'Strange happenings mark the death of a great man' - John B Keane

John B Keane

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John B Keane

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'Strange happenings mark the death of a great man' - John B Keane

DAN PADDY Andy O'Sullivan, the great matchmaker and human being, drew the last of all his breaths of a bitter March evening in the year of Our Lord, 1966.

Nobody seems to be certain about the exact date of his birth, but certainly it was before the turn of the century. On the day he died, the Smearla River was in fine fettle with a banker of a flood which swept all impurities before it in readiness for the first of the Spring salmon. These waited for downriver in the Cashen estuary for the brown floodwaters to subside. Dan would have enjoyed the Smerla on such a day, the swirling pools under the sallies, the rich chuckling where its waters were deepest, the white-crested tumuit where its passage was roughest over black boulders old as time and the hundred other caderices high and low which all amount to beautifully orchestrated music when a man has an ear for river water.

Sounds

His obsession with the Smearla may well have arisen from the fact that he was never able to fully discern the delicate colours and shapes of the Stacks Mountains. He therefore turned from the visual aspect of his environment to seek compensation in the songs and other sounds of the Smearla.

Dan died from heart failure. It had followed him in his declining years, restricted his movements to the houses of his immediate neighbours and confined him for the most part to his own hearth[sic]. He died peacefully and without any evidence of pain. For several years before his death he was in the habit of rambling to Martin Sweeney's house, which was only a short walk from his own abode. His wife, Kate, would accompany him part of the way and one of the Sweeneys would walk back with him. His sight was slowly but surely deserting him around this time.

The Sweeneys loved his visits. He was a great storyteller and they would sit enraptured while he told and retold the tales which had made him a living legend. Always these stories would be coloured by whimsy and humour of Dan's still remains in Renagown. It is part and parcel of every story and every exchange of words. It can be seen deep in the eyes of the people and ready to surface on the lips.

Barber

Martin Sweeney's brother, Peter, now in America, was Dan's personal barber. He was once filling in an employment form when he came to the question of trade if any. He was tempted to write "Barber to his excellency, Dan Paddy Andy O'Sullivan, Chief of Renagown", but he changed his mind for it was more than likely that the prospective employers might not see the humour.

Peter Sweeney would shave Dan regularly and on rare occasions he would give him a haircut. Dan, retained a fine head of curls to the very end and when people would remark upon this, Dan would always say: "Them are the curls that brought Kate O'Brien off her perch".

It was Kate who found him dead. She had been in the haggard checking on her hens. She found him lying on his bed with a look of contentment on his face. Shortly afterwards the daughter of a neighbour and first cousin, Mary Hickey, happened to call by chance. She was dispatched at once for her father, Mickey, who, in turn sent word to the Sweeneys. Mickey Hickey and Martin Sweeney came at once. Then came Patey Cremins and Connie Brosnan from Dromadabeg. The four between them washed and shaved Dan and laid him out in his best suit. A messenger was sent to the presbytery in Clogher. Then the Litany was recited and before the rose from their knees, Father Murphy was on the scene.

Notified

It was now time for the other matters. Martin Sweeney was dispatched to Al Roche's pub, two miles away, to order drink for the wake. Then America would have to be contacted and Dan's sons and daughter notified. This was done by Nelius Nolan of Lyreacrompane Post Office. Others had to be notified, friends and relations all over the countryside.

Recently I asked Martin Sweeney if he heard or saw anything unusual on the night that Dan died.

"I did," said Martin. "I heard fierce pillalloing over Jereen Davy's Inch and what cocks there were in Lyre crew till the stroke of twelve."

There were other happenings of significance. A light was seen in Kilbanavan Graveyard in Castleisland around the time Dan gave up the ghost. Martin Sweeney's car refused to start, a thing it never did before. Further up from Renagown in the house of Din Joe Mahony of Meeingaminane the cocks crowded in unison in the stroke of eight, precisely the time Dan gave over life. By Din Joe's own testimony a clock that had been going without failure for seventy-two years stopped and never went again.

Black cat

A black cat, owned by the Mahonys, ran under a bed and could not be coaxed out until it came of its own accord two days later. In Carrigcannon, according to Joe Sheehy, the light went out in two houses and stayed out till cockcrow. On the parapet of the Ivy Bridge in Renagown another light was seen. There were other happenings and from these accounts it will be gathered that the humour of Dan Paddy has not gone into the grave with him.

He was waked well and his children came to bury him. He was churched in Clogher, but it was in Kilbanavan in Castleisland that he chose to be buried. He had made this clear long before he died and it wasn't such a black day after all when they lowered him into the grave where lay two young sons he loved so dearly. In a niche in the East Wall of Kilbanavan there is a small cross erected to his memory and to the memory of his sons. As I write this eleven years after his death one certainty begins to emerge and that is that there will be many books written about Dan. Already researchers are circulating around Lyreacrompane and more power to them. They will find ther [sic] tasks to be enormously rewarding and if there will be outrageous stories attributed [sic] to Dan in the future it is well to remember that all great men have attracted the same kind of concoctions when they were safely under the clay.

Marriages

It would be a work of the greatest importance if somebody or some group were to record the four hundred marriages for which Dan was responsible and to determine as far as is possible how the marriages worked out. The one failure, which he never denied, not not Dan's fault, although he would always insist that it was or, at least he was willing to share the responsibility for the failure. To list these marriages against the social background of the period and to draw accurate conclusions would greatly help our society. It would be the most important sociological work ever undertaken in that vast area where Dan was sole matchmaker.

My own memory of Dan is an abiding one. We got on famously together from the first moment we met. I still see him plainly, sitting on a small rock overlooking the Smearla, leaning forward on his stout stick or standing hopefully on Sunday nights outside the hall in Renagown endeavouring to whip up business.

"Come on in. boys. Plenty cotton here."

All the cotton, alas, was to go and when the girls go the boys are sure to follow. Over the course of Dan's lifetime more than half the houses and holdings were to disappear altogether from the scene. He did his utmost to halt this devastating decline, but the odds were stacked too high against him. Still, let it be said to his credit that he never threw the towel.

Young People

Today from Renagown alone there are nine young people travelling every morning to take up work in the Burlington factory in Tralee, six to Listowel to the huge milk processing plant, and several more to other factories in Tralee and Listowel.

There was no factory in Dan's time and so the boys and girls had to go. He kept faith with the future, however, and it looks now that Renagown would once again be able to maintain a small dance hall if the people so wished.

Not long before he died, Dan was one day conversing with John Moloney of Dromadore.

"I am the last of the Andys here." Dan said. "My seed is scattered wide and doing well, but this is my place and this is where I want to make my goodbyes to the memory of my father and his fathers. I have left my stamp upon this place and upon these people and when I'm gone, as sure as there's a snipe in Raemore, there will be talk of mine and my doings from time to time."

This article by the late and great John B Keane first appeared in the Limerick Leader on in July 1977.