In a class of his own

MANNERS: Due decorum and a stiff upper lip were required in all situations.

SEAMUS was one of life’s great characters, and a retired colonel of the Irish Guards

ON a recent visit to the mother country, we happened to drive past a house near our village that was once occupied by one of life’s great characters, a retired colonel of the Irish Guards, known to his friends and fellow ex-officers as Seamus.  

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He was an aristocrat through and through, but treated everyone he came into contact with in exactly the same uncondescending way, be they royalty or street cleaners.

His language when telling one of his famous stories to the boys, was barrack room vernacular at its bawdy best, but when engaging ladies in conversation, he was the epitome of charm and courteousness.  

Kissing hands or tipping his hat were as natural to him as eating peas off a knife is to me.

His mother was of genteel birth he told me, and the emphasis in her day was to marry well and acquire a husband from the aristocracy or upper classes.  

But she had other rebellious thoughts and furthered her education at a school for young ladies, the establishment being a stately home of some magnificence, and ruled by a principal of formidable demeanour.

One evening over dessert, the elderly butler approached unhurriedly, and bending down painfully to engage the principal’s ear, said: “Begging pardon Ma’am, no cause for alarm but the ‘ouse is on fire.”  

There was a sharp intake of breath around the table, and I suspect a hint of nervous flatulence, but no noticeable reaction from the principal who, ramrod straight, informed her ‘gels’ that they should finish the meal with due decorum.  

Nothing, not even a raging inferno, would interrupt their set routine and they were eventually led to the safety of the gardens in a dignified manner. 

It was an illustration of the now sadly defunct, British stiff upper lip.

The colonel is no longer with us, but he was one of those rare examples from the upper classes who have no pretentions regarding status and treat everyone with the respect and courtesy they merit, regardless of background or upbringing. 


  1. Most Colonels in the Micks ( Irish Guards ) could match this description. Who was he?
    The “ouse” is on fire sounds more like an “East Ender” than an Irish Butler!

  2. John, the ladies finishing school was apparently in England and the old retainer almost certainly English as well. I simply recounted the story as it was told to me by Colonel Magill; a fascinating man and one of life’s true gentlemen.

  3. Fascinating story Colin. I love your humorous observations which are so often combined with a nice little comment like that. Indeed, what HAS happened to the famous “stiff upper lip”?


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