The photo above of my Dad, John Coyle, was taken just a few days before he 'upped and died' while watching on television the last day of the five-day cricket test match between England and Pakistan at The Oval, London. The Columban Superior General at the time was an Australian, Fr Bernard Cleary, and he was amused when I told him this. An illustrious Dubliner, George Bernard Shaw, once said, The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity. The gave that Dad was watching when he had his heart attack seems to bear this out as it ended in a draw.
My Dad was a pure 'Dub', born in Dublin city of parents from Rush, County Dublin, a fishing village north of the city, Nicholas and Jane. I didn't realise how much of a 'Dub' he was until I came home for the first time from the seminary where we 'Dubs' were a small - but significant! - minority and heard him speak. I had become accustomed to the great variety of accents from all over Ireland, some of which I couldn't understand at first. The same George Bernard Shaw also said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language. He was referring to words having different meanings and to each country using different words to describe the same reality. But we were all using the same words to mean the same thing but with utterly different pronunciations.
But it was a bit of a shock to realise that Dad had such a strong Dublin accent, one that even Dubliners themselves sometimes laugh at. Yet when he came on a visit to the Philippines for six weeks in 1981 he was able to communicate remarkably well with people who didn't have a word of English or who couldn't understand the way he spoke it. This was because what you saw was what you got. He was the same with everyone, from an archbishop to a young child.
When I was growing up I never heard the term 'bonding' being used in the context of parents relating to their children. When I became familiar with the concept I knew exactly what it meant because from my earliest days Dad and I were bonding. When my brother Paddy was still a baby Dad would take me to Sunday Mass in Holy Family Church, Aughrim Street (post-Vatican II interior in photo above), while my mother stayed at home and then went to a later Mass. For years on Sunday mornings after Mass Dad, my brother and I would meet our paternal grandfather at the local Catholic Young Men's Society, many of whose members were far from young. We would then go for a walk in the nearby Phoenix Park.
Phoenix Park in the summer
Dad also brought me to many soccer games in Dalymount Park, at the time the major football stadium in the Republic of Ireland. But my earliest memory of being with him at a game goes back to when I was maybe only four or five. He took me to Shelbourne Park to see his favourite team, Shelbourne play. They wore, and still wear, red and I remember vividly the red shirts of Shelbourne and the blue shirts of the other team, probably Limerick FC. 'Shels', as they're known, left Shelbourne Park at the end of the 1948-49 season.
But I went to Shelbourne Park many a Sunday afternoon with Dad around 1950 to 1952 or so to watch speedway racing. The sport never really caught on in Ireland and the riders in those days weren't as colourful as those in the photo above. But names like Ronnie Moore, born in Australia but who grew up in New Zealand, Jack Young (photo below) another Australian, and Ernie Roccio, a handsome and very popular Italian-American who died in a race in England during that period, bring back many memories.Indeed I used to collect cards with photos of riders.
I remember a Friday evening in 1950, after Dad had bought a 'banger', (a pre-war Morris 8 like the one above except that ours was black and had the number ZC 595), he told me that he had a special surprise for me. After tea, our evening meal, the two of us went off in the car and arrived at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road (photo below, though it was somewhat different in 1950). It was the first of many occasions when we went there to see amateur boxing. He would have been delighted at Ireland's haul in the current Olympic Games, one gold so far (Katie Taylor), with at least a silver and the prospect of another gold tonight (John Joe Nevin), and two bronze medals (Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan). One thing I learned from those events was a sense of sportsmanship. While the crowd would like the Irish boxers to win if there was an international contest, they always wanted the better boxer to win no matter where he was from and would make their feelings known if they thought a decision was a bad one.
One of my heroes was Fergus Kilmartin a welterweight boxer whose parents owned a fruit and vegetable shop in Stoneybatter, in our area. Fergus worked there and I used to be in awe of him. He went off to Idaho some years later and just now I've discovered that he died there in 1994 at the age of 65. May he rest in peace.
At important games in Dalymount Park the St James's Brass and Reed Band would play. My Dad's greatest sporting memory was attending the FA Cup Final in Wembley Stadium, London, in 1948 when Manchester United defeated Blackpool 4-2 in what was considered to be perhaps the greatest final until then. In footballing terms it was for Dad as if he'd gone to heaven. It is a tradition for the spectators to sing the hymn Abide With Me before the FA Final, as it is before the Rugby League Final in England each year. Because of the memories this event had for Dad we sang it at the end of his funeral Mass in St Brigid's Church, Blanchardstown, a country village when I was a child but now a hugely built-up area.
Abide With Me is also a great favourite with brass bands and here it is played by the St James' Brass and Reed Band in Sacred Heart Church, Arbour Hill, a military chapel within Holy Family Parish where both Dad and I grew up.
Thanks for everything, Dad. May you and Mam rest in peace along with your parents and all of your own generation, especially my Auntie Jenny (Collins) Levey, the eldest of ten in my mother's family who was born 100 years ago today.