The Death of Con Houlihan – A Decade Ago Today, August 4th

Con Houlihan pictured here at the unveiling of the monument in his honour on Castle Island’s Main Street on January 16-2004. The great man was called to his eternal reward a decade ago today. Photograph: John Reidy

You’d wonder where all the Saturdays, months and years have gone to but the late Con Houlihan went to his eternal reward a decade ago on this date, August 4th. 2012. 

On Saturday, August 4th 2012 the 86 year old revered newspaper writer and sports journalist was, as he might say, called ashore.

For the previous half decade he kept the readers of Castleisland and its hinterland informed and entertained in equal measure in The Taxpayers’ News.

That circle widened considerably when he joined The Kerryman in the early 1960s and more so with his move to The Evening Press.

Impact of First Showing

It would be unforgivable not to mark his anniversary somehow and I found this piece by him in which he paints a vivid picture of the background of the making of the 1973 masterpiece ‘Wheels of the World’ which he scripted and the equally wonderful Éamonn Keane did the narration.

The first showing of the film made such an impact that people remembered where they were and with whom they watched it. Not every house had a television – as you’ll see from Con’s article.

I remember talking about Wheels of the World in a pub here at the time of the unveiling of the monument to Con in Castle Island in 2004.

Colourful, Informative and Funny

One man’s contribution to the conversation was close to incredible under the circumstances he was in at the time of the showing: “My mother was below in the church the night Connie’s film was on the television,” he said.

Con’s piece below on ‘The Wheels’ is colourful, informative and funny and if you’re of a mind lift a glass or a mug of something suitable to the memory of the great man who was and still is known and fondly remembered as Connie. Now read on:

On Location in Co. Kerry

The date is forgotten: it was a long time ago, all the world was young. It was the year Captain Christy won The Gold Cup.

A little expedition was down in Kerry attempting to concoct a film: it wasn’t a story movie or a documentary – you could call it an evocation.

We were hoping to capture some aspects of the county, especially the northern part. Pat O’Connor was the leader of the expedition, at least he thought he was. The Deasy Brothers, Seamus and Brendan, were recording sight and sound. Paddy Gallagher came along as a kind of unofficial adviser. Joyce Nealon was the production assistant.

Discovering Knocknagoshel

There was no filming done on the first day. The three lads were surveying their ground: Joyce decided that we would go for a drive. We headed for the hill country north of Castle Island. We came to a junction where a sign said Knocknagoshel three miles. Joyce brought the sweet chariot to a halt and gave a small gasp of surprise and delight. Until then she had thought that Knocknagoshel existed only in fiction, like Ballyscunnion in Dublin Opinion and Ballymagash in Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. And so we took the hint from the signpost and turned left up the hill and crossed The Tooreenard River and soon came to the village that is very real indeed.

Some People Call it The Mall

It is probably unique in that it has four names. Knocknagoshel is the official version; some people still call it Mountcashel. Some people call it The Mall. And I have heard people – not all veterans – call it simply Mall. Therein lies a tale.

It involves a man who was working with pony and trap and bucket and brush for a candidate in a Westminster election. He came back to Castle Island one evening and said to his boss: “I posted bills in four villages today – Mall, Mountcashel, Knocknagoshel and The Mall.”

On that day long ago when Joyce Nealon saw myth become reality, we called, of course, to my favourite pubs, Eddie Walsh’s and Neilus O’Connor’s. Both bars were fairly busy, mainly with men coming home from the creamery. It was a cold, wet morning. It wasn’t a day for the land.

One of Nature’s Gentlemen

All the men made a great fuss of Joyce: they vied with one another in singing her praises. She was delighted to find the natives so friendly, even if they all didn’t speak the language. Neilus O’Connor, alas, is no more: his lease hath all too short a date. He was a brilliant musician, a clever angler on The Abha Bheag, a great publican, and one of nature’s gentlemen. His departure from this world left a huge void.

Eddie Walsh, legendary footballer, is gone away too. He was about 90 when one night after he had gone to bed, he asked for a glass of whiskey – and he passed away like a leaf falling from a tree. Eddie’s greatest rival on the football field was another special person, Roscommon folk hero Frank Kinloch.

Part of Local Cuisine

They marked each other in two All- Ireland Finals. One of Frank’s daughters, Frances, travelled down from Dublin for the funeral – and told me all about it.

Eddie was a travelling foreman with Kerry County Council; Frank was an inspector in The Land Reclamation Scheme – and out of this comes a little story. They were regular callers to our house for the tea and apple cake that was part of local cuisine – but they managed never to meet. Someone said that their bikes recognised each other. An article about all this that appeared in a sports magazine was read out in full at Eddie’s funeral Mass by his son Eamonn – and evoked mighty applause.

Charles Stewart Parnell Connection

There was another Eddie Walsh in the parish – he was known as Eddie Joe. He was famous as the local correspondent for The Kerryman. When Neilus O’Connor’s sisters went to England, he recorded their going. “Eileen and Mary O’Connor, daughters of publican Dan C D O’Connor, emigrated to Leeds on Monday. The village will never be the same again.”

Knocknagoshel is known far and wide for its connection with Charles Stewart Parnell. The story goes back to the 80s and what was known as The Split. The country was bitterly divided over Parnell’s affair with Kitty O’Shea. The people of Knocknagoshel were staunchly behind Parnell – a time came when they found themselves in a dilemma.

Arise Knocknagoshel

Their hero was to address a meeting in Newcastle West. The menfolk of Knocknagoshel decided to go there on foot. They had to go through Abbeyfeale where the Parish Priest, Father Casey, was fiercely opposed to Parnell.

They took their courage in their hands and marched behind a banner that proclaimed ARISE KNOCKNAGOSHEL AND TAKE YOUR PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH.

If Luke Keane had been born about 1860, he would have been at the head of that march. Luke is celebrated as a farmer and a singer and a historian. A few years ago he decided that Parnell should have a memorial in the village.

With a few like-minded friends he got a fine bust erected. It’s a long way from Avondale but it couldn’t be more appropriate.

A Pair of Cotton Oxfords

Gaelic Football was the only game played in Knocknagoshel until about 40 years ago – the televising of The World Cup in 1966 brought changes. Gaelic Football is of course still very strong there – but this little story goes back a generation or more. One evening a man from the heart of the mountain joined a practice game in the local field. Though he was wearing his working boots, he gave a good account of himself. The Parish Priest, who managed the local club, was pleased with this new star for his squad. He posted him a pair of Cotton Oxfords, the most fashionable boots of the day. He never saw the man from the mountain in the football field again. The boots were kept for the bog and the meadow and the garden.

The Last Time You’ll Appear in a Film

Our film was called The Wheels Of The World. We hadn’t television in our house. My father watched it in his favourite pub on his way home from work. A loud cheer went up when he appeared on the screen as he planted potatoes. He was late home that night and in great form. My mother said: “That’s the last time you’ll appear in a film.”

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