Monday, 1 October 2012

Serendipity, Mike O'Donnell and Con Houlihan

Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages.

Last week, I had one of these serendipitous moments that have become one of the great joys of my life since I took to writing this blog.
Mike O'Donnell, the artist who painted the portrait of the great Con Houlihan, which was unveiled on Culture Night in Castle Island library, emailed me with a photograph of the portrait and a copy of the poem Theo Dorgan wrote for the occasion.


I heard a voice in the wind down off the mountain,
a voice in the ash holding out its last dry leaves,
and in the silence after the gates had closed
in Croke Park, in Lansdowne Road, a familiar voice
whispering softly, clear and distinct, following
by my side as I walked through the city of Dublin.
I walked south and I walked north,
I walked east and I walked west
and the voice was still with me, clear and distinct.
By the Nuns’ Pool, as the sun was going down,
and in Kilbannivane as the moon was rising
over the yew trees in their mysterious darkness
the voice was beside me, soft and clear and distinct.
I did not need to ask who stood beside me,
time cannot hope to silence our quiet hero.


Any words of mine would now be so inadequate.


The artist, Mike O'Donnell is a Kerryman, currently in exile in Dublin. He is the grandson of Garda John O'Donnell. 

John was stationed in Kanturk at the time of his death.

Michael Lynch furnished me with scans of The Kerryman and The Irish Press from July 1940. These papers carried the story of the tragic drowning  of the young garda.

Garda John O'Donnell who was in his early thirties, was on holiday in Ballybunion with his wife and three young children. On the evening of July 20 1940 he was swimming near Castle Point when a freak wave swept him and other swimmers on to the rocks. John drowned while attempting to rescue two local girls, Vera and Patricia O'Carroll. The girls were eventually rescued by others who were present.

Listowel's Dr. Joseph McGuire was the coroner who presided over the inquest which was held on the following day. The jury commended Mr. Jack McGuire, then a medical student, for his bravery in taking out a life buoy into rough seas in an attempt to  save John O'Donnell who was being dragged out to sea by the strong current.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, letters were published in The Kerryman calling for life guards on Ballybunion beach and the presence of a rescue boat and a competent crew to man it.

Garda O'Donnell was remembered in Kanturk, where he had been living for six years, as a quiet, unobtrusive, helpful brave man. 

He was posthumously decorated by the state for his bravery. 

This courageous man was the grandfather of the very talented portrait artist, Mike O'Donnell. Mike is justifiably very proud of him.


Make a note in your diary

The new RTE programme; The Gathering; Homeward Bound starts on RTE 1 tomorrow night and runs for 6 weeks. October 23 is Listowel's night.
 It will be available to a global audience on the RTE player


Tadhg Kennelly danced a jig on the desk in the TV Studio to celebrate Sydney Swans winning the 2012 championship

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