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Ned Egan: Brilliant man of words

by Edited by Jimmy Rhatigan

It was a fitting tribute to a very talented son of Kilkenny.

Poet, writer and musician Ned Egan who has contributed so much to Irish culture during his long and active life was honoured at a surprise gathering in his honour.

Aptly it was fellow scribe Seán Maher who was organizer in chief of a Mayor’s

Reception at the quaint and truly warm and friendly Bookshop/Café at William Street in the heart of Kilkenny City.

Friends, Romans and countrymen were there to pay tribute to Ned whose roots are in Baurscoobe and whose heart continues to focus on the written word and kindred spirits in the amateur world of amateur entertainment, who, like Ned, brighten so many lives.

The tribute evening was a closely-guarded secret so it came as a real surprise to him when he walked into the Bookshop-café last Wednesday when friends gave him a standing ovation and he was greeted by Mayor Joe Malone.

Seán Maher, another veteran of the pen and longtime friend of Ned’s said a fistful of  words of appreciation and Ned’s cousin Michael Moroney, an eminent historian, gave a summary of Ned’s achievements:.

“We’re here to pay tribute to a remarkable man of letters and music, a man whose contribution to the cultural life of Ireland cannot be overstated. 

Ned was born into a different Ireland…a time and place tougher than many of us can imagine in the 21st century,” said Michael.

“Ned was born in 1936. His school days were among the most challenging of his life, but the tough line of teachers was offset by the half-crown prizes that Ned received for his weekly essays in primary school.

Olivia Dunne of Kells sings for Ned Egan

“Like many a young boy in far-off days, Ned left school early. He joined the hundreds of thousands of Irishmen and women on the emigrant trail.”

Michael recalled how Ned boarded a cattle boat to find employment across the pond. 

He worked on building sites before enlisting as a soldier. He saw service in the Middle East which was engulfed in war. He also served in Europe where he was stationed at NATO military airbases.

Ned emigrated to Australia, where he lost an eye in a mining accident. But he refused to give in to adversity. 

Michael Moroney elaborated on how Ned penned his first literary work, a book of poetry, in 1980. The book Memories of a Leprechaun is a collection of charming tongue-in-cheek odes focusing on aspects of Irish culture and folklore.

He moved back to Ireland where he set up a copper etching venture in Callan. The shining beautifully crafted etchings depicted Celtic themes, extolling Irish heroes and heroines.

Ned toured the USA with the Wolfe Tones, a promotional drive to introduce Irish Americans to his work.

He went on to write Tales of Old Ireland and Australia, a collection of memories and reflections of his adventures in the home country, the Middle East, Britain, and the Land of the Kangaroo.

In a remarkable change of style and direction, he wrote the controversial Sex and Death: Green White and Gold, a novel inspired by that dark, oppressive and censorial ‘Other Ireland’. 

Ned then took to song-writing, penning dozens of soulful, merry, and story-telling numbers. 

These included Luke’s Song, a tribute to the late Luke Kelly of The Dubliners.

Ned with his loyal housekeeper Maria from Bratislava

Back to William Street and Anecdotes flowed from longtime friends Seán Maher, Walter Dunphy, Brian Kelly, Martin O’Shea, and Catherine Carroll. 

Mayor Joe listed Ned’s achievements and presented him with Waterford Crystal in recognition of an extraordinary life.”  

He praised the Bookshop/Cafe, describing it as an unparalleled hub of intellectual and culinary delights.

Ned, visibly moved by the reception, thanked the Mayor and all who turned up, including his loyal housekeeper Maria from Bratislava. 

Among the gathering were singers who gave renditions of Ned’s songs. Olivia Dunne of Kells excelled on the guitar, and Olivia’s former teacher, Collette Dwyer, now 90 years old, accompanied on accordion.  

Sonny Cullen, formerly of the Black Aces Showband performed, along with Liz Kitt, famed for her Kitchen Sessions in JB Burke’s Pub, John Street. 

Others numbers like thBansha Teddy Bear that Ned penned decades ago were also enjoyed. Novelist Marion O’Neill, recited two of Ned’s poems. 

Ned’s appetite for and love of writing shows no signs of waning as he enjoys his senior years.

That is great news for those who really enjoy his literary offerings as one of our city and county’s most respected writers.

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