News Billy Keane

Thursday 2 October 2014

Billy Keane: A bit of navel gazing led me to show a lost soul he was a real Kerryman

Published 11/11/2013 | 02:00

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I thought he was a walking baby whale but he had a tennis ball-sized belly button with a long slit down the middle like a valley sculpted by the Ice Age. Maybe he was a marsupial.

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I often wonder if gynaecologists, in a fit of artistic endeavour, somehow try to express their inner Michelangelo by creating the different shapes of belly buttons. No two are the same.

Do the baby deliverers try to best one another and is there a secret awards ceremony at the end of every year?

This summer on the beach in Ballybunion a woman ate a yoghurt out of her husband's belly button, in front of everyone, and a large man with at least two bellies more than the regulation confided that he hadn't seen his belly button for 20 years. I felt very sorry for him.

Hold on a minute, I said and come back with me to the pants pocket up near the seaweed baths.

He wasn't going anywhere anyway in any great hurry, what with having to carry all the bellies around with him.

He took a lovely picture.

The belly button was perfectly proportioned and I thought it could have easily passed for Gay Byrne's nose if you fecked about with Photoshop for a while and stuck it on Gay.

Come to think of it, the baby whale man was sort of brown, but not like suntanned brown. More like salmon maybe, or a kind of in between colour somewhere around red. I have it. I have it. He was alabaster. That's what he was. Alabaster. Like the colour of an ancient Greek urn.

I asked him if he was cold. It was freezing on Banna Beach last Saturday morning.

The waves were as high as a bungalow and the wind spat silver needles of icy wetting rain. But the very happy and friendly alabaster man said: "No I loves it. De swimming."

He was from Cork, I'd say, judging by the accent. I moved away in case he started calling me Keano.

One of his assistants handed the swimmer a tea towel for drying.

The other assistant was wrapped in several layers of clothing and he wore a pair of oven gloves.

He took off the glove and pointed to his head with the finger next to his thumb, which was a sign that the alabaster man was mad, as if I didn't know.

The assistants went in to the car. The man from Atlantis turned his back on his acolytes and took off his swimming trunks.

I closed my eyes. I have a cousin in this game who is brave enough to have dinner with the Taliban, but I couldn't face asking the tea-towel saronged alabaster man questions for the paper.

Off I walked up the beach. That was why I came here to this beautiful and wild place. To clear the head first and then fill it up again, but in a structured way, without the clutter. There was a decision I had to make. But it's only now as I write that I have finally made up my mind.

Plan B was to do a whole column on belly buttons.

I spent Friday afternoon crying. The 'Joe Duffy Show' had an incredibly moving series of interviews with mothers who had to give up their babies for adoption.

There were the stories, too, of the children who couldn't trace their birth parents and those who did.

Katharine Bulbulia, who fostered babies, told of wiping a mother's tears from the face of the little baby she had parted with, possibly forever, back in the days when it was a crime to give birth just because the mother wasn't married.

The man had been waiting quietly in our pub for most of the day. He asked for a private word when I came in.

I have a question, he said quietly. "Where am I from?" I told him I didn't get what he meant.

The man told me he was born in Kerry, a long time ago, and brought up in a residential home in our county.

"I don't know where I'm from," he repeated. He was a kindly man. Not in any way obsessive or loud. But he was a bothered man.

"You're a Kerry man," I told him. "But am I?," he asked. "I was brought up in a home."

"Do you want to be a Kerryman?" I asked. "I always cheer for Kerry in the football," was his reply.

"Well then," I said. "You're a Kerryman. You're one of us."

I could see the joy irrigate his worried face. The relief of knowing that he was not in any way less Kerry because he came out of a home.

The Kerryman had been bothered by this terrible insecurity all his life. Not knowing where he was from. Being a man from nowhere. In his own eyes anyway.

The Kerryman was a big fan of Darragh O Se. Darragh was a tough man on the field, but off the pitch he's funny and compassionate. I said I'd arrange a meeting. The Kerryman was thrilled. Like a school boy, he was.

It was as if Darragh O Se himself is going to come and meet me, then I'm definitely a Kerryman.

I'm ashamed to say I lost his name and number in a phone glitch. I'm very cut up over my terrible carelessness. I feel I have let him down badly.

If you're reading this my oh-so-Kerry friend, will you please get back in touch and we'll meet up with Darragh.

Irish Independent

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