Friday 24 November 2017

A beautiful obsession with the Kingdom's all-consuming pastime

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THANKS to the wonders of the internet, Aloysius 'Weeshie' Fogarty is a household name not only in his beloved Kingdom of Kerry, but worldwide.

And in case you missed any of his broadcasts on Radio Kerry, they are archived on his website

Weeshie, a former county footballer turned referee turned broadcaster and columnist with 'The Kerryman' newspaper, has interviewed many sports stars and greats of Kerry football as well as authors, actors, and politicians.

But the core of Weeshie's personality and sense of his place in the world is Kerry football. He has spent a lifetime in thrall to the cut and thrust of Gaelic games, hence the title of his new book 'My Beautiful Obsession – Chasing the Kerry Dream' (Collins Press €14.99).

"Obsession, Weeshie?" is my first question to him. "A serious word."

"Yes, but look at the word before it," he replies. "Beautiful."

Weeshie's comprehensive mix of memoirs, profiles of GAA stars and other Kerry sporting greats is balanced and grounded by stories of his career as a psychiatric nurse in St Finan's Hospital in Killarney, as well as of personal and family loss.


This book is much more than a surf across the waves of Kerry football success and therein lies its charm.

"In writing the book, I'm trying to capture the nuances of not alone Kerry football, but what the GAA means to people," says Weeshie.

"I was also trying to capture the broad outline of what life was like growing up with the all-consuming passion for sport in the county. It's the spirit of Kerry. I meet young fellas now and they're obsessed about getting on the Kerry team. They'd do anything to get on it.

"One snippet a father told me – and this is only in the last 15 years – was how when he put his son to bed at night, he tucked the football under the pillow, that way he'd smell the ball when he woke up.

"When my own son Kieran was born, a friend who came up to visit my wife in the hospital put a football at the end of the cot.

"So that's what I was trying to capture and also to describe some of what went on with my life, and about the mental hospital as well."

Weeshie spent 38 years working at St Finan's and dedicated the foreword of the book to those lost souls whose lives, as he put it, "ebbed away, men who were laid to rest with just a handful of people at their graveside and were remembered by no one."

Poignantly, the day after St Finan's closed its doors a few weeks ago, Weeshie's book arrived on the shelves containing that little tribute to past inmates.

"For the first time in 150 years no one slept in that hospital that night. And the following day my book was in the bookshops. It was a bit eerie, but I like to think that it was no coincidence," he explains.

Born in Killarney in 1941, Weeshie did get to wear the colours of his beloved Kingdom, but has no difficulty admitting: "I was just that bit of a step down from being a really good footballer." He did, however, turn his hand to good effect as a referee.

In fact, not a lot of people know Weeshie was very close to taking charge of the infamous 1983 All-Ireland final in which Dublin's 12 bravehearts beat 14 Galway players in a torrid decider.

John Gough got the job as ref, and Weeshie doesn't put a tooth in it. "I was disappointed I didn't get it. Fellas would say to me, 'Weeshie, you were lucky you didn't get that.' I say, the GAA were unfortunate they didn't appoint me, because the rough stuff wouldn't have happened. When you're an experienced referee you can sense the occasion and you can sense the atmosphere. On that sort of day, you should be able to sense the tension and you'd say to yourself, 'there's only one thing for this now, plenty of whistle at the start.'

"Gough didn't do that and everything built up. And yet I was told afterwards that the reason I didn't get the match was because the powers-that-be thought I was too strict."

Weeshie is an award-winning broadcaster and among his favourite interviewees were John B Keane, Brendan Kennelly, Maureen O'Hara, Charlie Haughey – the former Taoiseach's last interview before he died – and Olympians Bob Tisdall and Ronnie Delany.

He discusses plenty of Kerry footballers and picks his all-time 15 favourites, but Weeshie broadens the scope by profiling other Kingdom sports stars and hailing their contribution to the county's reputation at home and abroad.

And he devotes an intriguing chapter to Eamonn Fitzgerald, All-Ireland winner and 1932 Olympian, who had faded from the annals of glory and whose grave in Dublin was unmarked and forgotten.

Not much has been left out in this tale that covers almost 71 years in the life of a proud Kerryman who truly is obsessed by sport – in a beautiful way. l My Beautiful Obsession - Chasing the Kerry Dream, published by Collins Press, was launched by Maurice Fitzgerald last night.

Irish Independent

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