Thursday 17 October 2019

Billy Keane: 'We're all dancing in the dark - but with a little effort can shed some light on each other's paths'


'I meet so many who are troubled. What Danny said was so true. If you can just hold on, even if only for a few minutes, there will be an improvement' (stock photo)
'I meet so many who are troubled. What Danny said was so true. If you can just hold on, even if only for a few minutes, there will be an improvement' (stock photo)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The man I knew well was in a bad state but he still managed to crack a joke. "I would jump off a cliff," he said, "but I'm afraid of heights."

Humour, even if it is black humour, gets some of us from the darkness into the light.

There was a time when life wasn't going too well for yours truly. The town knew. The salute or the stop for the quick chat was their way of helping out.

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It was as if the very walls of the houses where I was born and reared curled in and around me like some sort of protective corset.

Around here they usually suspend all criticism when you're going bad. Sometimes I think it's nearly easier to be down than up. When you're up, you are fair game. The problem about being up is you have to stay up. Keepy-uppy is a tricky game.

We all need back-up.

There is no better place than Pieta House - the suicide and bereavement charity. The waiting time for an appointment is only a few days. Pieta now has a 24-hour helpline - 1800 247 247. You will receive counselling there and then.

The SBLO is the suicide bereavement liaison officer. This is a superbly thought-out Pieta initiative. The SBLO goes to the homes of those bereaved by suicide and gives counselling.

People at risk of suicide are identified and referred to Pieta. A child of four is receiving help due to the death of a parent by suicide.

The Pieta House in Tralee employs a play therapist to help the kids through. It is heartbreakingly sad but Pieta staff are very good.

When you're down, the only way you can go is up. Danny Hannon is heading for 90 at a rate of knots. He is a very spiritual man who prays a lot.

Next month at Listowel Writers' Week, Danny Hannon will receive the John B Keane award for being wonderful to all of us here in this little town, and to the artistic community in general.

I remember exactly when I met Danny and what he told me. It was under the archway and we took shelter from a shower.

Danny said: "The darkest hour is just before the dawn." The Darkness into Light Walk in aid of Pieta House mirrors Danny's words.

The walk takes place all over Ireland next Saturday, May 11. Listowel's numbers are well down due to a switch to online registration.

Pieta took the decision as a well-intentioned governance matter, but it backfired.

We will take cash in the old Lawlor's Shop on Church Street today and on Thursday and Friday of next week, as well as on the night of the walk. You can still register online and it's not difficult to do. Get help as you would if you were booking a flight.

Pieta is so badly in need of our help. You may have walked in the past and felt you have done your bit. There is no giving up here because suicide never gives up.

Please, please, walk for those who are walking alone. Every step you take will save lives.

This really is life or death.

I meet so many who are troubled. What Danny said was so true. If you can just hold on, even if only for a few minutes, there will be an improvement.

The lines of the song come in to my head as I type. "Hold on tight to your dreams, life ain't ever what it seems."

I was lucky to have had the great writer Bryan McMahon for my teacher in third class. Bryan lived in the heart of the town of Listowel, in Church Street. He had this habit of touching the house with his fingertips as he walked down Church Street.

I never gave it a second thought until just now here at about four in the morning. I could be wrong but I think Bryan was trying to connect in some way with the people who lived there when he was young.

The local stone around here is limestone and it was as if there was a fossil of everyone who lived in the old house ingrained in to the walls. Bryan was using the tactile communication to ground him and keep him in the company of those who passed on.

Our Darkness Into Light walk passes right by Bryan's old house, which is now a thriving B&B.

Dad lived just across the street and he wrote, "I love the flags that pave the walk."

Freddy Chute was our painter. He died last week. Freddy was from Charles Street.

Whenever our pub on William Street needed to be painted, I had Freddy pick out the colours. I wouldn't allow any interference from anyone else.

He was gifted and as much an artist as any who used canvas as their medium.

Freddy told his beloved daughter Priscilla, "The thing I love most of all is when I look at a job after I finish painting it and admire my own work." So few of us take time to admire our achievements.

You will pass by Freddy's work on your walk through our beloved streets. Freddy was an inner-town boy, just like myself and Bryan.

But the place he loved best was the banks of the silver River Feale. We often met there at the last bench before the woods of Gurtinard in a place we call the spa, but I never saw the kingfisher.

Freddy showed me the kingfisher as he flew over the water at great speed. I didn't see the little bird.

Freddy told me, "Look at the water" and I would see the blue reflection on the river when the kingfisher winged it back up the river towards the big bridge with the five eyes...

The walk takes you past the kingfisher blue way. And on then through the woods with so many more who have lost loved ones.

Those who have been bereaved may have felt there was a stigma but now, when they see so many who walk for the living and the dead, the isolation is gone.

We are all dancing in the dark for Pieta and those who are near to death, until we walk as one in to the light, brothers and sisters under the sun.

Irish Independent

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