Saturday 16 December 2017

David Kelly: Inspiring journey at an end for High King of Thomond

Fans pay tribute to Anthony Foley at the gates of Thomond Park this week. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Fans pay tribute to Anthony Foley at the gates of Thomond Park this week. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

It seems like beautiful Killaloe has stood proudly atop her hill for nearly all time as if announcing herself as the seat of some long-lost kingdom.

In some ways she has. For this was once where the King of Thomond once resided in pomp and ceremony.

People paying tribute outside Thomond Park
People paying tribute outside Thomond Park

With rather less grandeur but no less dignified commemoration for all that, a latter-day King of Thomond will be laid to rest in the Reilig Nua today.

From the soil of Munster he rose, and to the soil he will return; his earthly figure thieved with pernicious promptness.

A thousand or more years ago, this soil was occupied by our Celtic forebears, as tribal then as they are today, but with the ever-shifting sands of inter-provincial marriage sometimes causing one's allegiance to alter.

One wonders if there had been any rugby, whether it might have been so easy to swap sides. The same four proud provinces of Ireland were then, as now, the fiercest of rivals but, like Munster's quest for the Holy Grail, there were constant threats to be overcome beyond our shores.

Then it was the Vikings; a thousand years later, Biarritz. Ireland looked to Brian Boru as their leader; Munster to Anthony Foley.

Boru, the high King of Ireland, chose this part of East Clare, not East Ireland, as his HQ. He was, it was remarked, "the best-natured of the kings of Ireland". Many have said the similar of Foley.

Boru, aside from instituting a golden age of culture and rebuilding, would defy the Vikings but pay for it with his life.


Foley, who would inculcate his own form of culture at Munster and help bequeath the magnificent centre of excellence in UL and a spanking new stadium, would conquer Europe but never live a life long enough upon the hill to contemplate the wonder of it all with family and friends.

Instead, now his family and friends must instead contemplate the tragedy of it all.

Before the strife of Brian, an ancient religious figure, Saint Molua, resided in these parts too and it is from this seventh century period that the sacred dwellings atop the hill originate; the Gaelic place-name derived from him, Cill Da Lua.

He, too, was a man of few words but those that he spoke were profound, as were his quietly determined teachings.

The people called him "Mo" or my; he was of them and they of him. A pied piper of the people, a shepherd of the flock.

Once, a bard named Conan had joined his religious community, but he was not used to manual labour. "Let us go together, and do a little work." Taking with them two reaping hooks, and going into a wood, they found there a great quantity of thistles. "Come, and let us cut down this brake of thistles together."

Conan protested his inability to do but when Lugid pressed a fork against one of the thistles, the bard soon struck it down. He had led by action. They returned home.

The next day, they cut down only two thistles; on the third day, they cut down three; and on each succeeding day, they cut down one more in addition.

It was a lesson in perseverance; take every step, every 80 minutes, on its merits. Do not be cowed by grand ambition. Soon, the young man had cleared a way that would be called the Road of Conan.

Foley's inspiration was such, too. He made all who followed him want to become leaders too. He made all who knew him desire to become better people in their thoughts and their deeds. His soul was like a mirror.

A prayer from St Molua seems appropriate on this day of spiritual reflection for a latter-day, saintly figure.

"My dearly beloved children, let constancy be found among you, and proper silence; take care of the pilgrims; and on account of prayer, love to labour with your own hands.

"Receive strangers always for Christ's sake; spend the morning in prayer; read afterwards, and then toil until evening; while finding time also for God's work, and for other necessities."

As we wind our way through the road towards An Reilig Nua, there we shall find an eternal truth. A final resting place, perhaps; but a reminder of an incomparable journey.

Foley's inspiration to allow us to take stock of our own journey and our own aspirations, however big or small, will be his lasting legacy.

Irish Independent

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