Just good friends? Of course not. Now read on…
When meditating for more than a moment upon Ireland’s chequered yet in the main glorious industrial past, one’s thoughts will tend naturally to drift briskly towards those twin behemoths of portable, disposable heat and light generation, Messrs. Maguire and Paterson. In Victorian times they famously gave droves of destitute Dubliners somewhere to go during the day, and by the late 1800’s their premises behind the North Quays near Smithfield was regularly rated top in the city by the local Chamber of Commerce, somewhat ironically perhaps, for its almost complete devoidness of heat and light. Both men also won prizes at more than one Captain-of-Industry-Golf-Day-Out in tribute to their general intransigence where matters of employee remuneration and health insurance were concerned.
Of course all of this is a matter of record. But a lesser known known fact about the two is that Chauncey Paterson and Noel Maguire also happened to comprise, as a unit, the world’s first quasi-openly gay couple.
Both were affirmed agnostics. Neither was possessed of any great board-treading talent. They thus took perhaps the only avenue left to a pair of men keen on spending a lot of time with each other in 19th century Ireland, and formed a business partnership. Precisely what direction their business should take was neither important nor immediately clear to either party, but Paterson had lived in London during the mid-70’s, and professed more than once in public after his return to having found the overall picture of depressing gritty urban realism there “way ahead of here”.
A picture whose grittiness and depressiveness was assisted by the daily swelling ranks of an already flooded match girl market.
The obvious word-play around “match-making” had the effect of functioning as a sign to both, and the circle closed when they resolved one drunken night over the backgammon board in a gentleman’s club on Fitzwilliam Square to “go to work” on Maguire’s wealthy aunt, Margaret.
Venture capital duly flowed, and by 1891 they had established themselves as the second largest employer of semi- and unskilled Labour on the Northside, with Official Ireland content to leave the minutiae of the pair’s private lives broadly unpublicized.
Maguire’s aunt Margaret insisted on a match named for her as condition of providing the start-up funds.
This seemingly tactful reticence on the National Media’s part was largely on account of the ubiquity of Maguire and Paterson advertising in Dublin at the time. No newspaper could be randomly opened, barely a single public wall could be stared at without the beholder landing upon some pithy phrase alluding to the superiority of Cara matches.
By way of example, it was postulated as early as 1894, that without M&P advertising revenue, the cover prices of The Irish Times, The Independent and Irish Press would necessarily rise an unrealistic twenty-two-fold.
Of course, “Cara” is the Irish word for “friend”, and most commentators have correctly interpreted the choice of trade name as an oblique reference to the love shared by the two. Moreover, the portrait of both men cheek by jowl must surely be worth the proverbial thousand words. But this really only scratches the surface.
Their seemingly prosaic matchbox copy can be exposed under closer scrutiny as a veritable Da Vinci Code of double meaning and bawdy insinuation, and trove of the more profane street argot of the time.
The most obvious questions to pose when examining the packs are.
(a) What is a “safety” match?
(b) Why bother asserting an “average contents”, when any serious person would search elsewhere when presented with such an inexact estimate of cost-per-match?
Our answers are fairly straightforward. The terms “safety match” and “average contents” were simply coined by Paterson as anagrams of various racy aphorisms pertaining to his and Maguire’s sexual predelictions.
Nonce Teargas Vet (Paterson had been a victim of police brutality at a Christopher Street Day celebration in 1863), “Chafes Ma Testy” (Maguire had never forgotten the physically vigorous Scottish Shinty champion Drew McLachlan, who had introduced him as a teen to the ways of l’amour masculine) He’s steamy. Fact. (needs no elaboration), are just a few of the lines Paterson furtively insinuated onto their boxes.
Denizens of the city’s seamy underbelly soon caught on to this Trojan Horse of meaning, and so it was, that by the early 1900s, thousands of visitors to public houses and moonlit parks in the capital were using Maguire and Paterson matchboxes to discreetly signify specific homosexual leanings.
M&P matches quickly became sought after humorous novelty items, and also enjoyed a huge export trade to France and Luxembourg. Competitors promptly decided to get in on the action
Come and get me! An early attempt to muscle in on the Gay Matchbox Market.
Less subtle than Maguire and Paterson’s work, but equally effective.
The practice of producing gay-friendly matches became so widespread that a knock-on market in heterosexuality-asserting matches evolved in its wake.
You were above suspicion (or beneath consideration) with a packet of Robots.
In matters of commerce and those of the heart, however, things rarely stay the same. And so it was over time that the two “cáirde” began to grow apart. Maguire was unwillingly relieved of his stake in the company by Paterson after a devious series of machinations involving hitherto undeclared wholesale purchases of sulphur and sandpaper, which in 1904 mysteriously came to the attention of the Revenue Commissioner.
A punitive settlement was reached, albeit one absolving Paterson of any blame. He retained control of the company name and Maguire struck out on his own, setting up a “boutique” match company. Specializing in limited edition runs of matches with eccentric brand names and unusually coloured heads, he never managed to completely get over Paterson’s breach of trust, nor the change in domestic affairs between the two. Many of his new box designs eloquently reflected his state of mind in a given year.
Chauncey laughed in Noel’s face when he saw this one.
Paterson, revelling in his new-found life as rapacious homosexual singleton, regarded Maguire’s emotional matchbox bulletins as so much maudlin nonsense, and on more than one occasion returned fire in similar vein with a well-chosen and utterly unambiguous composition designed to let Maguire (and the rest of Dublin’s match buying public) know he wasn’t missed.
Maguire repaired to Wexford in shock for six months after Paterson’s “Woodmen” went into production.
Maguire saw out his twilight years in what today is one of the grander stately homes left in Co. Sligo, a close neighbour of the Gore-Booths, who were in turn old acquaintances of his monied aunt. Rumours of an on-off dalliance with one of the family’s daughters Constance (a signatory of the 1916 Declaration of Independence) were never confirmed. He succumbed to injuries sustained in his capacity as spectator at a road bowling championship in Leitrim in April 1934.
Paterson was not invited to the funeral, and outlived his erstwhile cara by almost a decade. He was shot dead by two masked men at the counter of a Finglas pub in 1943.