IT WAS a magic mix of surrealism and beauty.
On Monday mid-morn’, I ambled to St Fiacre’s Church, Loughboy to say goodbye to a gentle man cum gentleman.
Many times before, Eamon Hehir and yours truly had met on the same beat.
Our paths crossed, Eamon out for a stroll with his pet dog, Buddy and me headed somewhere, anywhere.
We chit-chatted for God only knows how many hours, both of us pensioners at a loose end, whiling away the hours strolling in familiar territory where we both lived.
We tended to ramble down Memory Lane.
Soccer was often the topic; Eamon’s years playing with the then St Mary’s FC of the old Castlecomer Road playing pitch era.
The latter club was sometimes dubbed the Manchester United of Kilkenny and was very successful.
He also had many seasons as a prolific goal-scoring centre-forward with Freebooters in the Fair Green.
More often than not, we ended in Doherty’s, Bar, Friary Street, in the ago.
Our respective clubs, ‘Booters and Emfa were opponents but Eamon never differentiated between friend and foe when it came to sport and any post match conviviality.
Those were the days when the late great Moc Lawlor gave a lash to Oklahoma and Yankee, Doodle Dandy and the late Joe Saunders did his party pieces.
The days that elder lemons of today will have fond memories of and, more than likely will not forget to remember.
Accidentally on purpose, I met Eamon on our familiar route again on Monday.
ONE IN A MILLION
The scene was special, superb, a fitting tribute to a man who was one in a million.
He was, with respect, the Quiet Man of a popular business family, a caring man who spoke gently and ever so kindly about kith and kin.
I had got an earwigging from the grapevine that Eamon’s farewell was to be different.
Distinct it certainly was thanks to his loving family and friends.
It was a poignant but brilliant scene as the funeral cortege, accompanied by members of his extended family and friends edged towards 11.30am Requiem Mass.
His grandchildren fulfilled his final wishes when they shouldered his coffin from his Laurel Drive home to St Fiacre’s Church, a sister to St Patrick’s Parish Church.
A hearse from Hehir Family Undertakers, with driver only, had led the way.
The team of pall bearers was grandchildren Robert Hehir, Shane O’Keeffe, Mikey and Adam Drennan, Jamie O’Keeffe along with Eamon’s favourite nephew and friend, Liam Hehir, a son of Eamon’s brother Liam Snr.
Subs (not used) were Davy Drennan, Eric O’Keeffe, Pat Hehir and Dave Heywood.
It was a final salute befitting a king.
Eamon was the Rex of Kilkenny, a terrific ambassador for all that is good in our bailiwick.
Sympathizers and admirers had gathered to pay respect.
Eamon was welcomed by St Fiacre’s Team Leader, Fr Roderick Whearty who blessed the coffin and celebrated Requiem Mass for a congregation of circa 80 people as per pandemic regulations.
EAMON’S COSTA DEL SOL
The ceremony was relayed to an outdoor gathering that included many of the old guard of Freebooters Soccer Club.
Most listened intently to Fr Roderick and with real eagerness as Eamon’s daughters paid tribute to their dad.
Inevitably, there were those who, with one ear on proceedings, chatted quietly about the life and times of a man of dignity who had endeared himself to so many during his nigh 80 years.
His family home was his castle. A family mobile home in Tramore was his Costa del Sol abode in a seaside area he had fallen in love with many moons ago.
Eamon had spent several months there enjoying life with loved ones before illness raised its ugly head.
Eamon was a short stay patient at Waterford Regional Hospital before being brought to Kilkenny by ambulance.
He had been adamant that he wanted to stay in Tramore until the end of September.
That he achieved.
Last Friday, October 1, he was back in his home, sweet home in the heart of St Patrick’s Parish but passed away circa two and a half hours after his return.
He died peacefully with those he cherished at his bedside, including the daughters he loved dearly, Martina, Lorraine and Alison.
That he was with his own as he passed would have meant so much to a devout family man.
Burial was at Foulkstown Cemetery where he was united with his loving wife, Breda, a member of the O’Leary family, Fr Murphy’s Square.
A LARGER THAN LIFE PERSONALITY
Breda was a larger than life personality with remarkable business acumen and a heart of gold.
She enjoyed great rapport with neighbours and friends in a community where she was very active.
She ran Breda’s Chippy, formerly Nancy Culleton’s in Friary Street, an institution for decades, with then Kilkenny Standard editor, Seán Courtney describing the wonderful Mrs Culleton as the face that launched a thousand chips.
The baton was passed on to the Hehir family in a project that when the chips were down, Breda’s husband Eamon served pudding suppers and burgers.
Along with his immediate family, Eamon is also survived by his brothers Dick and Liam, sisters Margot and Mary, grandchildren, great grandchildren, sons-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces and extended clan.
He was pre-deceased by his brother, Paddy, also a softly spoken and kind man.
I often enjoyed singing what might be termed the Hehir Family Anthem, Fit Kilkenny Remoulds Ruled the Road at a tipple in the nearby Lenehan’s Bar following a then Kilkenny Voice newspaper shift.
Eamon spent much of his working life in Fit Remoulds on the Dublin Road, a successful tyre company, later acquired by tyre-making giant, Goodyear.
There was a time when Fit Kilkenny Remoulds ruled the road. Or so the jingle in the then Regent Cinema advertisement went.
The firm was a joint venture by men and women of vision from the Hehir and Henderson families in Kilkenny City, including the late Joe Hehir, Des and Mary Hehir and Paddy Henderson.
In its heyday, Remoulds was one of Kilkenny’s best employers.
Many will have reasons to remember Eamon Hehir with fondness and respect.
CHAIN OF LOVE WON’T BE BROKEN
Some will have enjoyed a Guinness or two with him, others will have played soccer with or against him and there will be those who will have worked with Eamon in Fit.
All will miss him and treasure his memory but a chain of love that was the wonderful relationship he enjoyed with his immediate family and in-laws will never be broken.
Love was a two-way street in the Hehir family home and extended to the homesteads of Eamon’s brothers, sisters, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews and myriad others.
All delighted in having him as a relative but perhaps more importantly, as a friend.
His daughters in particular will console themselves as they reminisce on the years of joy they savoured with loving parents.
There is no end to a path of love and the girls will be happy that their parents will always be with them in spirit.
The rest of us had the privilege of being friends with a man who was genuine and true.
Offertory gifts during Mass included a soccer ball, family photo and seaside picture, a hurley and a newspaper.
Gifts were brought to the altar by great grandchildren, Zak and Alanna Hehir who lived with Eamon (seaside picture): great grandchildren Fionn and Neasa O’Keeffe (Bread and Wine); Eamon’s sister, Mary (family photo); son-in-law, Eric O’Keeffe (soccer ball and hurley)
The newspaper was delivered, as it had been every day to Eamon’s home by his sister-in-law, Alicia Slattery.
Perhaps the newspaper was symbolic as the funeral marked the end of an era, the final paragraph of a wonderful life that included many exciting chapters.