Tuesday 23 April 2019

Farewell, dear friend

Hundreds say goodbye to a local legend

Peter's sister Kathleen, granddaughter Lisa and daughter Josie, clutching a photo of her beloved dad, at St Brigid's Church, Talbotstown
Peter's sister Kathleen, granddaughter Lisa and daughter Josie, clutching a photo of her beloved dad, at St Brigid's Church, Talbotstown
Peter Keogh

Myles Buchanan

Kiltegan village came to a standstill on Thursday for the funeral of the much respected President of Wicklow GAA Peter Keogh.

The popular 86-year-old was given a emotional send off as hundreds of mourners paid their final tributes to the Kiltegan club-man.

The number of people attending the funeral at St Brigid's Church, Talbotstown, was so great people were asked to park in Kiltegan where waiting buses would deliver them to the church.

Some 500 mourners attending the service, including his sister Kathleen, daughters Josie and Breda, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nephews, nieces and his many friends and associates.

GAA officials from all over Ireland were also in attendance, as were RTE commentator Brian Carty and Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey.

Peter's wake was held the previous day in Teegan's Hall with more than 2,000 people paying their respects. Among them were GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail. Also present were past presidents Jack Boothman, Liam O'Neill and Nickey Brennan.

Tenor Des Willoughby sang 'Amazing Grace' before Peter was laid to rest at Tynaclash cemetery.

At the start of the service in St Brigid's Church his grandchildren brought a number of gifts up to the altar which best symbolised the life and loves of their grandfather.

Among them were his trusty pad and pencil, copies of the Wicklow People and The Nationalist, a hurley, a blackthorn walking stick he made himself and a copy of the book he wrote on the history of Kiltegan GAA.

The final gift offered up was his much loved flat cap which he wore to every game he reported on.

Speaking from the altar, his grand daughter Lisa said, 'you were always looking for this cap but you don't have to worry about it anymore. I have it here for you.'

She described how Peter's father was a blacksmith but passed away when he was only seven, leaving Peter as the man of the house from a young age.

His mother hailed from the Liberties in Dublin and according to Lisa, 'that's why he always had a soft spot for the Dubs.'

Fr Joe Brophy described Peter as a great story-teller, commenting that he could 'fill many books' with the stories Peter liked to share.

He recounted one particular tale told to him by Peter about a new bicycle in the 1940s which eventually led to Peter's first encounter with hurling.

Peter, aged 12 or 13, approached his mother and asked if he could have a new bike.

'Things were a lot different back then during the war years. It wasn't a case of simply going to Baltinglass or Hacketstown, picking a bike and colour you wanted and then purchasing it. You had to put your name down on a list and could be waiting two to three months, or even longer.'

One morning Peter's mother was going to the local post office in Kiltegan when Peter decided he would join her and make his way to Hacketstown to see if his new bike had arrived.

He left his mother just as she entered the post office. The post mistress immediately informed her that Peter's new bike had arrived in Baltinglass. His mother raced outside to find Peter but by that stage 'he was already halfway to Hacketstown.'

Now the Keogh brothers had two new bikes but 'what good was it having new bikes if you couldn't show them off.'

The duo decided to visit some cousins of theirs living in Dublin and 'rub their noses in it, so to speak.'

Their visit happened to coincide with All-Ireland Sunday but Peter and Jack were surprised to find that football wasn't being played that weekend, hurling was.

Having watched the game the two brothers cycled home with Peter talking constantly about this 'new and foreign' game he had just witnessed.

'And I think it is fair to say that this was the moment Peter introduced hurling to Kiltegan and west Wicklow,' added Fr Jack.

His daughter, Josie, declared her father a 'doer' who didn't like to keep still and was always active.

He also considered himself something of a handy man, though Josie noted 'not all of his ideas were as successful as he would have hoped. He didn't exactly have the highest of regard for health and safety. In many ways we were lucky to have him for as long as we did.'

She added that her father would probably be bemused by the large attendance at his funeral, and would have likely thought 'have they nothing better to be doing.'

Wicklow County GAA chairman Martin Coleman described his close friend as a 'legend.'

He was a true family man who sadly lost his wife Mary 11 years ago. He was charming, modest and down to earth.

'He was a once-off person. He had a great way of communicating, especially with young people.'

He recounted Peter's undoubted energy. Aged 80, he climbed Lugnaquilla, Leinster's highest peak.

He also showcased his charm in 2012 in order to land tickets for Katie Taylor's gold-winning bout at the London Olympics.

The high esteem with which Peter was held within GAA circles was evident from the number of County Board positions he held during his lifetime.

'Nothing stood in his way and everybody bought into Peter Keogh.'

John Timmons of Kiltegan GAA Club fondly recalled the many journeys he undertook in the company of Peter as they attended different GAA matches and functions, often crossing the length and breath of the country.

Peter actually made his own hurleys and John was often amazed at the energy and commitment of his older companion.

He had numerous stories to share about Peter's antics, many of which brought about chuckles of mirth from smiling mourners as they nodded their heads in agreement.

One particular tale involving an old Ford Escort Peter used to drive went down particularly well.

'Peter had this old car and lets just say the body work wasn't the greatest. There was a hole in the boot and things would often be falling out of it.

'We were going across a rough patch of road when the hurleys started falling out of the boot. I had to jump out and collect them while Peter was reversing back toward me telling me to "put them in the back, John, put them in the bag". I had to keep telling him "there's no point. The hole is too big!".'

As the service drew to a close, Fr Joe asked Peter's family if he could recount his last hours at hospital in Tallaght.

He recalled joining Peter and his family at his bedside on the Sunday of his passing as they said prayers. Fr Joe asked the family to join him as he blessed a frail Peter.

'It was a most beautiful moment. Once we had finished blessing him he just slipped away quietly. It was a beautiful ending for a beautiful and gentle person.'

The funeral concluded with a poem called 'The Dash' being read out:

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning... to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time that they spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars... the house... the cash.

What matter is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard. Are there things you would like to change?

For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real and always try and understand the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we've never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life's actions to rehash...

Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent YOUR dash?

Bray People