Loved and cherished throughout Ireland for his insight and clarity, Con Houlihan has nevertheless retained his unpretentiousness and humility Jackie Goodall talks to the Kerry journalist, writer and gentleman.
‘A wise man’s wialom needs to be extracted”
A BRONZE BUST of Con Houlihan stands in the Coat Grill in Stillorgan bearing the inscription Journalist, Writer and Gentleman.
If Con were to write a curriculum Vitae, not that he’d do such a thing, but if he were, then teacher, philosophet turf-cutter, fisherman and rugby player could be added to the list.
“I don’t know who I am,” he said recently. “Pm 83 now, but I’m somebody who never grew up. I never settled. I’ve been looking for something. questing for something all my life, but if in the end I never find it... 1 don’t know."
“Am I sincere? Am 1 honest? 1 don’t know, that’s the point. Samuel Coleridge once said that he felt himself to be an involuntary charlatan. I have the same feeling too. I’m full of uncertainties; but what about it. they keep me going."
“When I played rugby and football I was very confident, but that’s completely different to what I’m doing now When you write something you think it’s brilliant, then you see it in print and think. in the name of God what was all that about? I don’t think I’ll change now.”
Con was born into a working-class family just outside Castle Island (his
spelling), in Co. Kerry. “About two miles from the town going north
toward the mountainy country."
A fluent Gaelic speaker (he wouldn’t be lost in Spain or Italy either), his best language is Gaelic. “Speaking in the company of other Gaelic speakers in West Kerry I’d feel very uninhibited. My pronunciation in English is a bit suspect, but not so in Gaelic."
English is a funny language, but I love it of course. 1 grew up speaking Hiberno English: English woven on a Gaelic loom.”
His father worked in the coalmines in Wales before he returned home, married, and started work as a mechanic in the newly opened creamery in Castleisland in 1921.
“He loved the creamery,” Con reminisces, “he was a born mechanic. I had an older brother and a younger sister, but they are both gone away to another world now.”
Con attended a number of local schools, including three years at boarding school before doing his Leaving certificate at 17. He then took two years out and worked at “all kinds of jobs”, before going to University College, Cork, at 19.
Con said he studies at Cork where “greyhounds and horse racing!” However he emerged with a BA First Class in English, Latin and History, followed by a First Class Masters in 1949.
Con earned a living as a teacher before going to work for The Kerryman around 1965. He says “1 was dabbling in Journalism all my life - magazines and radio mostly”.
During this time he acted like a public ombudsman in CastIeisland, he also gave grinds to the local schoolchildren but, too little money and too much awkwardness.’ meant ho was seldom paid for them.
It was then that he decided to move to Dublin. “Things happened at home and I couldn’t concentrate on my work.”
Con wrote a sports column for The Sunday World and a weekly column for the Evening Herald, where his musings on life, the universe and everything, continue to enthrall a new generation of readers.
He also did a few pieces for The Sunday Independent, but they tended to cut his copy. The Herald piece comes out exactly as it goes in, and he liked that.”
Con had very fond memories of his time at the Evening Press, where he often held court in Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street. “Much pub talk is about sport but often it deviates into philosophy. You begin wondering about the value of sport. especially after your team have lost.
He spent many happy years at the Evening Press and was very upset at its
demise. Con covered sport and drama, and succeeded his great hero Joe
Sherwood as ‘King of the Back Page.’ And it was there in his back page
Tributaries’, that you were as likely to meet Lester Piggott as you
would Vincent Van Gogh.
One such column led with: “It may seem ridiculous to compare Lester Piggott and Vincent Van Gogh: each, however, was consumed by a passion that led to sacrifices so enormous that ‘normal’ people can hardly comprehend.”
It was with such honesty and insight that he came to be respected by thousads of readers over the years sports fans and lovers of art. and literature alike. Many of these pieces have been brought together and published in a’little gem of a book called A Harvest New. rare and uncollected essays.’