Bang Bang (Thomas Dudley) was an eccentric elderly gentleman in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s who achieved fame as a character in the city. A fan of cowboy films, Bang Bang used to travel the buses and trams of the city staging mock shoot-outs with passing people (hence his nickname). He carried a large church key in his pocket which he used as a ‘gun’. Dubliners, who enjoyed his good-natured antics, used to participate in his games, sometimes “returning fire” by pretending they had a gun in their hands and shouting “bang bang” back at him, or by falling down “dead” on the city streets when he suddenly appeared at the back of a bus or tram and “shot” them. On occasion Bang Bang even interrupted plays on stage by “shooting” the actors, generally to the amusement of actors and audiences alike. Radio and television presenter, Paddy Crosbie, wrote of ‘Bang Bang’ in his book “Your Dinner’s Poured Out”:
“Bang! Bang! appeared on our scene in the Twenties, but he belonged to the entire city. His favourite hunting-ground was the trams, from one of which he jumped, turning immediately to fire ‘Bang Bang’ at the conductor. Passengers and passers-by took up the game, and soon an entire street of grown-ups were shooting at each other from doorways and from behind lamp-posts. The magic of make-believe childhood took over, and it was all due to the simple innocence of ‘Bang Bang’. He was a very young man at this time. ‘Bang! You’re shot. If yeh don’t die, I’m not playin’.’ My father was very fond of him, and seemed to come across him very often in different parts of the city. He told us about one incident with ‘Bang Bang’ in Marlboro’ Street, where the shooting pretence went on for nearly half-an-hour and some visiting Americans joined in. They thought the whole thing was hilarious.”
“Bang Bang” died in 1981 but is widely remembered by some of the older Dubliners. His death was recorded by the Irish Independent, a notice which Paddy Crosbie also details in his book.
“The following is the text of an Irish Independent item on ‘Bang Bang’ at the time of his death on 12th January 1981:
‘One of Dublin’s best known and most beloved characters Tommy ‘Bang Bang’ Dudley has died in a home for the blind. He was 75. He was an institution in Dublin during his lifetime. He carried a huge jail key with him around the city, mockingly pointing it at strangers and shouting ‘Bang Bang’.
Despite progressive eye disease, ‘Bang Bang’ maintained his daily beat in the city frequently causing mayhem by jumping onto buses, slapping his rear end as if he was on a horse.
Only recently he told his friends on his sickbed in Clonturk House for the Adult Blind in Drumcondra, Dublin, that he got the idea for his ‘Bang Bang’ characterisations from the many cowboy films that he had attended in his early years. He lived in various parts of the city during his lifetime – in Mill Lane for 41 years and later in Bridgefoot Street flats.
Full funeral arrangements will be made today.’”
He was raised in an orphanage in Cabra, Dublin. He lived most of his adult life on Mill Street, in the Coombe, Dublin.
In later life he was taken in and cared for by the Rosminian Fathers in Drumcondra. He died in their care on 11 January 1981 and was buried in their cemetery.
Bang Bang has entered the folklore of Dublin as an eccentric but harmless individual who amused the city’s citizens with his games. He still is mentioned in books and broadcast programmes. In the 1970s the Abbey Theatre performed a play about the history of Dublin entitled From the Vikings to Bang Bang.
His key is on display in the reading room of the Dublin City Archive, Pearse Street.
He is mentioned in the lyrics of a children’s “skipping song” We all went up to the Mero published by Pete St. John. One verse reads:
We all went up to the Mero
Hey! There! who’s yer man?
It’s only Johnny Forty Coats
Sure he’s a desperate man!
Bang Bang shoots the buses
With his golden key
Hee Hi Didelee Hi
And out goes she!