Aoife Finneran: How banter at the bar turned to fighting in the gents -- and split a cosy golf club in half
IT was supposed to be a banter-filled evening of post-golf drinks and a chance to enjoy a soccer match on TV. Instead, a Wednesday night in the bar of Lucan Golf Club ended with blood in the gents' toilets, triggering a split among members and more than seven years of whispers, accusations, claims and counter-claims.
The two men at the centre of the saga faced each other in Dublin Circuit Civil Court yesterday on the second day of their legal actions against one another. Both Alan Holmes and Martin Curtis were long standing members of the exclusive club, and both were relaxing in the clubhouse bar on the evening in question.
The two men listened as a string of fellow golf club members entered the witness box, whereupon a sordid tale of allegedly concocted statements emerged.
Lucan Golf Club had been buzzing with activity on that March night in 2003. A steady trickle of players arrived into the bar, showered and refreshed after a round of golf and ready for some food and a prime spot in front of the TV.
Manchester United were pitted against Burnley, with the notoriously divisive Red Devils triggering the usual split among soccer fans.
The banter shot back and forth, peppered with swear words, which wouldn't be unusual for that type of evening. As veteran member Patrick O'Carroll put it: "There's no ladies there, it's a man's night."
According to former captain Patrick Monaghan, it was typical to hear "people shouting and roaring in front of the TV, so much so that people don't bring their wives any more."
During the build-up to the match, Patrick O'Carroll and Alan Holmes agreed on a bet.
"It was all very cordial," he recalled.
Shortly afterwards, young member Craig McEvoy noticed Martin Curtis directing an offer of a bet towards the area where both he and Alan Holmes were sitting.
Nobody took him up on his offer, and when he asked a second time, Alan Holmes refused again. As Craig McEvoy remembered it: "Alan probably would have said 'f**k off I'm not taking the bet'."
Some time afterwards, he saw Martin Curtis coming over towards Alan Holmes, kneeling beside him and saying: "If you've anything to say to me say it to my face and if you don't I'll take you outside and flatten you in a flash."
Alan Holmes, he said, called Martin Curtis "a f***ing mouth." The tone of the conversation was "threatening," far removed from the usual humourous jibes and relaxed banter in the bar.
It was shortly after the commencement of the second half that Alan Holmes walked into the men's bathroom and saw Martin Curtis standing there. He claimed he tried to avoid any contact with Curtis by going into a private cubicle, and that after he emerged Curtis headbutted him with no warning or provocation.
Martin Curtis, who will give evidence later today, told one member of the club that Holmes "jumped on me." In any event, the incident ended with Holmes incurring injuries to his jaw, chest and groin, while the bathroom was splattered with blood.
As Judge Joseph Matthews pointed out, there were no witnesses to the incident, so the case will come down to one man's word against another.
The first man on the scene that day was Patrick O'Carroll. He walked into the bathroom and saw the two men with a grip on each other.
At first, he dismissed it as friendly horseplay. Five seconds later, after he had walked to the urinal, he heard shouting and roaring and turning around, he saw that "Alan Holmes's head was pumping blood". According to Judge Matthews, this testimony contradicts Holmes's claim that he was attacked without warning.
Aside from the physical altercation in the bathroom, a sub-plot has been played out concerning the handling of the situation by the ethics and protocol committee of the club, has triggered a deep split.
The committee handed a three-month suspension to Holmes while Martin Curtis was suspended from golfing for one year and from attending the clubhouse for three years.
This caused immense upset among some members, with witness Paddy Monaghan remarking yesterday: "What really bugs me is the way it was dealt with. It was two people having a go at one another. One got three months, the other got three years."
In fact, he was so disgusted with the manner in which matters unfolded that he put himself forward as a character witness for Martin Curtis.
The case continues.