Tuesday 19 November 2019

Con, but not forgotten

Kerry's master wordsmith Con Houlihan was a towering figure at sporting events all over the country.
Kerry's master wordsmith Con Houlihan was a towering figure at sporting events all over the country.

• I can still see him.

On a cold October afternoon in 1970s Lansdowne Road when Munster played Leinster, there was no "red army".

But as a kid who waited around the Havelock Square end to get the job of bringing on the oranges at halftime, I will always remember the human totem poll who bestrode the sideline.

The Kingdom's own Sitting Bull, Con Houlihan towered over everyone at the game off the pitch, and most of those on it too.

In his reports he was often as interested in the survival strategies of "the little ducks on the Dodder" that he studied on the way to the match, as he was by anything that transpired between the white lines.

Giants see things differently and nobody saw things like the man from Castleisland.

By the time he came to Dublin he was in his middle-age and had a treasury of rural lore.

He could talk a salmon out of the river and he knew and felt when the hay was lost, or if the spuds would taste of soap.

He rose early so that he could get his column away. This was often submitted on scraps of paper, which might include the inside cardboard of a cigarette box. But from the copy boy to the sports editor, to the overseer in the caseroom, where the column was set in hot metal, everyone knew it was a privilege to handle Con's work, no matter how it came in.

His army of readers carried the 'Evening Press' for years. He was a Greek and Latin scholar with a noble heart and a nimble brain, a genuine aristocrat of the printed page.

When the work was done, Con would amble in to Mulligan's and partake of milk and brandy. Tourists might wonder at the dishevelled figure at the counter. Well they might. He leaves a smaller world behind him.

T Gavin
Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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