Monday 26 February 2018

A winner at the Killarney races... but a non-runner breaks our hearts

Liam Healy: race honour
Liam Healy: race honour
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The tanned racing men were well dressed. Suits you'd only wear if you were laid out in the funeral home and shirts as well ironed as money kept under the bed.

One wore a polka dot dickey bow and the other lad's horse-dotted yellow tie was as soft and silky as a courtesan's underwear.

I wouldn't mind but it wasn't even Ladies Day at Killarney Races. The well-dressed men, who are known to me, were talking about women. They are both on the Seniors Tour. And it isn't their rookie year either.

Down before us, just in front of the winning post, some of this years Rose of Tralee contestants were being photographed. Lovely they were, and fair too. The two boys were enjoying the view. Old enough they were to be the escorts' granddads but if asked to mind a rose or a bunch, you got the impression they wouldn't be found wanting.


Silky Tie tipped us one of John J Murphy's. "He always targets Killarney," he said

Then they got to talking about female persons they described as "birds".

"My bird," said Polka Dot, enthusiastically, "was a stunner. I brought her to dinner and she was some woman to sink the champers. There was dancing after and my pants split when we were doing the Hucklebuck. She patted me on the backside. 'Great bottom,' she said."

Silky Tie tried to pull himself out of one of the deep sofas in the glass-fronted bar overlooking the track but he was stuck. He would have needed to grab hold of one of those trapeze swings they use in hospitals to lift himself bolt upright.

Silky sank back into the sinkhole. But that didn't stop him telling of his romance.

"My bird was gorgeous too. Late twenties, or early thirties, at the most. She was his bird's pal."

And he pointed to Bow Tie, who confirmed the story with a nod. Silky told all about his girl.

"She wore hot pants, and her pins were to die for. Right up to her bottom they went. She was Group One. I was kissing her before we left the track. What a bird? We ended up staying in the bridal suite overlooking Loch Lein." I believed him. He pulled at his age and she was a lively young one. They should make a Mills and Boon out of it.

The jazz band played 'Stormy Weather' as the wind picked up, and a man with an archway for a mouth ate a piece of chicken and a burger at the same time with his bare hands. Silky Tie combed his hair to the left. His head was as bare as the square in front of the scoring goals but did he care? We rushed off to back the tip.

Hot pants, birds, pins, Hucklebuck and bottoms? The investigative reporter broke out in me. I went back up to the bar. "When did ye meet the two stunning women?" I asked of Bow Tie and Silky.

"1971," replied Bow Tie.

John Joe Murphy's Rosin Box was ridden by one C.T. Keane, who as Micheál O'Hehir used to say, "is no relation, by the way."

We cheered on Rosin Box and C.T. Silky Tie was standing up tall now like Ruby in the stirrups. "Go on you good thing. You'll never beat the Keanes. Go on my son." Rosin Box won in a driving finish. Sevens he was. Exes paid. It was payback time. I asked Silky and Bow if they would like a drink.

"Thanks Billy, we'll have two cups of tea. No sugar."

I had the bet with Dara Browne. He's a bookmaker now for only the bare two years but there isn't much he doesn't know about the game. Dara is nearly nine. The young lad is the third generation of Brownes I've collected from and he was working on the pitch with his dad Berkie and his granddad Eric.

We wandered down to the weigh-room to meet an old pal. Did you ever notice that when someone dies you'd forget it for a minute and then it hits you?

Liam Healy Senior was a non-runner. Liam passed away last week. Liam used to deliver the drinks to us and then he gave in to his dream. Liam set up Healy Racing here in Listowel in 1975.

Safe people said he was mad. "Whoever heard of a racing photographer 150 miles from Kildare?" Liam's wife Joan passed away when she was a young woman, leaving four children. Liam's daughter Cathy did the maths. Her dad travelled two million miles in his lifetime but somehow he always managed to get home for the chat and the bedtime story.

Home was a terraced house in the Ballygologue Park estate and Liam ran Healy Racing from his shed at the back. He was sparing on rent and minding his kids all at the same time. Liam used to work with us in the pub when I was a kid. I was there when he told my mam and dad he was struggling to keep the photo business going in tough times.

He loved racing and the racing people but this was back before technology and every photograph had to be hand-processed. His neighbour Xavier McAuliffe, who owned Spectra, backed him. Xavier started off a photo-processing company here in Listowel. It was the break Liam needed.

Healy Racing flourished. Liam had the eye. He was nice to everyone. And he was efficient. It can be done in small places if you work hard, keep your promises, and love your job.

The racing people travelled from all over for the funeral. There were champion trainers and champion jockeys, the stable staff came too, and the men who were out in all weathers wearing yellow coats queued up to say goodbye.


Healy Racing was brought to another level by Pat, Cathy and Liam Junior. Lisa minds them all. It's a big business now but with lots of laughs and a big heart. And they still come up with the front and back page pics that have the horses galloping out of the prints.

The funeral cortege travelled up William Street and I ran ahead to make sure the front door of our pub was closed, as is the custom in these parts. There were two American ladies trying to get in. I asked the ladies to wait until the hearse passed by. One of the ladies looked back down the street at the huge crowd walking behind the hearse. "Who died?" asked one of the ladies in a respectful whisper. "His name was Liam," I replied.

"He must have been a very important person," said the American. "He was the kind of a man who wouldn't have liked to have been seen as important at all." I replied

And that's why there was such a big turn-out for Liam Healy, as he made his way through the old town to meet up with his beloved wife Joan.

Irish Independent

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