Next Sunday is Father’s Day so maybe some of you might meet up with your own dad in an ‘accidentally on purpose’ kind of way. Perhaps it will be in his local as opposed to yours and you could stay with him and not be impatient in rushing off to see your own friends. Make sure this time that you buy the extra drink or three. Perhaps you could ask him about some story, you’ve heard a number of times before, as if it were new. Maybe you could ask his opinion on something. He’d like that. Just make time, because it may surprise you that he’s probably your best friend. In his mind he has wisdom to dispense from the well of life’s experience and your wellbeing is all important to him. Engage and be patient even if it is slightly challenging. Years hence you may remember the modest occasion and feel pleased by your awareness in making it happen
(First published on June 14th 2009)
Though he died over thirty six years ago -1973-it seems as if I am still getting to know him. I should have done it then of course but it wasn’t fashionable and I was a younger member of the family. Also I felt I knew a lot more then than I do now. In getting to grips with my father he seems to slip through my fingers. I could not but say that he was a solid, hard-working, farming man. When he arrived at the scene of a problem the rest of us stood back we were confident that he had the answers. Invariably he had. I know now that having the answers wasn’t quite so simple. He was never demanding or commanding. Indeed he was, for a man of his background, deferential. His solution might be pretty straight forward and we would wonder why we hadn’t thought it through. The answer was from his store of experience. He had his weaknesses of course and it surprises me, in a naïve way I suppose, that a genuinely solid and sensible kind of man drank too much. But I’m not here now to talk of weaknesses.
I have many images of him and think of how the poet Patrick Kavanagh, so effectively remembered his parents in his poetry, particularly his Mother and more obliquely his father in his poem ‘In Memory of My Father’; ‘Every old man I see in October coloured weather seems to say to me I was once your father’. It doesn’t happen thus often to me but I can easily recall pictures of my father at his best. I can see him in the tillage field with the knapsack sprayer on ‘the barrel’s edge poised’ as he sprayed the potatoes. He was skilled in the bog with the slean slicing the turf sods or with the shears snipping at sheep-shearing. He is in the hay-field, in his latter days, winding the hay ropes or in that period also when because of age he had graduated to the end of the threshing machine where he bagged the grain. His forte was in harvesting, from the smaller fairs of Creggs, Ballygar, Glenamaddy and such places, his kind of cattle which he brought together like a football team for the big fairs held in Roscommon town. In a sense I can only post a flavour of the growing number of pictures, as they drift back, for these paragraphs.
We shared a number of lesser things like the adventures of the Cisco Kid in The Irish Press, and occasional articles on World War Two, like Stalingrad, in the Sunday Press. I seem to remember, in his company, the radio programme ‘The Ballad Makers Saturday Night’ though I shouldn’t go back that far and listening to the radio as the Derry Boxer, Billy Kelly, was robbed by the referee’s decision against Ray Famechon. He sang regularly from his small stock of songs such as; ‘I Dream of Jennie’, ‘The Galway Shawl’, ‘Noreen Bawn’ and ‘Lovely Derry on the Banks of the Foyle’ and enjoyed Moore’s Melodies and John McCormack. He had been part of the Independence movement but spoke little of it. He was ‘a county footballer’ and hurler and followed the fortunes of Roscommon from a distance but rarely came to watch us play, which was a disappointment.
I accompanied him to his last Roscommon match in Ballinasloe, around 1969, against Galway, when they did particularly badly. ‘Shadows on the wall’ he repeated as we headed back to the car in the Fair Green. There was a dividend in being the son of Pat Conboy when asked who I was in that area. It’s a little ironic that I wrote about Roscommon football and the Independence conflict later and had so little information from him, who had been so involved, on those subjects. Before he went to Roscommon hospital for the first and last time, early in 1973, he had his last drink in Warde’s in Goff Street, Roscommon town. He did not seem so ill that he was to pass away within a week. I could have stayed and been by his hospital bedside when he died and of course I regret that. Inexcusably I was to repeat that mistake later. I don’t know what he’d have made of the tricolour on his coffin and the volley of shots which were fired at his graveside. I didn’t rail against his death as Dylan Thomas did in ‘Do not go gently into the dark night’ but I missed him and would have particularly liked him to be around for some big occasions later in my life.