I have a confession to make: I was once a thief. Yes, you read that right. I was around nine years old when some of the local boys I hung around with dared me to rob some chocolate from Chalky Crowley’s shop. All I had to do, they said, was ask for something that could only be got from the back of the shop, and then while he was otherwise engaged I could reach my hand behind the glass counter and grab some chocolate.
It sounded easy, and once I managed to calm my very loudly beating heart I did as I had been advised and grabbed a couple of bars. We ate the evidence shortly afterwards but the guilt hung around me for ages. I was wary of entering the shop for a while, but if Chalky had any suspicions he never said anything. At least not then.
My second robbery was a lot more casual and serious. There was a table just inside one of the entrances to the Lough Church and when I opened the drawer one day I noticed some coins. I looked around, and confident that no one was looking, I scooped them up, put them in my pocket and fled.
For some bizarre reason I took the bus to Tivoli. There was nowhere to spend money down there so I came home. Once Mum found the coins she marched me up to the Church to hand them back to a priest. I was mortified, convinced I would go straight to Hell if I didn’t spend a lifetime in prayer.
Still, no long afterwards I felt the urge to rob again. I was walking around Roches Stores in St Patrick’s Street one day when I came across the aisle for chocolate. Not just the usual Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars but also Turkish Delight and Fry’s Cream. In the middle of these tempting offerings were Toblerone bars, more expensive than the others and also more exotic.
I looked around me and once I established the coast was clear I lifted a Toblerone and tucked it inside my jumper. I made for the exit and freedom in a heightened state of anxiety the closer I got, but just as I thought I was in the clear I heard a voice behind me asking me to stop.
I turned around to find a woman confronting me. She asked me if I had bought any chocolate. Terrified, I meekly said no, so she asked what the bulging object under my jumper was. Rumbled. When I produced the Toblerone she asked me to come with her to the manager’s office. I had visions of being landed in a prison cell, my deed featuring in the Cork Examiner, and my parents in disgrace.
Inside the office a middle-aged man in a suit asked for my name and address. I was too spooked to lie, and when I had given him the details he told me he would be in touch with my parents as they had a policy of prosecutions for theft. He told me I could go and I slid out of Roches Stores in shame, never darkening its doors for at least 10 years.
I spent the next couple of weeks in a state of fear, wondering when my parents would be notified, or the gardai would arrive to arrest me. None of those things happened, but from then on just passing the store was enough to trigger unhappy memories of that awful day.
On the plus side my thieving days came to an abrupt halt. I never stole again. Not a bad lesson for a nine-year-old boy. Incidentally, I met Chalky Crowley years later. By then he was retired and his shop was closed. I confessed to my early thievery and he laughed. He reckoned most of the young people around there robbed chocolate from his shop at some time. He thought it was a rite of passage. Nice man.