Dubliner Signed Up for Con Houlihan Festival

Composer/musician/ storyteller and former Dubliner, John Sheahan is Castleisland bound for Con Houlihan festival.
Composer/musician/ storyteller and former Dubliner, John Sheahan is Castleisland bound for Con Houlihan festival.

Castleisland Rugby Club has secured the services and talents of composer/musician/story-teller and former ‘Dubliner’ John Sheahan for this year’s Con Houlihan Memorial Festival.
Though last year’s event was held over the final week of September, this year’s will now be much later on account of the Run the Runway event taking up the organisational resources of the club for so long.

Busy Mix of Events
The 2015 festival in Con’s honour was a busy mix of events from a golf classic on the local course to walks in Gleanageenty Wood and everything in between.
Culturally, it was up there with the best of the rest as far as company and music and reminiscences are concerned and a Welsh male voice choir performed in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Currow in the John Browne Memorial Concert.

Writer and Wit
Fans and friends of the late great writer and wit, were wondering of late if the event in his honour would be held at all this year. Fear not. Dan Casey is right up to his broad shoulders in the emerging details of the event and we’ll all know more when white smoke plumes from The Crageens.
In the meantime: I was reminded recently during a chat about The Taxpayers’ News that I promised I would do something here on it at the first opportunity.
The following is another of Con’s evocative pieces that lets you see the colour of the day he’s in and one that draws us all into the twists and turns of the journey he’s on. In it’s course, he tells you all you need to know about the life and times of the oft recalled days of The Taxpayers’ News. As a matter of interest, copies of the paper can be viewed at the local library.

Con Houlihan  pictured here with Sliabh Luachra box player, Johnny O'Leary  in Scartaglin in September 2002 during the filming of the True Lives documentary on Con. ©Photograph: John Reidy 19-9-2002
Con Houlihan pictured here with Sliabh Luachra box player, Johnny O’Leary in Scartaglin in September 2002 during the filming of the True Lives TV documentary, Waiting for Houlihan.  ©Photograph: John Reidy 19-9-2002

The Back Pages of Village Life – Con Houlihan: 
In a previous incarnation, I was the proud editor of a magazine called The Taxpayers’ News. It was published in my home town Castle Island, Co Kerry. It hasn’t a very romantic title and in its pages you might come across an article headed “How To Make Good Concrete Blocks”.
It dealt mainly with politics and economics. Some people, indeed thousands, seemed to know our paper would carry poetry. Reams of it came in the post every day, so that eventually it posed a familiar problem — to burn or to bury …

John B. Keane at home in William Street, Listowel. ©Photograph: John Reidy 22/07/1993
John B. Keane at home in William Street, Listowel. His work was published first in The Taxpayers News. ©Photograph: John Reidy 22/07/1993

One poem, however, was so good that I published it. It was the first time ever that John B Keane saw some of his work in print. It was a well-crafted poem to his girlfriend Mary O’Connor, whom he eventually married.

Of course, we carried a cookery page, written by a Caherciveen publican Pauline McGuire, who had the honour of having a play produced in the Abbey Theatre. One day she failed to deliver and it was my first great trial as an editor. I jumped into the breach with an article headed “How To Cook Trout”. It began: “To prevent fragmentation, roll in flour — the trout, not yourself.”
Despite the article about making concrete blocks, it was a lighthearted magazine. It didn’t compete with Ireland’s Own in publishing jokes, but it wasn’t far behind. One of our first jokes was: “Two little birds were talking on top of a tree. One said, ‘I haven’t seen you for a long time.’ And she answered, ‘I have been transferred to another branch.'” Believe it or not, this little joke recurs in the current number of Ireland’s Own.

The late Charlie Lenihan - years ahead of his time. From Timothy Murphy's Photographic Collection.
The late Charlie Lenihan – years ahead of his time. From Timothy Murphy’s Photographic Collection.

The Taxpayers’ News was owned by Charlie Lenihan. His father had emigrated to Alaska from a small mountain-holding and made a fortune there, not by digging up gold, but in transport. When he came back home, he bought a splendid farm and a manor house. On his own initiative, the bold Charlie opened a butcher shop and milk business in the town. He was a wealthy man and went into politics. Charlie got elected to the county council with a big majority and failed by a few hundred votes to get elected to the Dail. He would have won that election handsomely if he didn’t despise number-two votes and told people who offered what to do with them. He had a drink problem and eventually it brought him to a rather early grave.
He was the pioneer of silage making in our part of Ireland. Silage making is New Zealand’s greatest gift to humanity. It took away the misery of trying to save hay in broken weather. A lost hay harvest could bankrupt a farmer. Charlie introduced music in the milking parlour. He believed rightly that cows yield better when the surroundings are pleasant.
He might never have started the paper if I hadn’t encouraged him. He certainly wouldn’t have gone into the venture if I didn’t come in too. So I can claim to be a co-founder of Castle Island’s first and probably last publication.
Eventually, we began to sell well and got even the colour advertisements. The middle of the magazine contained a long “poem” called The Doggerel in the Manger. This was made up of rhyming couplets. It contained all the news of the day. It was in that poem the great Myles na gCopaleen was first called The Shadow of a Punman. Occasionally, Myles lifted pieces from me. That was flattering. Seamus Kelly, Quidnunc in The Irish Times, gave us the occasional mention and we were delighted.
The copy was taken by me to Dublin every Monday morning and delivered to a grand little man called Tommy Hayden, who had the Marian Printing Works next door to Groome’s Hotel. We usually had a few drinks and went over the copy, which he had in good time to print and send down the proofs, so the magazine was ready on Friday night.
Then came a fateful day when Charlie went to Dublin and took the copy with him. On the way, he made changes. He referred to Louis O’Connell, a solicitor and a county councillor, as “crooked in his business and in his politics”. This was madness. A libel action followed in which we hadn’t a hope. I recounted it later in The Doggerel in the Manger.
Sean McBride was representing Louis O’Connell and, of course, he won easily. Sean had a slight speech defect — he couldn’t pronounce a certain consonant in the alphabet. He gave a hitch unto his gown and with a piercing look said: “Come tell me, Mr Lenihan, did you call this man a cook?” There was loud laughter until eventually we paid for it. The damages were heavy and eventually led to the demise of a brave little magazine. I resigned because I resented having my copy changed. The Taxpayers’ News lingered on for a few more months and died quietly.
My time there was very happy. We published short stories from the French, Russians and English. Our authors included Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov and DH Lawrence. This had two merits: they were great stories and we hadn’t to pay for them because the authors were dead.
It is my belief every town should have its own magazine or its own newspaper. The men in America in the 19th century founded newspapers with hardly any capital: they needed only a rudimentary building, a printing press and a printer, and a boy to run messages and bring the coffee and doughnuts. Every journalist that I know in Dublin would love to go home and start a newspaper in Castle Island or Caherciveen or Newcastle West, but the tide is running against them now.
Happily, I have been associated with the good days of The Evening Press and The Kerryman. The first has ceased to be. The second is a pale shadow of its great self. There are so many other ways of communicating news, you wonder if newspapers will become extinct. My hope is they won’t.

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