Lifestyle

Tuesday 29 July 2014

A YEAR OF LIVING BEAUTIFULLY

Paddy O'Keeffe, founding editor of Farmers Journal and founding chairman of Farmer Business Developments, was 89 when he married Jane O'Callaghan, chatelaine of Longueville House, a colleen of 73. They had their first date just over a year ago and enjoyed just 12 weeks of married life together. Barry Egan recalls a memorable meal with the couple

THE great explorer Freya Stark once remarked: "If we have faith in life and its richness of surprises, and hold the rudder steadily in our hands, I am sure we will sail into quiet and pleasant waters for our old age." Paddy O'Keeffe was on a luxurious pleasure cruiser until the end. He was never without a smile on his face even as he put to sea triumphantly on his final voyage into open seas last weekend.

Paddy died last Sunday night at home in Ballyhooley, County Cork. He was a wonderful 89 years of age, going on 21.

The night before, he and his wife, Jane O'Callaghan, a relative colleen of 73, had gone to see Les Miserables at the cinema in Mahon Point. They had lunch in Longueville House on the Sunday together.

It must have been some lunch for Paddy, the iconic founding editor of Farmers Journal, and Lady Jane, the delightful dowager of Longueville House in smart County Cork.

They were married only a little over 12 weeks. But they more than made the most of it and, according to friends, perhaps made those 12 weeks the happiest of their lives.

Jane and Paddy were joined in matrimony on October 19 at the register office in Cork city, with a blessing at Glenstal Abbey later that day. They had the wedding reception – a gourmet luncheon at Jane's beloved Longueville House – the next day.

The 160 guests – among them TD Simon Coveney, economist Colm McCarthy, radio tycoon Dermot Hanrahan and Margaret Scally, proprietor of Hayfield Manor – were treated to a four-course meal, as well as not one, but two, sopranos singing Nessun Dorma and Nella Fantasia.

The fair bride and her friends sang I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady. Michael Berkery, the chairman of the Farmer Business Developments (FBD), of which Paddy was the founding chairman, gave a speech about his long friendship with Paddy and Jane, and about Paddy's significant stamina and love of life.

A little over a year ago – on January 10, 2012 – Jane got a phone call from Paddy. She thought he was ringing to give out about a meal he had at Longueville House.

The call was, in fact, to ask her out to lunch. But not just any lunch. Two days later, they went to Patrick Guilbaud's restaurant in Dublin. The lunch went well. Jane wanted to return the favour, and suggested she take Paddy to the cinema. He replied that he hadn't been at the pictures for nearly 60 years.

"Laurel and Hardy or something like that," he said with a laugh last summer over dinner in Longueville House. They went to see The Iron Lady at the Gate cinema in Mallow. "I had to explain before we went in," Jane chuckled, "that long ago you used to go up to the back for a court.

"But you know there's a huge thing out there for people of Paddy's and my age," Jane added. "I have friends – their husbands are dead. They are looking for company. They want to meet people. There is nowhere to go. It is very hard to meet people when you're older. Where do you go?"

They got engaged not long after: that's where they went. It was a short engagement, but life is short.

Paddy might have been in the late evening of his life, but in many ways he was inexhaustible, and indefatigable. He was bright, full of get-up-and-go, jocular, entertaining, a sparkling raconteur and anecdotist.

He seemed so happy and in love with Jane. When I met them, they were like young lovers in each other's company – teasing each other and making jokes. They both had that special personal magic whereby they carried the spirit of youth into old age, which meant never losing their appetite or appreciation for life or, most importantly perhaps, love.

They never listened to what society said about matters of the heart at their age. They were too busy listening to what their hearts said to them about each other. They were too busy being in love.

"Years ago," Jane told me at the dinner I had with her and Paddy in Longueville House on July 20 last year, "when you met someone in a dance down in Kilkee, where I used to go from Limerick, they'd say to you in the morning: 'Did you click?' If you clicked, it meant you got on with somebody. I think Paddy and I just clicked."

"Do you think there was a chemical reaction?" Paddy asked rhetorically, his eyes on his wife-to-be.

"We're very happy, aren't we?" answered Jane. "And we are old. I suppose a lot of people would think we're mad, you know. Daft that we should be doing this."

"We haven't been looking at them, have we?" said Paddy who was always a man of some intelligence: as well as being the chairman of FBD until 1996, he also served on the board of the RTE Authority and Bord na gCapall.

"Oh, I don't care what they think," said Jane with a laugh, "I hope people are not laughing at us, are they? I hope we're not a freak show, are we?"

"If they want to behave like that, let them do so, darling," Paddy, ever the gentleman, said, calming his lovely fiancee.

When I asked Jane to sum up the secret of their love, her answer was beautiful and philosophical: "I'd say we're both mad for the road. Out and about. Paddy likes to meet people. He loves the clash of minds. You'd get bored, wouldn't you, if you were at home all the time? He thinks the food is about the chat."

"We had lunch in Patrick Guilbaud's again yesterday," Paddy concurred, "and we never stopped talking."

"You are probably wondering why we are getting married," Jane said to me at one point in the evening. I wasn't wondering at all. It only added to their lustre that they were marrying at their age.

Their love showed F Scott Fitzgerald was so wrong about there being no second acts in life. This was their third act and they were certainly enjoying it. They were, to put it mildly, completely convivial. Neither put on airs the night I met them. What they put on instead was a wonderful spread of food and drink and conversation that went on until midnight. For this, and other reasons, I will never forget, nor would I want to, that delightful evening I shared with them, love's not-so-young dream.

Laughter was never far from their lips all night.

"Between us we have 107 years of married experience," Jane told me on the phone on the night before I took the train to Mallow to meet them for dinner. "Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt," she joked.

She and Paddy were a spirited team together, and great craic. Paddy told me that his friend Colm McCarthy had phoned him to say he was in Croatia recently and that the Irish gossip machine over there was all about him and Jane getting married. Paddy told him that the wedding was in October before joking, "And it's not shotgun."

"He is very funny," Jane said with a laugh. "He makes me laugh a lot. He has a great sense of humour."

When I asked Jane for an example of her husband-to-be's sense of humour, she didn't get a chance to answer before Paddy interjected like a Gaelic Groucho Marx. "He pinches her bottom," he answered for her.

"Oh, stop it, Paddy!" Jane teased as they both smiled at each other adoringly. Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been, Mark Twain used to say. Paddy O'Keeffe and Jane O'Callaghan didn't need them as indicators: their smiles were ever-present that night. She was full of joy and he full of stories – stories told with a smile and an infectious laugh.

Memory in youth is active and easily impressible; in old age, it is comparatively callous to new impressions, but still retains vividly those of earlier years, Charlotte Bronte said. Paddy was bursting with just such memories of his earlier life. He had a lot to remember.

Despite his age, Paddy's reputation remained buoyant. Last month, the aforementioned wedding guest Minister Simon Coveney unveiled the new Paddy O'Keeffe Innovation Centre for Dairy & Grassland to be built in Teagasc, Moorepark, with the support of FBD Trust.

Paddy told me tale after tale of his business brilliance – and all without the slightest hint of self-aggrandisement. He told me how, through his connections, he helped Charlie Haughey eventually pay for the Abbeville mansion and 250-acre estate in Kinsealy.

A grand cattleman, Laurie Gardner, he recalled, wanted to bring Charolais cattle from France to Ireland in the early 1960s.

The Department of Agriculture wasn't so sure about importing the cattle. Gardner consulted young Paddy O'Keeffe, who advised Gardner that the best person to approach was then-Taoiseach Sean Lemass's son-in-law Charlie.

At a subsequent lunch in Red Bank restaurant in Skerries that O'Keeffe, Gardner and Haughey attended, Haughey told O'Keeffe – while Gardner was at the toilet – that Sean Lemass was keen to see his son-in-law acquire a more fitting residence and that there was a place nearby he liked with an asking price of £10,000, and would, Haughey asked, Gardner be good for the necessary loan.

In Cattleman by Raymond Keogh (with an introduction by Paddy O'Keeffe himself), we hear that, when Gardner returned to the table, he "never even blinked, pulling out his chequebook and filling out a cheque for the amount in question".

Paddy told the story with the aplomb of an Orson Welles or Richard Burton. It was a joy to hear this – and other such stories – over a four-hour tete-a-tete.

Jane was lucky to share a glittering year with him. As was Paddy to share a year of his life with Lady Jane. She is a lady of standing, but she is not remotely la-di-da or aloof or forbidding or any of the nonsense associated with women who call grand old country houses home. Jane has called this grand country house home for more than 50 years.

With the laughter ringing – both hers and his – around them, Jane recalled a trip to Washington in May with Paddy and some friends. She remembered how the officers are so serious when you go through immigration. "Of course, they have these hatchet faces on them when they ask you: 'What's your business in America?' Paddy went up to them and said: 'A party!'"

"And then she went up to them and when they asked what was her business in America, she said: 'A party!'" chuckled Paddy.

The following morning, I sat on the steps outside Longueville House with Jane. Her dogs – Jessie, Basil, Poppy, Mushy and Chopper – ran around on the grass as she put it all in perspective.

"It is a huge compliment to Michael and Ann [their dead spouses] that we are going forward again and getting married. You're supposed to be dead – sitting at home, eating bread and milk," she said before adding, crucially: " Life is about sharing."

When Paddy founded Farmer Business Developments plc in 1967, it was the same year that Jane and her late husband, Michael O'Callaghan, opened Longueville House to guests, turning it into one of the Ireland's first country house hotels.

Jane married Michael in Holy Rosary Church on the Ennis Road in Limerick on June 26, 1963. Two years before that, Michael's brother-in-law, Leo Leader, set them up on a blind date at the Ward Union Hunt Ball in Dunboyne.

Paddy married his wife, Ann, at University Church on St Stephen's Green in Dublin on September 22, 1951. Ann died in 2010.

"She had been declining for quite some time before that," he told me. Jane's husband was buried on her 70th birthday, March 20, 2010.

Jane has five children – William, Cliodhna, Donough, Elena and Diarmuid – and seven grandchildren.

Paddy had four children – Patrick, Elizabeth, Josephine, and Margaret – and 12 grandchildren

All his children and grandchildren will be proud of the memories and the legacy he left behind. Jane, whom he left behind, will have mixed emotions. but he left her in the all-too-short year they were together with genuinely unforgettable moments.

In his death, he will be in a place of eternal rest. But if there was one man I ever met who had so much energy, animation and pluck that he didn't look as if he ever needed rest – let alone for eternity – it was Paddy O'Keeffe.

Sunday Indo Living

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