independent

Friday 25 July 2014

Murt an internet sensation after he flashed the flesh

Published 18/02/2014|05:34

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MURT KEHOE is not quite an overnight sensation as he enjoys his spell in the limelight. The picture which has thrust him into the full glare of internet fame is actually a year old – but it was worth waiting for.

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Murt Kehoe is not quite an overnight sensation as he enjoys his spell in the limelight. The picture which has thrust him into the full glare of internet fame is actually a year old – but it was worth waiting for.

The image which has set Facebook alight, garnering interest from radio stations national and local (not to mention your reporter), shows Murt to be the very essence of the accidental tourist. Surrounded by the darkest of dark inhabitants of the Dark Continent, he lights up the beach in Freetown with radiant paleness.

Political correctness can make it difficult to write about skin tone. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assert that the photo taken on the Atlantic coast of Sierra Leone illustrates the glorious diversity and universal kinship of humankind. Here is a young Irishman of traditional build making himself completely at home amidst a people and a climate far, far from his native Davidstown.

Yet, with his O'Neill's shorts and his Healy-Rae cap, he succeeds in bringing a touch of happy-go-lucky Davidstown to the tropics. Against the background of a busy beach, he presents himself as a natural, easy-going ambassador for his country. We may be proud of him.

So what is the background to this splendid photo? Murt reckons that he must be born lucky because he just happened to be in the right class at the CBS in Enniscorthy for inclusion on the trip to Sierra Leone on the western seaboard of Africa. Links between St. Mary's and their twin school in the provincial town of Bo are renewed in the flesh just once every four years.

As we jet off to maybe a Spanish costa or perhaps to the joys of Florida, we Irish like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and worldly wise. But the reality is that we generally overlook large swathes of the globe in our choice of holiday destinations. So, fair play to the CBS for picking one of the poorer and less visited countries on the planet as the place to go for Murt Kehoe and nine of his classmates.

They ventured off to Sierra Leone expecting to witness poverty. And poverty they duly found, though not so much in the capital Freetown, and more in the underdeveloped backwaters of the countryside.

To judge by Murt's lack of a tan, the visitors did not spend too much time lounging by swimming pools. They and their mentors were in Africa to make themselves useful, to make friends and to learn about life in a very different culture. The experience was memorable.

'The people of Sierra Leone are the most accommodating people I have ever met,' says Murt, with clear affection. 'It was a fantastic opportunity and it made the ten of us realise how lucky we are.'

To illustrate the point, ponder that Irish students do not hang around tourists in the hope of picking up a discarded water bottle. But their Third World peers do. There is scant need for bring centres and recycling bins in Freetown.

A year on, Murt is wearing considerably more clothing that a pair of shorts and a snazzy cap. The son of Martina Dunne and building contractor Declan Kehoe is working on construction sites for his father in Dublin. Since the eye-opening adventure in Africa, he has sat his Leaving Cert and moved from Davidstown to Ferns.

He is 'heavily involved' (his phrase) with Enniscorthy rugby club for the winter season and is looking forward to putting in a bid for a place on the junior hurling panel in his freshly adopted Ferns during the summer. With his laid back good humour, he is also enjoys fielding media calls, while the Facebook sensation lasts.

As he basks in the limelight, spare a thought for Murt's background team. Who plays photographer David Bailey to Irish manhood's answer to Kate Moss, in a flat cap? And who is the brains behind turning the picture into a social media sensation?

The photo was posted on Facebook by Murt's friend and former classmate Peter Sutton. He would have been happy to attract 100 viewers for the pic from Freetown beach. Instead, it has been admired by thousands. It is believed the man behind the camera was teacher Mick Wafer who included it on an album circulated to everyone who participated on the outing to Sierra Leone. He did a great job.

* Incidentally, the 19 year old with the iconic profile is not the only one from Enniscorthy CBS with links to Africa. Past pupil Robert Kavanagh has been in touch to say that he will shortly be travelling to Ghana as a member of a nine-strong party from DCU. His mission will be to help set up a credit union.

Robert is one of three sons of Geraldine and Garry Kavanagh, who live in Monart. He was delighted to receive support from his old school for the venture.

Gorey Guardian

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