The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

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Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Sunday, July 06, 2008

the meaning of life

Old men often look back into their youth for that moment when childhood ended.
For some the passing of innocence came in a fight, or with their first job, or after a romance.
In my home town of Kilcullen, the rites of passage from boyhood to manhood normally involved gambling.
None of that ould sex stuff.
(Heelers is speaking for himself. - Ed note.)
Nay, nay and thrice nay.
We lost it at the Galway races.
And by "it" I mean all our money.
And by extension of course, our innocence.
There is nothing like destitution to make a boy into a man.
Destitution, I said.
For these were innocent times.
A dirty weekend where we came from meant Shelbourne Park Greyhound Track in the rain.
Sowing wild oats meant backing long shots in the bookies.
Playing away from home meant, well, playing away from home: soccer, rugby, tennis and the like.
Innocent times, right enough.
I cannot think what then I was, as William Wordsworth always used to say after losing his latest payment for a poem on some mutt at Shelbourne Park.
But I digress.
I wish to evoke for the bittersweet beauty of the end of innocence.
Sometime in the dim and distant dawn of youth, brother Bernard, cousin Vincent and myself, tiring of childhood set out out from Kilcullen for the headier climes of the Galway races.
Like pioneers of old we struck our tents opposite the racetrack.
(Heelers means "pitched our tents." - Ed note.)
Hearts brimming with youthful pride we stood on the edge of the great unknown.
Cometh the hour cometh the men.
We strode purposefully to the racetrack entrance and faced our destiny.
The roars of the crowd beckoned us on towards what we knew would be a week of high adventure.
We lost all our money in the first hour of racing.
Gambled it away on a voodoo wind.
Years later Neil Young wrote a song about us.
"See the Healys and the damage done.
A little part of it in every one.
Gone, gone, the damage done..."
It's very poignant.
There we were among the fashionably dressed crowds of Galway, without a penny in our pockets.
Bitter, bitter woe.
At that moment when our spirits were at their lowest, a certain Peter Nolan wandered past us through the throng.
Here was a face.
If not exactly a friendly face, definitely one we knew from somewhere.
He was a native of our town and we'd attended the same schools.
Like drowning sailors clutching at driftwood, we bombarded him with our story.
Peter Nolan rose to the occasion with all the heroism of a young gambling Saint Francis of Assisi.
Never let it be said he was willing to see compadres from his native place left abandoned and desolate, shipwrecked as it were so far from home.
He gave us £1.
We weren't long losing that either.
Now came the firstlings of the dawning of wisdom.
Returning to our tent we discovered it tattered and forlorn, barely standing, the interior completely devoid of blankets and possessions, a strong smell of alcohol pervading throughout.
That, bold readers, was the moment of our passage into manhood.
That was when we learned life is not a holiday at the Galway races paid for with our parents money.
Nay, nay and thrice nay.
Now we knew.
Life is a cider party held by street urchins in someone else's tent while the idiots who own the tent are out losing all their money on horses they know nothing about.
Wearily we sought the solace of sleep.
Shivering beneath the rain washed canvas.
Grateful in a way that the thieves had shown mercy and left us the tent.
And do you know what?
We were better men.


Blogger heelers said...

Once more your use of English transcends several literary traditions, embraces a few more, and bows to none of them.
I particularly like your deliberate and indeed revolutionary positing of the phrase "to strike a tent," in order to connote the meaning "to pitch a tent."
Sheer genius.
A tour de force.

7:00 PM  
Anonymous fiona said...

It reminds of a definition ofHorse sense I partiularly like - the sense a horse has not to bet on people...

3:30 PM  
Blogger heelers said...

Fiona, sometimes I get hoarse from laughing at my own jokes.

4:38 AM  

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