Without Con, Pierced With Sadness
By Frank Greally
(first published in the Sunday Independent, August 5th, 2012)
I LEFT Dublin on Thursday last with a heavy heart. On Wednesday evening I paid what I suspected would be my final visit to see my great friend Con Houlihan in St James’s Hospital. I knew that Con was on his final lap and we did not need words to communicate. The eye contact we made told me the full story.
Harriet Duffin — Con’s ‘friend-girl’ for so many years — was by his bedside and another dear friend, Feidhlim Kelly, had been to visit earlier in the day. For close to two years both had combined to help Con deliver his weekly columns for the Sunday World and the Evening Herald — a brilliant wordsmith delivering copy in extraordinary conditions.
I first met Con Houlihan on a wet day in Limerick in 1979, the day John Treacy won his second World Cross Country title on a muddy Limerick Racecourse. I’d often seen the gentle giant from Castle Island from a distance walking along Burgh Quay or holding court in Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street.
That rainy day in Limerick was my first real meeting with Con, the beginning of a beautiful and enduring friendship.
The following day Con wrote about the race in the Evening Press. The piece was headlined ‘The Magic Fox that Got Away’. I can still recall one passage from
the piece: “On and on he went until in the mist and rain he was away out in front like Tied Cottage in the first three quarters of the Gold Cup. And like Tied Cottage he came down — but it was only a slip on a splashy bend and in a few seconds only his muddy knees reminded one of it.
“In the last mile as the powerful Pole, Malinowski, began to make ground, he seemed like a leading dog in a very scattered pack. “But the Magic Fox never looked like being caught. His biggest danger was the tumult of small boys that went out like tugboats to meet him.”
As in so many of his columns over the years Con captured the true essence of that momentous day in Limerick.
As I left the hospital last Wednesday evening I remembered too another piece that Con wrote about his last day working in the bog in Castleisland: “I knew it was the last day. I was about to depart for a different world. It was also the last day that I worked with my father.
“At about six o’clock we raked the embers of the fire together and quenched them with whatever water was left over and with what tea remained in the kettle.
“I was pierced with an infinite sadness.”
Do you have any special memories or stories of Con Houlihan? Share them by contacting Frank Greally at firstname.lastname@example.org