Thursday 23 March 2017

Harris looking down on Munster's field of nightmares

Sean Diffley

When Richard Harris was, some years back, filming John B Keane's classic 'The Field' down there in bitter, rainswept Connemara, he proclaimed that he would not be interviewed by the media -- TV, radio, or newspapers -- while in Ireland.

All that sort of stuff was absolutely, totally, out of the question. No way was he prepared to speak about any interesting features of his life and times.

No way would he, for instance, regale us from the fastnesses of Renvyle, about that famous time he went missing for three days in London, only to turn up at his home where his long suffering wife opened the door to be confronted by Richard and "at least, love, you could have paid the ransom."

So, nothing emanating from the West Asleep then?

It was then that this widely read and highly respectable column ran into a Pulitzer Prize bit of luck -- actually it was like Woodward and Bernstein of the 'Washington Post' cuddling up to 'Deep Throat'.

Well, not exactly 'Deep Throat'. It was an old mate, Jackie Donnelly, manager of the Berkeley Court Hotel on Lansdowne Road, who was Harris' brother-in-law.

"That bleddy fella," said Jackie, "all he thinks about is bleddy rugby. I was out in the Bahamas last summer and instead of relaxing at the pool, he had me inside watching bleddy rugby matches on videos."

Obsessed with rugby, then? Any hope of abandoning that media ban and talking only about rugby? The next morning, a call from Jackie, "if you get to Renvyle at six tonight, he'll talk rugby, but only rugby."

And so, in the dining-room, where Yeats once saw ghosts and Oliver St John Gogarty disported himself, we talked rugby, particularly Limerick rugby.

Harris' days were the decades when Limerick hated Cork and vice- versa and much, I'm afraid, was stark libel.

Harris, in 1952, was a member of the Garryowen team that won the Munster Cup final, but years later he was a Young Munster man because, it is said, he thought Garryowen was too stuck up. He frequented Charlie St George's pub.

Charlie was the captain of the Young Munster team that won the All-Ireland Bateman Cup in 1928 and Charlie's story was that the team, up from the country, took the precaution of walking in single file with an arm on the shoulder of the man in front.

The rain poured down that evening in Renvyle and though Harris had spent much of the day up to his oxters, filming in a rushing river, he didn't tire of talking rugby.

His acting career, which began with the visits to Limerick of the Anew McMaster company and which developed into a highly respected international reputation and the palatial Bahamas home and the pool, was, of course, acceptable.

But Richard Harris often declared that he would have happily given it all away in exchange of just one cap for Ireland.

And as Jackie Donnelly so aptly put it in Limerickese, "That bleddy fella, all he thinks about is bleddy rugby."

In that dirty maul up there in the sky, where both are, they will, no doubt, be expressing some interesting opinions about current Munster progress.

Irish Independent

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