This month is the tenth anniversary of the death of that great Kerry-born wordsmith Con Houlihan. Connie, as he was known to his friends, left us on August 4, 2012, aged 86, writes Seán Creedon.
Con Houlihan had spent the last few years of his life in St James’ Hospital, Dublin from where he continued to file his columns for the Sunday World and Evening Herald. Con dictated his ‘copy’ to young Feidhlim Kelly, whom he had taken under his wing a few years earlier.
Con worked right up to his death and forecast that boxer Katie Taylor would win gold at the London Olympics, which she did, a few days after he passed away.
He had broken his hip in a fall at Cheltenham in 1994 and never fully regained his mobility after that fall. He used to joke that the fall was on the street in Cheltenham and not on the famous Prestbury Park race track. He fell rushing to catch an evening train back to Birmingham on the first day of the National Hunt Festival.
Con was born on December 6 1925. For a while his father Michael worked as a miner in Wales and sent money home to Con’s mother Ellen (Cronin) and his two siblings Jerry and Marie. Michael later came home and worked in the local creamery.
At first the family lived in Ballyfinane, near Currans in County Kerry, but later they moved to Reaineen, an area Con often referred to as ‘‘the hill country above Castleisland.’’
Con said that he ‘did a lot of scribbling’ from an early age and had a prize-winning article published in The Champion, a British Boys magazine, when he was ten years old. The author had to name the four best boxing heavyweights of all time and give his reasons why.
The prize was ten shillings, not bad for a young boy in Ireland in 1935. Years later when Con went to work in London, he wasted no time in seeking out the office of the magazine on Farringdon Street. He said the felt like kneeling down and kissing the tarmac outside the door.
He won a scholarship to the Carmelite boarding school in Castlemartyr in East Cork, but was expelled for producing an ‘underground’ paper called the College Courier. So it was back to Kerry and Tralee CBS to complete his Leaving Certificate.
Just before Con died the Carmelite order made a presentation of a Silver Tray to him, as he was their most famous student.