The Long Purse

Around noon on the fine sunny day of Tuesday, 23 June, 1891, two loafers sat on the steps leading to St George's Hall, discussing hare-brained schemes to make money in an effortless labour-free way. The two layabouts were 31-year-old John Hagerty of Great Howard Street, and 45-year-old Billy Reid of Gerrard Street. Both men were petty criminals, forever waiting for a golden opportunity. Beneath the grandiose monuments of history-making men on St George's Plateau, Hagerty and Reid bit their nails and weighed up shameless plans to beg and steal. A tall woman in black approached from the direction of St John's Lane and walked quickly up the steps towards the plateau. She wore a black veil, so Hagerty and Reid assumed she'd been widowed. She passed by them, and as she ascended the steps, something dropped from the woman and tumbled down almost into Billy Reid's lap. It was a long dark-brown leather purse. Hagerty tried to grab it from his friend, but Reid was too fast and swiftly snatched it. A fight almost ensued, and Hagerty bawled that it was 'a matter of routine decency' to split whatever they found. Reid started to retreat from his colleague, but Hagerty promised: 'I'll go straight to a copper and tell him you lifted a widow's purse.'
Becaue of this threat, Reid ended up giving Hagerty a quarter of the purse's contents, which came to almost five pounds in florins, half-guineas, and sovereigns. Inside the purse there was a small elegantly scripted calling card that read: Mrs Cluefir, 6 Greek Street.
The two men went on a spending spree, but they soon noticed that the money from Mrs Cluefir's long purse seemed to be cursed. Billy Reid bought a bag of boiled sweets for his nephew, and the child choked on the first one he took from the bag. John Hagerty put two guineas towards the hire of a special wedding carriage for his sister, but after the marriage service at St Jude's, a terrific thunderstorm hit the port, and when a lightning bolt hit the church steeple, the horse pulling the carriage fled in terror. The animal ran into a cart and was fatally injured, and the carriage was wrecked. The downpour from the storm then soaked all of the wedding guests. The incidences of bad luck continued, and Billy Reid became convinced the long purse was jinxed, so he decided to retrieve it from the bin and take it back to its owner. When he called at Number 6 Greek Street, an old woman answered, and when she saw the purse, she threw her hands up to her shocked face, and told Billy to throw it away. The old woman said people had been bringing the same long purse to her house for years after claiming its money had brought them death and misfortune. There was no Mrs Cluefir at her house - the name was a mischievous anagram of Lucifer. 'Throw the purse away, and see a priest,' the old woman warned. Billy Reid did that, and decided to turn over a new leaf.


©Tom Slemen 2004