entertained.
“He’d go home feeling that he just gave a concert in the Olympia,” Fleming says.
Each time Alldritt sang a song, the lyrics would change. “He would get the song arseways,” Fleming says.
Often, he would sing “When I Leave The World Behind”, a song about a millionaire sad at the idea of the wealth he will part with when he dies – and a poor man, happy at the thought of all the joy he has created and will leave behind in the world when he dies.
Putting on the Ritz
Back on Meath Street, a woman talks on the phone, the mobile pressed between her ear and her shoulder as she digs into her rucksack with her hands.
Taped to the front window of Noel’s Deli behind her is a flyer.
“Paddy Allright, Cabaret Artiste And Entertainer Extraordinaire”, the flyer reads in thick black type.
Fleming made the flyers for a one-off Alldritt Karaoke show in the shop in 1994.
Fleming had mentioned in passing that they should hold a concert for Alldritt in the shop sometime. “Well, he tormented me and tormented me.”
In an attempt to fob him off, Fleming told Alldritt that they needed an amplifier for the gig but he didn’t have one.
Three weeks later, Fleming got a phone call. Alldritt had found an amplifier.
“He calls me and says we’ll do the karaoke today,” Fleming says. “Feck it, I said. Let’s do it.”
Fleming collected Alldritt that morning to help him bring the amplifier to the shop.
He thought at first that it was a small fridge. The thing was in bits, he says. “The speaker was hanging out of it, the cable had no plug on it and there was a mangle of wires coming out of it.”
At the shop, Alldritt set about getting the amplifier up and running, plugging two bare wires into a socket, and – to Fleming’s surprise, he says – the amplifier hummed to life.
By 8.15am on a Monday morning, Alldritt was stood on top of a milk crate singing cabaret songs. He kept going for two hours.
“It was one of the most wonderful days that I ever spent in me life,” says Fleming.
A Lasting Impression
“I was one of the last people to talk to Paddy before he died,” says Fino Fusco, from behind the counter at Fusco’s Cafe on Meath Street.
Oil sizzles in the fryers behind him. The shop smells of fresh chips and sharp vinegar.
Fusco had been walking to the shop for a packet of cigarettes on Meath Street on 14 October 2001 when he saw Alldritt.
Alldritt had a smoke hanging out of his mouth as he pulled his famous cart behind him, Fusco says.
Fusco said hello, he says. “But he didn’t look the best that day.”
Someone came into Fusco’s Cafe thirty minutes later with the news that Alldritt had passed away, Fusco says.
“I said, ‘How could he pass away? I was only talking to him half an hour ago,’” Fusco says.
Around the corner, Alldritt had collapsed at his hand cart with a heart attack.
Fleming visited Alldritt’s grave the day he talked on the phone. “He’s the only person that I met in me life, and I’m 71, that was completely content with his lot.”
“I’ve seen Paddy full of muck. I’ve seen him drenched to his skin. I’ve seen him covered in snow. I’ve seen him burnt alive in the summer and he was always the same guy. He was always smiling,” he says.
Fleming has noticed plaques going up that commemorate local Dublin characters, he says. “It would be my ambition to get something like that done for Paddy.”
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 11.20am on 15 April. Mark Curran was a student at IADT not NCAD. Apologies for the error.]