I thought it would be a fright to let the day pass without acknowledging the second anniversary of the passing of the truly great Con Houlihan.
Looking back on it now, we were blessed at the vision and perseverance of Tralee native, documentary maker, Maurice Healy in getting the ‘Waiting for Houlihan’ in the can and not a minute too soon.
It was in 2006 that Con wrote yet another fine piece on ‘Castle Island’ for the Christmas Basketball Blitz programme. At that time there was a bit of agitation here about the state of The Fountain and the fact that it had been abandoned. It had been left so not alone by Kerry County Council but by the people of the town it served so well for generations. I had been urged to put a few words in The Kerryman to highlight the state of our famous landmark and was just about to do so. Then the blitz programme landed on my lap one night below in Sheila Prendiville’s Bar and Grocery.
I had to include the piece. I mean, Con Houlihan standing up for Castle Island’s most iconic landmark ! The following is the piece which appeared in The Kerryman the following week.
CON HOULIHAN WEIGHS IN ON FOUNTAIN SIDE
Lesser mortals have spoken and written about how we, as a community, have turned our backs on The Fountain in its time of need. Now Con Houlihan has taken up the baton on behalf of the former meeting place, landmark and source of man’s most precious commodity for generations of Islanders.
It isn’t that long ago since we witnessed a queue at the Fountain. Any time the supply from Tubbermaing was tainted the line to the old source was retraced. Sweet gallons and billycans were rinsed out and pressed back into service. The news of the day was passed while people waited to fill their vessels. There was never a hint of impatience, no glancing at watches or queue jumping. The flowing water dictated the pace.
In a typically brilliant piece in this year’s St. Mary’s Basketball Blitz programme, Con Houlihan calls for the fortune of the Fountain to be reversed and a few other hints. If it came to pass it would be the perfect compliment to Con himself and to the work done by Deputy Jimmy Deenihan in securing the bust of the great man for the area.
In a piece headed: Street of Dreams Con begins:
“ It took 250,000 men to create the Panama Canal; of course they weren’t all working there at the same time. 25,000 died, mainly from rockfalls and malaria. The French company that had created The Suez Canal gave up in despair.
The president of The United States, Theodore Roosevelt was in despair too; but help was at hand. A little known engineer from a small town in the U.S. took up the challenge. A local G.P. joined forces with him. The engineer decided that cutting a channel through rocky territory wasn’t feasible – he decided to construct a series of locks.
The doctor found that quinine was the answer to malaria. And thus two obscure men succeeded and confounded the worlds of medicine and engineering.
I would love to see Castle Island’s fountain restored to its modest glory. It wouldn’t take 250,000 men and it wouldn’t cost any lives. I could do it myself with a helper. And it wouldn’t cost a fortune.
As far as I know there isn’t any reason why this cannot be done. It would enhance the Latin Quarter, and a lot more. And I would love to see a plaque on the Tralee Road side of the Market House. It would read: ‘To the good people of Pound Road’.
The men of the community used to hold their nightly parliament, presided over in the old days by Mikey Conway.
Some of Mikey’s nuggets of wisdom went into folklore. There was a night away back in 1943 when the future of the world seemed to hinge on the battle of Al Alamein. Now read on !
Thus one night at the Market House parliament a neighbour said to Mikey: Are you worried about your son in the middle of all the fighting in North Africa ?” And Mikey said: “Georgie is well able to look after himself. Before he went he spent three years with the farmers.”
I would like to see a statue of Mikey somewhere on a piece of waste ground that was once part of Pound Road. And of course he would be wearing his cap and carrying his famous bell. He was a great bellman – a town crier he would be called in England.
He had a powerful voice, and he pronounced every syllable of every word. He was useful when the water was about to be turned off. And on Sundays, he used to be at Molly’s Corner as the people came out after last mass. You could her something like this: “Black and white heifer belonging to Paddy O’Connor strayed from the fair in Castle Island last Monday. If anyone has seen her or her equals, please report to the nearest Garda Barracks.”
Life changes, not all the innovations in Castle Island are unwelcome.
I love the trees in the street. I would like to see lights on them at night. It would brighten the town and would attract small birds to nest, the heat of the bulbs would attract them.
And if the Fountain flowed again, the street would be as attractive as any in Paris or Rome or Madrid.
The Fair and Mikey Conway are long gone but the show must go on.
My congratulations to the Basketball carnival, may it go on getting better and better.”