As we walk towards his home, Doc Morrissey turns to me with a wicked grin and says: ‘There’ll never be another Doc.’ This turns out to be a catchphrase in the Morrissey household. Over the next hour, I am to hear it again and again from his five surviving brothers – ‘There’ll never be another Doc.’
Doc is not actually a Doctor but, as the seventh son of a seventh son, he is universally hailed as a healer from the ancient world. Indeed, it is whispered locally, Doc has healed a man or two in the course of his long years, although the identity of both patient and ailment remains something of a mystery.
The Morrissey’s originally hailed from Carroll’s Cross in the Comeragh Mountains. In September 1935, three months after Doc’s birth, Taoiseach Seán Lemass opened a tannery in Portlaw, County Waterford, thus stimulating a thirty-year boom in the Irish leather industry. Tired of the farming life, John Morrissey secured a job at the tannery. He and his wife Mary then moved with their eight children to Portlaw.
Five of the brothers were likewise employed at the Tannery while Johnny, the oldest, and Doc, the youngest, found work at Lord Waterford’s stables in nearby Curraghmore. Indeed, Doc became such an institution at Curraghmore that the Beresford family eventually named a racehorse for him. Paul Roche’s top weight hurdler ‘Doc Morrissey’ won the 2003 Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Killarney under Barry Geraghty.
I first visited the Morrissey brothers at their charming home on William Street in 2002. This was the house their father purchased in 1935 and where they all lived now. It astonished me that six brothers could live together in such peace and harmony. Eighty-year-old Johnny said the thought of arguing hadn’t occurred to him. Doc, born on 17 June 1935, was evidently the most troublesome but, as 76-year-old Tommy said, ‘The Doctor would be the most adventurous of us all.’
The Morrisseys are one of the kindest, gentlest clans you could possibly meet. They enjoy fishing, walking, music, nature and a healthy dollop of craic. They are loyal friends and excellent listeners. When I entered their house, three of the brothers were drinking tea and watching a black-and-white war movie. They leapt to their feet at the sight of a stranger and insisted I take their seat and partake of a cup and a sandwich. The television remained on. Along the mantelpiece were various photographs – the Pope, JFK and miscellaneous children of Lord Waterford. I listened to the brothers discussing rashes that couldn’t be cured, contenders in an upcoming point-to-point and an old man who used to collect racing pigeons. Johnny and his brother Richard, known as ‘Chicken’, have passed away since, but the four remaining brothers still live in the house.
I asked if any of them had ever married. The expressive eyes of the Morrissey brothers suggest that notion hadn’t really occurred to them either. ‘The sister might have got married,’ says the well-read Joe. ‘She would certainly have married,’ corrects Mickey, a former tanner. ‘But she died young,’ explains Doc, and for a moment we are all quiet.
Doc was the last surviving member of the bachelor brothers when he died on 7 September 2020. Dermot Keyes penned his obituary for the Waterford News, including these words:
‘He had his own reserved perch on a bench at the end of William Street, overseeing all visitors who crossed the bridge to enter the village. One of his fellow bench side regulars, John ‘Chemist’ Nolan, died in June. As put it after Doc’s passing: ‘To enter Portlaw without either man sat there observing all and sundry is going to take some getting used to.’ … Doc’s face was a map of the world. He never veered too far away from the River Clodiagh but he held court with the captains of many pursuits and professions for decades. Doc’s working life was mainly spent inside the walls of Curraghmore Estate; heaven knows how many miles he walked between William Street and the ‘big house’ over the years. And to have sat in the sitting room of the house Doc shared with his brothers was one of the great formative educations any son or daughter of Portlaw could receive.’