A plague on all your Gombeens’ houses

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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“Those gombeens couldn’t stop a sink draining in a stopper factory.”

Now that, to be sure, might be one of the more unlikely openings to The Moodie Blog since its launch in 2006. But don’t you just love the words, the emotion, the sheer… derision?

Before I continue, however, I hear you asking, “What’s a gombeen?”

According to the trusty Urban Dictionary, it’s a word used in Ireland to describe a shady, small-time ‘wheeler-dealer’ or someone who is always looking to make a quick profit, often at someone else’s expense. As in, “He’s a fierce gombeen that fella!” (often uttered with an expletive in front of gombeen).

So who made the comment and who are the gombeens? Well, it emanated from an exasperated Irishman after reading the frankly bizarre revelation by Irish media The Journal that Ireland’s Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe aims to prevent a return to duty free shopping between his country and the UK if the latter crashes out of the EU with a no-deal Brexit.

Really? According to the report, Donohoe wants to maintain the duty free status quo (or lack of duty free status quo more accurately) for any travellers from Ireland departing to the UK. Just the UK mind. If they depart to any other non-EU country any place on the planet, they could buy their bottle of duty free Jameson or (probably more appropriately given this Blog) Writers’ Tears and 200 Marlboro Lites, to their hearts’ content.

What would the great Dr Brendan O’Regan make of this mess?

Now this is in the country that gave the duty free industry to the world, remember. Our industry’s founding father Dr Brendan O’Regan must be spinning in his grave.

Let me give you a case study. I owe my business partner Dermot Davitt a bottle of, say, The Irishman, as penance for my beloved All Blacks losing to Ireland in the 2018 Autumn rugby international.

So, post the no-deal Brexit, I buy it at World Duty Free in Heathrow Airport and arrive in deepest darkest Galway bearing gifts (I better buy something for his long-suffering wife Michelle, after all).

But then I remind Dermot that he’d got a bit cocky and also accepted my bet that the English rugby team would beat the Irish in February’s Six Nations international. “No way,” he said at the time, with the small addition in front of the word ‘way’ of an expletive sometimes found in front of gombeen.

But the English not only beat the Irish, they picked them up, twisted them out of shape, ate them up and then spat them out (sorry Dermot but I still haven’t forgiven Ireland for last November). In fact, the Ireland performance was a bigger car crash than Brexit. Heck it was like the mass collision of a whole fleet-load of Hondas from the soon-to-be-closed car plant in Swindon. “You owe me a bottle of something really good Dermot,” I say. “Now pay up on your next visit in April or you’ll be your own next headline.”

Dermot, an honest kind of chap, duly heads down to The Loop duty free shop at Dublin Airport en route to Moodie Davitt HQ in April. He picks up a nice bottle of Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey knowing that Midleton, albeit with an extra D, is one of Moodie’s middle names (in fact, Martin is the other, while his first name is a state secret).

“Where’s your final destination?” he is asked at the point of sale.

While tempted to respond, “I’ll probably be going down below”, he says, “the UK.”

“Sorry Sir,” comes the reply. “We will have to charge you the duty paid price.”

“But the UK is a non-EU country,” complains Dermot.

“Doesn’t matter. We’re not allowed to sell duty free to UK-bound travellers. Now if you were flying to Ethiopia you’d be fine, mind.”

“Jeez, that’s unfair,” says Dermot, realising he’ll have to pay a full duty paid price to honour his bet.

“To be sure,” replies the nice salesperson, who’s heard the same complaint a thousand times since Britain not so much crashed but self-obliterated its way out of the EU without a deal. “Personally I blame the Gombeens.”

And so do I. The Gombeens who got Britain into this mess, the Gombeens like Paschal Donohoe who make it worse (you couldn’t see him coming up with an enlightened Hainan Island-like ‘offshore duty free’ concept that actually benefits business, consumers and country now could you?). A plague on all your Gombeens’ houses. I’m moving to China. And I’m taking my Writers’ Tears with me.

Footnote: Over 100 years ago, [Irish playwright and author] JM Synge described the gombeen man as follows: “Groggy patriot/publican/general shopman who is married to the priest’s half-sister and is a second cousin once removed of the dispensary doctor… the type that is running the United Irish League anti-grazier campaign, while at the same time they are swindling the people themselves in a dozen ways and buying back their holdings and packing off whole families to America.” – David McWilliams, Independent.ie

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