My father did not die as he would have liked - near a horse, with his boots on. He died in a nursing home. “Own a bit of Ireland” he used to say. He loved the land and he loved horses.
Year after year, horses he bred won at shows in Cork, Dublin and around the country and if they didn’t win, he was always philosophical.
“Doctors differ and patients die,” was his attitude, when asked if he was disappointed with a result.
When he wasn’t exhibiting, he was judging. Adamstown in County Wexford was the last Horse Show he judged at, not long before he died.
“Will you drive me there?” he asked, in a conspiratorial tone of voice. What could I do but agree. My mother gave him hell for going, and she gave me hell for driving him. “Are you mad?” she asked, “he’s not fit to walk across the road, not to mind going all the way to Wexford”.
She was very cross with both of us, and in hindsight, I think she was right. In his eighties and walking with the aid of a stick, it nearly killed him; but he got the job done.
For a while, he mixed greyhounds with the horses. Many years ago he could be seen at the Cork Greyhound Track, and afterwards, he had the odd drink in the Western Star pub - no, not the odd pint, sherry was his drink in those days.
For many years, coursing and the greyhound track formed a big part of his life, and mine.
From about the age of eight I used to go to the track with him, sometimes, and while it was all very exciting, I got tired of the copious amounts of lemonade I had to consume, while my father and his friends talked, for what seemed like hours on end, about dogs and horses.
Of course nobody worried about drink driving in those days, and we always landed home safely, usually before midnight.
Nobody worried either about the wisdom or otherwise, of having a young child at the dogs, and up half the night. It was a Saturday night anyway, and it didn’t happen every Saturday. I don’t think it did me any harm, and right up to the day he died, I never saw my father drunk.
It was my mother in the end who forced him to give up the greyhounds. She never liked them, and she wasn’t happy until the last one left the yard.
Later on in University College Cork, where I studied music among other things, the Western Star pub featured again, as it was a favourite haunt of one of our lecturers, Sean o Riada, who died tragically in his forties. Of course it was a well- known meeting place for students as well, but as I lived at home during my university days.
I never really got the chance to go down Memory Lane and drink there. My father’s ideas about daughters and pubs had changed by then!
Shrewd, tough and abrupt, he wore the hard mask well. He believed, as the priest said at his funeral mass, that there were two opinions, his own, and the wrong one! Some people, however, the, people he helped, saw the other side of him, the human side. When backs were to the wall he delivered. His favourite song was “Red River Valley.”
He deserved to die on his feet but it was not to be. His memory was the first to go. Soon after, he could only get around with great difficulty. The one thing he kept to the end was his sense of humour.
“How are you?” the nurse asked him on his death-bed. “I’m dying away;” he answered with a smile. He had stopped fighting. He died in peace. The hunting horn played over his grave was a fitting farewell.Have You Found What You Are Looking For?