The tutor with tales to tell


AUTHOR Eric Cross, whose book, ‘The Tailor and Ansty’, caused a moral furore when it was published.

Sonia Kelly

Of all the people I know, the least likely to be affected by the virus would have been Eric Cross, the author of ‘The Tailor and Ansty’, the controversial best-selling book. He had a very thick skin.
Eric joined our family as tutor for the children after an inspired idea of my own. This was to put an advertisement in the New Statesman asking for someone to teach the children in return for their keep. Such a move seemed essential after the children’s first term at school. They had become proud exhibits of the ability to say Hail Marys backwards to the accompaniment of lice in their hair.
We received several replies to my advertisement, even from France, but to me, Eric seemed likely to stay the longest. Previously, he had lived in Gougane Barra in County Cork, and he was an associate of Captain Feehan of the Mercier Press. Little did we know that his stay would become thirty years.
He schooled the children, and was a great help generally. He was very clever with his hands, and could help fix up antiques I bought in Dublin to sell (another of my enterprises). I remember on one occasion I found an oil painting with a spike up through it under some bed in an old house that had been abandoned. I brought it home and Eric fixed it up – you wouldn’t know there was a thing wrong with it… I got £40 for it, which was a fortune in those days!
Eric’s controversial book was a collection of stories that he had recorded from an old tailor and storyteller, Timothy Buckley, and his wife Anastasia (‘Ansty’) Buckley (née McCarthy), with a foreword by Frank O’Connor. First published in 1942, it included many of the Tailor’s tales and descriptions of everyday happenings in their lives, and is full of entertaining anecdotes and insights into rural life.
However, the book had caused quite a frenzy, due to what would nowadays be considered risible obscenities. Indeed, local priests called to Tim Buckley’s house and forced him to burn his copy of the book in the fire in front of them.
On one occasion, long after the publication, the Tailor’s daughter-in-law came up our drive complaining about the trouble the book had caused to the family, not least because of the seemingly endless stream of visitors that called to the house as if it were a public museum. This, while they were alive, may have provided some interest for the Tailor and Ansty, but afterwards, years of callers understandably became a blight on their descendants.
Interestingly, Eric told us that he invented Oxo cube when he was working for a scientific company. He also told us that he was christened Eric after the Norwegian patron saint, which, after his death, we discovered wasn’t true.