If phrases are like sports jerseys this one should be retired

During my school years, I was truly blessed to be surrounded by the kindest, most understanding and helpful bunch of lads somebody in my position could hope for. Of course, as with any class of 30-plus, there were one or two who, shall we say, weren’t as mindful of one’s circumstances as were the majority.

For whatever reason, they got their kicks having a cut off me because the preference here was always – and most likely will always be – for spending time with menfolk of seniority as opposed to mingling with those of my own ilk.

Time has informed that it may in fact have been an inherited thing. With both sets of grandparents having departed either before yours truly graced this big old ball or very shortly thereafter, as has been documented on numerous occasions in this space over the years, Tom Yourell was very much my auxiliary grandfather.

Now, even though my two older brothers would’ve had 14 and 17 years respectively with our maternal grandparents, it always appeared to me – with Paul at least – that our late uncle Billy (The Farmer) was a sort of grandfatherly figure, on one side.

There’s absolutely no doubt who had that title on the other side. In time with Des as well I’d venture. Now, I don’t know if phrases are like sports jerseys – in that they can be retired as a mark of respect to those whom they adorned – but if it is a possibility, the term ‘Gentle Giant’ should be laid to rest on Tuesday, along with the man who epitomised it more than any other human being I have ever had the pleasure of knowing or learning from.

Tim Murphy was born in September 1929. The family lived at Ballyhack, Kilbride, but throughout my lifetime and for God knows how long before, Tim resided in Castleview, right on the edge of Dunboyne village with his late wife Peggy and Lord knows how many Springer Spaniels who always seemed to be called Max.

Incidentally, this corner would always have thought Ballyhack (pronounced Ballahack, with failure to do so punishable by public lampooning) was a Ratoath address, but no. You see Tim, even as you prepare for your final journey, you’re still educating the gasun!

The other two lads would be far better placed and qualified to pay tribute to the greatest Gentle Giant of them all, but I think in ways we all had our own relationships with him and so felt compelled to keyboard a piece in his honour.

Tim Murphy – 1929-2022

Not surprisingly, it was through Paul that I got to know Tim. How they actually met is unknown to me but I’d be fairly certain that it was through our dearly departed friend he picked up his love and knowledge of dogs, life in the fields, game shooting and the finer points of pints. At what age the latter part of that began is probably best not calculated!

Around the time of my earliest recollections of Paul and Tim being together, it was a different world. Unquestionably a better one. But one which sadly is lost and gone forever. Naturally, being the youngest, all I wanted was to be out with the others at whatever they happened to be doing.

Sadly that’s another ship which has run aground. I would give my one working arm to have had my teenage and young adult years at the same time as the others. Life was so much simpler and better. If my circumstanes had been different age-wise, with all that was going on in those years it would’ve been Heaven on earth for me.

Fields behind the house, fields everywhere really. No invasive housing, being able to get up and down Barry’s Lane myself. Back then, not a day went by but you’d see Tim and the Max of the day heading out across the fields at least once, but mostly twice.

Often with either rifle or shotgun slung over his shoulder. Do that now and you’d definitely be picked up by a vehicle with blue flashing lights. They only question would be was it the gang in blue shirts or white coats!

I’m not entirely sure what he did for a living but he did work for a local man whose family were farmers of a sort, being renowned for the production of turkeys for the Christmas market. Numerous locals – including my own sisters – got seasonal work disrobing the delicious birds.

Anyway, wherever they were acquired, Tim had a pair of hands on him the size of JCB grain buckets. It’s not stretching reality to say pint glasses disappeared from view once one of his giant grabbers encased it. So did what was in the glass!

The following is probably true of every town in Ireland and further afield, but no matter what issue might crop up, there’s somebody who is – most likely a self taught – fixer of same. The Hanley family made and repaired hurls, Tommy Watters was your man for lawnmower upkeep, Tom Farrelly for chainsaws and Sean Boylan for humans.

Though perhaps difficult to fathom, Tim’s ‘hidden’ talent was putting those shovel hands to work at the most delicate of tasks – repairing clocks and watches and radios. It will be his intuitive knowledge on seemingly all things country and his expert command of and love for dogs I will miss the most.

In my liftime at least, they were all Springers and all called Max. Tim and Peggy never had a family of their own (though Peggy’s nephew Kieran did live with them for many years) but no dogs were ever given such regal treatment as were the Maxs. They were treated well and trained well.

To the extent that at least one of them knew, once Tim picked up the stick which always attended his explorations, to go out to the garden shed, retrieve his lead and present himself for active service. Mind you, the lead was only for conformity with regard to crossing the road. The minute that part of the daily routine had been dealt with, the restraint would be removed and Max would be free to enjoy what was, after all, his time as much as that of his master.

Of course, this was only possible due to the patient, caring and encouraging manner in which the owner had moulded his canine companions in the image of the man himself. Once the tour of duty was completed, no matter how much of the countryside the four-legged adventurer had brought home, he would be lovingly ushered upstairs by Peggy and treated to a bath before the process would begin all over again.

Back in the day, I always looked forward to November 1st. That is akin to Christmas for those devoted to hunting and game shooting. Snowflakes look away now and/or go melt somewhere else. The first day of the 11th month is the opening day of the hunting season for pheasants and deer. It was also one of the very few days Paul took off work at the time.

Hunting excursions were planned and carried out with near military precision. The early shift moving out before daybreak, returning somewhere between 11am and lunchtime. At which point the dogs would be swapped around – i.e. if Max had done the morning shift, he would be rested after lunch when Paul’s Brittany Spaniel Bob would take up the baton.

Occasionally, whichever of the boys had been benched would be left in our place while Act II was in progress. Naturally, yours truly would have absolutely no objection when such was the case. Firstly owing to a love of animals that has always and please God will always be there. Perhaps more importantly, though, it would mean Tim would call in. Any time spent in his company was an education and a lot more besides.

That was something I came to realise as, to some extent at least, my own bond with the caring colossus took shape. Which was usually when we met on our respective journeys from our watering holes of choice. When he first took Paul under his wing, Brady’s bar was very much his domain.

By the time I had parked myself up at bar counter, he had moved further afield, but looking back now, it was indeed a blessing that, between Des and I, we managed to coax him back into what was then my Office. Just so the occupant of this seat could down several consignments of God’s nectar in his company.

At the height of his power, the capacity of his fuel tank was the stuff of legend. I wouldn’t even attempt to estimate the actual capabilities of the bulk tank, other than to opine a pair of the old gallon milk tanks would get hard to manage the volumn.

What’s more, he was a policer of pints. In that, he would perch himself in such a way at the bar so as that he could see the product he was about to purchase under contruction. Indeed, it became recognised as an unspoken local quality control code – “If Murphy’s drinking lager the Guinness must be sh***”.

No more than when major change is foisted upon any of our lives, Peggy’s death upskuttled what was normal for Tim, to the point that he had to leave his home and relocate to the local nursing home. Before he did, though, I am so glad that the opportunity arose to get a bit of guidance from him regarding my dear departed labrador, Buddy.

You see, our Buddy was a law unto himself. He didn’t take instruction very well. Or requests. Very much a free spirit who liked to do his own thing, whether we were aware of it or not. Though in fairness to the big fella, it wasn’t all his fault.

Obstinate individuals precluded him from availing of offered assistance. Until one night Tim was encountered on our pilgrimage up the village and mention was made of the rambunctuous roving hound.

To which his simple yet totally understandable reply was “He’s a labrador, so he can’t be a bad dog, just headstrong. Get somebody to walk in front of him and signal like they were slowing down a car. He should drop in behind on comand then gasun”.

Now, you wouldn’t exactly be putting him forward for a shift with the National Council for the Blind, but he was no longer like Mongo from Blazing Saddles either!

Anyway, Des reckons it was about 22 years ago he first ended up in a proper conversation with Tim. So began the most unlikely of friendships. One had about as much interest in field explorations and hunting for rabbits or pheasants or ducks as the other would in attending a sports fixture.

Yet, as with all true friendships, they found their common ground. In roadtrips and recollections and rounds of the good stuff in far watering holes and near. Sadly, in his final years, Tim became afflicted with the thieving silent killer that is dementia.

Maybe, then, it was a sign that, when Des visited him for what would the last time before he heard the pheasant’s familiar call in the hedgerows far away, the customary escort to the door never came.

From my own perspective, apart from the obvious, the greatest upset is due to the manner and location of his passing. The gentle giant has gone to roam the fields above, may there be a pint on the counter for you up there Tim.

And several generations of your old pal Max waiting to put up a pheasant for you. Safe home gasun.

FOGRA: Sympathy is also extended to the Kealy family, Dunshaughlin, and the Greene family, Castlefarm, Dunboyne.

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