Paul Kimmage pays tribute to his late father Christy: He was tough, driven, hard and merciless
Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30
Twenty-four years ago, on a glorious summer's afternoon in July 1991, I arrived at the Circuit de Magny-Cours in Nevers for the French Grand Prix. It was my second year as a sportswriter and I'd been sent to write a story on Eddie Jordan and the brilliant debut season of his Formula 1 team.
He was sitting on some tyres behind the pit lane when I approached and seemed bemused I hadn't phoned or made an appointment. He jumped up and started pointing animatedly towards the polished trucks of his rivals - Ferrari, McLaren-Honda, Williams-Renault, Benetton-Ford: "Do you have any f***ing idea what we're trying to do here?"
Then, just when I'd started to fear it was going to be a long weekend, he examined my accreditation badge and looked at me quizzically: "Are you anything to Christy Kimmage?"
It was a question my brothers - Raphael, Kevin and Christopher - fielded often during the years. We were always "Christy's sons".
He made his name in the 1950s as a four-time champion of the Circuit of Bray - the once-classic bike race watched by Jordan as a boy - and was a prolific winner from the moment he started to race. Bike racing was made for men like Christy.
One of his favourite stories was about a crash in the Phoenix Park when the whole bunch was skittled. Ignoring his cuts and bruises, he jumped up and was about to remount but realised his front wheel had been destroyed. Con Enright was one of many lying prostrate on the tarmac and had just opened his eyes when he noticed this guy had taken his bike and was removing a wheel. "Jesus Kimmage!" he swore. "Talk about robbing the dead!"
That was Christy: tough, driven, hard, merciless. And that's what he enjoyed most about racing his bike. Cycling was a sport that gave it to you straight and Christy always gave it to you straight. He encouraged honesty and fair play and had no time for spoofers or guys who made excuses. And when his sons started racing, he expected us to race like him.
Once, during a schoolboy race in Wicklow, I dropped back to help a rival, Martin Earley, chase back after a puncture. This wasn't something Christy would have done. We arrived at the finish and Martin beat me in the sprint and later that evening, when I thought (prayed) I'd gotten away with it, Dad called me aside for a private word. Well, four actually: "Don't waste my time."
He was a great rider and an even better manager and that's what he'll be remembered for, but that's not why I admire him; that's not why we loved him.
Last Tuesday, on the morning after he died, I found a small cardboard box in his wardrobe with some photos and cuttings and a postcard he had sent to my mother from France in July, 1958. She was 16 years old at the time; he was 20 and en route to Reims for the world cycling championships:
Miss Angela Davis
91 Kilfenora Road
Paris, Wednesday 28.
Hello Angela. Greetings from Paris. We are just about to leave for Reims now. The weather is great. We are all in good shape. The scenery is great about Paris. I will be home next week.
The writing was ordered and neat and he'd signed the 'Christy' with a flourish but the thing that made me smile was the absence of a kiss or expression of love. That was dad.
He didn't do hugs or kisses and I'd never once seen him hold my mother's hand. But they went everywhere together, always had.
He was a difficult man to live with sometimes and used to drive her crazy with his idiosyncrasies, but as a couple, they worked. He wore the trousers but she made the calls - where they would live, how they would live, how they would raise their boys.
They bought a mobile home in Clogherhead and made friendships that would become the cornerstone of their lives. They moved from Coolock to north Co Dublin and lived a retirement they would never have dreamed - they'd no money or worldly goods but were surrounded by neighbours and friends who were priceless.
I'd meet Dad walking the lanes and chatting to Peter Casey and Tony Cluskey and Tommy Reilly and his late brother, John, and see a man I hardly recognised. He was happy. Content. It was a joy to behold. But it was his complete and utter devotion to my mother that really struck home.
Every Saturday, without fail, they'd take an excursion somewhere on the train (thank heavens for free travel) and spend the afternoon sightseeing or pottering around the shops. Whenever she was ill, he was like a wounded animal. "I want to go first, Angela," he'd say. There was nothing he would not have done for her. Or she for him.
On Monday, he was putting up a fence in their garden when he drew his last breath. My mother found him. Her screams were heard in Belfast.
We've spent most of the week crying for her but we're happy for him. He lived a great life and it's how he would have wanted to go.
It's said that we are born into this world, and leave it, with nothing. But that's not entirely true. I was born into this world as the son of a great man. My father left this world with the love of a great woman.
What more could anyone ask?
Sunday Indo Sport