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Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour The Brave

by Jimmy Rhatigan

A LITTLE over two and a half years ago, I interviewed perhaps the bravest person I ever met in my 54 years in journalism.

It was on April 18, 2019 to be exact that I sat in the Pococke home of the Holmes family asking the hard questions to  husband and father John Holmes who was then in his mid-‘fifties.

He had just received a cancer diagnosis.

I was probably more nervous than he was as we chatted cordially and certainly not with any stalking fear.

His bravery was matched by his courtesy and friendliness.

Most would have been knocked for six with the medical news that hit a popular and close-knit local family.

John showed the courage of a lion as he spoke positively and vowed to fight what he knew was a ruthless foe.

He answered questions about his condition, spoke of the treatment he had already started, without even a hint of any negativity.

Similarly, his beloved wife Edel was a tower of strength and a team had already been selected that would be the fulcrum of a campaign to help save the life of the patriarch of a family of two parents, daughter Louise, son Jonathan and John’s sister Sandra.


At the end of an interview that lasted some 90 minutes, one felt assured that a man who oozed positivity would win the grand national of life by scaling a series of tough fences.

At the time, the belief was that the fight would be between John and a vicious enemy of mankind, a David versus Goliath spat, and we all know the way that one went.

Sadly, there was to be an underbelly.

A spanner was unexpectedly thrown into the works when oncologists recommended an infusion called Pembrolizumab that would be vital on any road to recovery.

The drug would prove to be an Achilles Heel but, thankfully not an insurmountable force.

But its cost and doubts about help from Government angered the troops on the ground.

Any possible setback was to bring two positives including  good news for other cancer patients.

The cost of Pembro would have been prohibitive for most local families.

A fighting committee of family, friends and neighbours upped the ante and politicians local and national were in the eye of a storm.

The Government of the day was dragging its heels of support, or rather the lack of financial decency.

A John Needs Pembro Campaign was launched. As time passed, John’s needs grew greater.

Concerts, bucket shakes, a skydive, raffles, social evenings and sponsored events were spearheaded by passionate and ever giving friends, Romans and countrymen.


A war chest was built up, or more importantly a bank account was set up to ensure that there would be monies there when pharma came calling for its pound of flesh.

But as the battle could possibility have been a testing marathon, it was decided that Government indecisiveness had to be kicked in the backside.

The irony was that it was an unlikely alliance of a local Sinn Féin TD and a Fianna Fáil rebel that helped to cut through red tape that may have deemed that John Holmes may not have qualified for support.

Kathleen Funchion and John McGuinness cast party allegience to one side, pooled their brains and helped to unhinge a lock that may have clouded common sense.

Victory for John meant that others fighting serious illness may also have benefited in the long run.

And more importantly, as each infusion cost €5,111.50 and he had reached his 10th, an invoice for €51,115 was cleared from bank coffers supported by the people of Kilkenny.

Twelve brilliant volunteers and Edel Holmes, a rock of support for her husband’s cause had won a pyrrhic victory of sorts.

John’s war with cancer was for some time fought in the public domain as the Pembro issue gained support for a family whose loved one was under the cosh from a life-threatening illness.


Behind closed doors but with the ever attentive support and goodwill of teams of medics, the extended Holmes family and countless numbers willing him back to full health, the struggle for dear life continued.

There were no doubt good and bad days, tears, some welcome news, a strange mix of good, bad and ugly that may have brought hope tinged with doubt.

After a gallant battle at his home, John’s health deteriorated in recent weeks.

He was removed to St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny where he was surrounded by his loved ones.

A man of true grit, courage and love finally succumbed to a vicious enemy.

The pain of losing a gentleman and a warrior won’t be easily borne by John’s family.

But it may be some consolation that in showing such fantastic valour and love for his wife and children, John may have helped to lighten the burden for others who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

He is also survived by his brother-in-law, sister in-law, mother-in-law Imelda, nephews, nieces and his best friend Brian O’Neill.

His remains are reposing at his home today, Saturday. 

Tomorrow, Sunday, Requiem Mass will be celebrated at St John’s Church at 11.30am, followed by interment in St Kieran’s Cemetery.

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