Tom Sweeney was a pirate. Not a pirate captain, or particularly fierce. He was just a sailor who preferred the life of a buccaneer and enjoyed the company of hard drinking ruffians! He had seen plenty of action over the years, including the experience of being with Henry Morgan at the Siege of Maracaibo.

It was said that Sweeney was born of gypsy stock, although no one knew for sure. Even Sweeney himself did not know exactly where he was born! The one thing that made Sweeney stand out from the rest of his shipmates, was the bear. The bear had been with him for about fifteen years. He said that he had won it in a game of ‘shove ha’penny’ when it was a cub. But now, fifteen years on, it was a fully-grown Russian Black Bear standing eight feet tall on its hind legs! Sweeney took it everywhere and it was said that the bear could down a jug of ale with the best of them! The bear was devoted to Sweeney and he to it. They were inseparable – Until the fateful day that they arrived in Liverpool.

The ship was tied up at the dockside. Sweeney, some of his shipmates and the bear had gone ashore. They were all in a quayside alehouse, drinking and playing cards with some of the Liverpool locals. As the afternoon wore on, the drinking became heavy and tempers began to fray. An argument developed between a local fisherman and one of Sweeney’s pals. In the fight that followed, the fisherman got stabbed.

Now the fight had nothing to do with Sweeney, he was at the bar at the time and was not involved. But the following day, because those in the alehouse had remembered the bear, he was picked out as the ringleader. He was thrown into jail and the bear taken from him. He never saw it again!

Sweeney was outraged at the injustice, and distraught at the loss of his beloved companion. So angry in fact that he placed a curse on the City of Liverpool! A curse, that is unbroken to this day. It is known as ‘The Curse of Sweeney’s Bear’. From that day to this very moment, every child born in the City of Liverpool is born with a ‘bare’ behind!
Copyright. Leslie Melville 1996.

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