He is just getting out of his white Fiesta when we arrive. He gives an uncertain gawk and wonders what he can do for us. We explain that his friend Paddy Heaney had sent us on down. His cheeks get a little ruddier and he smiles endearingly. His dog is barking incessantly, a bouncy creature called Darky – ‘and other names besides, but come on into the house anyhow’. The house is a white-washed cottage where he lives alone. It dates back to the 1830s and was built for his mother’s family, the Ryans, who came up from Roscrea.
Paddy is a farmer, descended from farmers. He has cattle and sheep in the hills. In the 19th century, his land belonged to the Turpin family who ‘weren’t the worst but whose agents were devils’. He points to a stretch of land from which, one day in 1844, a man called John Ashton evicted 126 people from Forlacka for non-payment of rent. Their houses were levelled the following day. Among those evicted was a young man called Patrick Lowry. Paddy later discovered a little more as to his namesake’s sad fate. ‘He was sent to Philadelphia and his wife and children were sent to New York. They were separated and they never heard tell of each other after.’
Paddy’s sense of history comes from being located just off the famous Munster Road over which armies have marched since long before Brian Boru’s time. As we sit on wooden chairs by the fire, he pulls out a folder packed with information about the area. Much of it was taken from the internet and printed out by a kind neighbour. The blue walls around us are lit by a figurine bird-lamp from Malawi, again gifted by neighbours. It is good to know that his neighbours looking out for him.
He shows us IRA lists and eviction lists and census results and accounts from local hurling matches back to the 1830s. He plucks out a letter written by a priest in 1922. It reads: ‘The right place for a bullet from an Irish rifle is in the heart of an Englishman.’ Paddy looks up, eyes wide. ‘Wasn’t that fierce strong language for a priest?’ The surrounding area had its share of violence in the troubles. The nearby castle at Kinitty was burned down. It was rebuilt in the 1920s and is now an upmarket hotel, hosting weddings throughout the year. The castle’s wooded boundaries lie not a mile from Paddy’s home.
He has never left Ireland but his mind is broad. He is a religious man of sorts, and goes to church to pray but he won’t tolerate too much hyperbole from the hierarchy. ‘Some of the biggest hoors that ever was were Catholic – and there were some very decent people who were pagans.’ Whatever he makes of the sad eyes of Christ on his kitchen wall, Paddy has a healthy regard for pagans. For instance, he is prepared to consider ‘some form of levitation’ as a possible explanation for dolmens. His curiosity probably stems from being surrounded by the mountain summits where all the festivals of Lughnasa, Bealtaine and such like took place. Even in his youth, the local people would stick flowers into whitethorn bushes and rowan trees (mountain ash) in ritualistic tribute to the ancients. Paddy suggests people were much cleverer in times past, back when faith was guided by the alignment of the moon and stars, rather than sermons and dictats.
His was a small family, just himself and a sister. He was educated in Kinitty where he met and befriended Jos Donnelly. ‘We went to school together, we fought together and hurled together,’ he says. Paddy was a keen hurler in the 1940s although he now complains of a ‘bockety knee’ on account of all the clatters he took on the shins. He also has an ear for the music and is currently chairman of the local Fleadh Ceol. Among Paddy’s collection of goods is a photograph of himself, in peaky hat, and a lovely young lady, side by side on the verdant slopes of a mountain. They look to all intents and purposes like an Oirish couple from a 1950s Hollywood billboard poster. ‘Did you never think of getting married, Paddy?’ He shakes his head and feigns shock at the very suggestion.