By Christopher Fitzgerald
The last time I saw Tim Flynn was on the bench in Stradbally. The bench where women natter, men chat, salutes are given to unknown cars and general watching the world going by is carried out.
I was sitting, waiting for a drive to town when I saw him emerging from the gate and sauntering over.
His stride had slowed since I last saw him, but he still cut a strong, distinctive shape. I had left the country almost twenty years earlier and hadn’t seen him since, but there was no mistaking Tim. He made it over to the bench and sat down beside me with a deep huff.
It’s difficult to talk about Tim without talking about the beach.
Like many who grow up near the beach, I always felt a kind of draw to the strand. It has had a constant presence in my mind and wherever I am, hardly a day passes by when I don’t think about Stradbally beach.
It was an ever present force of my childhood. Sunday walks after mass, chilly winter swims, dogs running after non-existent stones.
Tim was a constant on that beach. It seemed impossible to go down there without seeing him roaming the strand as if he was looking for some lost treasure. He was as much a part of the beach for me as the banks or the tide.
He would stretch his right arm up in salutation if at a distance, or smile warmly up close. I wondered how he could spend so much time on the beach. He said once that “This beach is never the same, it’s in a different mood every day. I could spend an eternity here and never get bored.”
Back to the bench. We sat for a while in silence. Both of us looking forward as if something fascinating was unfolding in the opposite ditch. I knew he hadn’t recognised me, I hadn’t been home in years and had changed a lot since the last time he had seen me. Then to test the water Tim said “Fine soft day.” I responded with a nod and “Oh it is, fine soft day alright.”
With the water tested, Tim seemed satisfied that I was the kind of person he could chat with.
“And what county man would you be?” He asked leaning in for a closer look. He had a pale face and beady eyes like two burnt holes in a sheet.
“I’m Tom Fitz’s son from up the road Tim,” I said. Tim’s demeanour changed immediately when he knew he was in the presence of a fellow Stradballian. He put out his hand to shake mine. His large hand and strong grip took me off guard. A hard worker’s hand that had caught many breaking balls and held many newborn babies.
He told me he was on his way over to Tomasín’s bar for his daily “sip of whiskey, to get me out of the house and heated up. I stop off here on the way over to get my second wind”. We chatted for a while before he shook my hand again and got up and finished his trip over to Tomasín’s with his second wind.
It has been many years since Tim passed away, like all other local news, I heard it over the telephone. It’s hard to connect with these events from a distance, but it all comes at once when I return home. On my last trip home, I went down to Stradbally beach on a windy day. I had the whole strand to myself save for a few seagulls and surfers.
Gusts of wind made a golden mist of the sand. The crashing of the waves and the whirling wind made a swirling sound around my ears only be found on the West Kerry coast. I looked across at Brandon Bay standing by like a strong arm lying flat and there’s no doubt in my mind what I saw. Floating over the sandy mist was Tim with his arm stretched in salutation and that broad smile. I saluted him back, and we stood like that for a few seconds before a cloud of sand blew over him and he was gone. Dissolved.
On my way home I sat on the bench to take a rest. Before long a young lad sat next to me. I asked him where he was from and he said he was one of the Dowlings from down the road.
I put out my hand to shake his.