IT WAS the celebration of the wonderful life of a son of Tipperary at a Kilkenny venue.
Tributes in song and story were paid to retired Garda and taxi driver Mick Phelan, Marble Crest, Kilkenny at his Requiem Mass in St Fiacre’s Church, Loughboy on Monday.
A family man with an extensive posse of friends, Mick enjoyed his years living at the heart of Kilkenny City but when it came to sport his hurling heart never left his native Gortnahoe.
The well-worn proverb that you can take a man out of a bog, but you can’t take the bog out of the man rings so true in Mick’s case.
What will come from the briar is the berry.
He was a Garda who did his job well and with a real sense of fair play and common sense.
The latter fine qualities may not always have extended to debates and, dare we say it, wrangles about the intricacies of the small ball game, who won what, who could have won and who will win the next time?
He loved the game and delighting in rewinding to his hurling exploits in his parish jersey.
When he wasn’t wearing his blue and gold glasses you could be sure the specs were on standby in his top pocket.
I loved meeting Mick for a chat in Bollard’s Pub, St Kieran’s Street, a privilege I enjoyed for several years before the curse of Covid.
A CHAT AND A FEW PINTS
At the outset I knew Mick only from a distance as I was inevitably at one end of the bar and he was at the other, reading newspaper after newspaper.
He was almost as dedicated to the written word as he was passionate about hurling.
I would stress the word almost.
Fantastic Friday was usually the night of our arranged get-togethers for a chat and a few pints.
For a time the weather, politics and world affairs would dominate. Once his good friend and fellow county man Eamonn Kiely joined the team, the repartee invariably turned to GAA or more specifically hurling.
The ball would be thrown in and the game was on.
If you were not an aficionado you were destined to be on the subs’ bench. Mick and Eamonn knew their hurling.
I remember the night I threw my tuppence-worth into a Kilkenny versus Tipperary cauldron of opinion when Mick produced a red card.
‘Jimmy you know nothing about hurling, you are a soccer man’.
Mick’s passion for the game meant he pulled hard and asked questions later.
I appreciated his riposte. It was straight and to the point and in fairness, like in the rest of his life, it was fair and honest too.
Hurling may have been the opium of his life, a game that warmed his heart, stirred his soul and reminded as if he needed reminding that, in his eyes, his beloved Tipperary was always top of the pops
FAMILY WAS HIS TRUE LOVE
But the great love of his life was his family, his nearest and dearest, his pride and joy.
Yes he enjoyed his pilgrimages to Semple Stadium with fellow Tipp men domiciled in Kilkenny piling into Lefty Comerford’s minibus.
The trips to Mecca would have been all the more enjoyable when one team wore royal blue and gold and the other was togged out in black and amber.
And should Tipperary win, Mick only could effectively describe the elation.
As a Garda he served at the border during The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
But he was never one to boast, about work, whether it was at a Garda Checkpoint or driving his taxi.
He may have made an exception when the Tipp flag was flying from the Everest of hurling.
I loved every minute of my chats with Mick. He was as straight as a die, up front, no frills, always to the point.
His Garda colleagues from other times turned out in good numbers to salute an old comrade.
He was easing towards his 80th birthday on October 1 next.
Sadly, it is not to be.
The best advice we could give to St Peter would be to have his Tipperary kit on when Mick arrives.
Otherwise the red card could be flashed again.
Rest in peace friend, you will be sadly missed.