A tale of the King(dom) and I . . .
In the second of a series of visits to the country's vibrant communities outside the capital, Barry Egan spends time in Killarney to talk to some of Kerry's glamouratti and gurus. And there's not an old goat in sight
Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30
Kerry people have mastered the art of the put-down. Even on their own people, it transpires. "When dad became a football manager with Kildare," begins solicitor John O'Dwyer - referring to his legendary Kerry football God of a father 'Micko', possibly the greatest Gaelic football manager of the 20th Century with a statue in his honour in his hometown of Waterville - "a lot of the local people would have been quite irked that he had gone to Kildare. On the Sunday that he won the Leinster Championship with Kildare, they came back down to Newbridge and there were about 30,000 people."
Puck Fair had started in Killorglin and Micko was coming back to Waterville. As he drove into Killorglin, he came across a well-known character who lives in London, Christy Kissane. "Dad opened down the window, full of beans. Christy said to him: 'Well done yesterday.' My dad, replied, 'I know it was fantastic, We had 30,000 people in Newbridge when we brought the cup back.' 'Well,' said Christy, 'We had 40,000 here yesterday - looking up at a goat."
"So my dad closed up his window and drove on to Waterville."
Darragh O Se was sitting in a pub in Kerry the Thursday after the Kerry team he captained in 2002 had lost to Armagh. Darragh had deliberately gone to a pub in a town in the middle of nowhere because he was a bit depressed and didn't want to have to discuss the match with anyone. There was a guy at the bar, however, who didn't recognise O Se but who did want to discus the match. The conversation went something like this.
"Were you in Dublin on Sunday?"
'Oh, you foolish man.'
'How do you mean?'
'Sure, Jaysus. A fool would know we were going to get beaten last Sunday.'
'How do you mean?'
'Sure, look it! We were beaten before we left the county bounds! We had three O Ses on the team [Darragh and his two brothers, Tomas and Marc] . And their mad uncle [Paidi O Se] was managing the team! So we were bound to lose!"
"I was going to take him up on it ," Darragh says now, "but then I thought about it and I said: 'You know what? You're probably right!'"
Independent politician Michael Healy-Rae has had his own experiences of pubs in Kerry. When I had asked him earlier, where is the place to have a pint in Kerry, he replied: "I am on the road so much that the only place I would have a pint is in our own bar at home. That is seldom enough but at the same time I go into more pubs than you can imagine because the clinics are held in pubs. One night, I remember, I was on the way home from a run of meetings and I was stopped by the guards. It was a mandatory breath test. The guard said to me: 'Sure, you're all right. You're not after being in any pub.' I said, 'To be dead honest. I'm after being in 11 pubs!' The guard got an awful land. 'But,' I said. 'I didn't even have so much as a mineral'."
It is Tuesday lunchtime in a suite in the very chic Brehon Hotel in Killarney where some of the movers and shakers of The Kingdom have gathered to pay homage to their county, to their people, to their heart and soul. "We are what we are," says Healy-Rae of his fellow Kerry people.
And what are you?
"Kerry people are unique," the son of tge late Jackie Healy-Rae begins with a typically poetic, even lyrical, flourish. "Just look at what happened around the world with Kerry people. Kerry people built this country. They went up to Dublin. They were our top civil servants. They took over the guards. They built Dublin. They maintained Dublin. Kerry people went over to England. They built London. They built New York. Australia. Kerry people are great. Look at our footballers, look at everybody. Kerry people are the best of business people. The best of workers, grafters, came out of Kerry.
"And we're very modest!" laughs Michael.
"We have built the world," says Liam Quinlan, owner of Quinlan's Kerry Fish. "Look at John Murphy, who came from my own parish in Cahersiveen - Renard - that man left at 14 years of age with nothing only a bag on his back and built probably one of the biggest companies in England, Murphy's Building Company."
I say to Darragh that someone said to me on the train to Kerry from Dublin that he was running for political office soon.
"You never told me!" laughs Michael Healy-Rae in the direction of the former Kerry captain.
"There is no truth in that," says Darragh, with a smile. "I'd have an interest in politics but I have a young family so I wouldn't have time to commit to it. It is a no for the time being."
"Thanks be to God for that!" laughs Michael.
"Everybody knows everybody in Kerry," says John O'Dwyer. "We are kind of hewn from the rock and the mountain and the sea. We are surrounded by natural elements. We have to work on our wits. We are on the periphery. We are on the west coast of Ireland. And as a result of that we have to be able to bring a bit more to the table than others."
What did John learn from his famous father?
"Him being a non-drinker was the first thing I didn't learn anyway. What I learned from him is you have to be absolutely committed in your life and to what you do. He totally committed himself in his life to football and he got the rewards back as a result of that commitment. Even today he is still involved in an Under 14 team down in Waterford. So that is what it brings."
I ask Michael what did he learn from his late dad.
"Never to waste time. We are going to be so long lying down when you're dead - like why would you want to be imitating it now by sleeping too much? Pack as much into every day. Burn it at both ends, because you will be lying down permanently one day. So knock the most out of every day. I think that's what Kerry people do."
Miss Kerry 2015, Mairead Breathnach says her boyfriend is from Kerry. She would be almost run out of the county if he wasn't from Kerry, I joke. "I suppose it wouldn't look good being Miss Kerry!" she chuckles. "So I have to keep with Kerry."
Does Kerry men's obsession with football bother her?
"Not at all. I have a brother who plays football and my boyfriend plays football. I enjoy watching football. It is in the blood."
"You go to mass on a Sunday morning and they're talking about football," chips in Darragh. "I have actually heard the priest looking for tickets for the All-Ireland Final from the altar."
And did you get them for him?
"I told him that I would but I didn't!"
"The Kerry way is not a walk, it's an attitude," says Kate Cooke. owner of QC's Seafood Bar, Restaurant & Townhouse in Cahirsiveen. "Kerry is a small county and it's isolated and we all know each other. We all support each other. It is a good place to grow up and a good place to live, We are not afraid of taking risks. We survive and if we can survive here in Kerry, we can go out and survive anywhere else in the world and teach people a thing or two."
"I'm a Cork man living in Kerry, " says musician Liam O Connor. "I've been very very lucky here, I love the place. They're very, very shrewd."
Just as I turn to ask Michael Healy-Rae about what shrewd means in the context of describing Kerry people, Michael Healy-Rae is actually taking the sweets in the bowl on the table of the Brehon's lovely suite and putting them in his pocket - much to the merriment of the assembled movers and shakers of his native Kerry. "I'll have them later on!" laughs Michael. "The Brehon can charge Barry for the sweets in my pocket!
"I'll give you an example of what shrewd is," Michael says, getting serious. "I recently visited Dairymaster out in Causeway - out in the middle of nowhere a man started a business and now that business is employing over 350 people. And Kerry Group started in a caravan outside in Listowel. And look at Kerry Group today. So the amount of success from Kerry is actually frightening. Kerry people have great heads."
If Enda Kenny was from Kerry and not from Mayo, would he be a different- or better - Taoiseach?
John O'Dwyer: "In fairness, you have to say where he comes from is very similar to where we come from . . . "
Michael Healy-Rae pipes up. (Now there's a surprise.) "If Enda Kenny was from Kerry would he have done some of the things that he did do? He wouldn't. Because if he was from Kerry his judgement would have been better. I'll give you one example. He presided over the abolition of the town councils. That was probably one of the most ridiculous, stupid political decisions ever taken, and I will justify it in the following way," adds Michael. "In this town that you are in today, Killarney town, we always had a town council, which was very vibrant, very clued-in, they were a unique group of people. It was the love of their town. And in one swoop Enda Kenny did away with all that. It was stupid beyond belief.
"One advantage we have on Dublin people and especially people in the media," says the Cat in the Hat, in my direction, "is that they think we're fools. So we have 'em there right away. People above in Dublin, they have a complex about themselves that they're better than everybody else but they're not. We think that in a humble kind of a way. There is a big difference."
Everyone in The Brehon suite - and perhaps all across The Kingdom - understood this instinctively.