Weeshie – A Tribute
Weeshie left us on Sunday 18 November 2018, exactly one year ago today. Moved from one Kingdom to another, as he famously said himself.
When the sad news broke, tributes poured in. He was a national figure but most deeply missed in Kerry. He had been in the background for over two years but, mention Weeshie to any Kerry person and there was still no need for a surname.
He’d a long and varied career. 38 years as a psychiatric nurse in Killarney. The saddest chapters in his autobiography are those which describe these years. Many of the patients were men or women who were simply not wanted in the houses which were once their homes. They had grown old and were in the way. Or someone had married into the house and in-laws were moved out although there was little wrong with their mental faculties. There is an indignation in Weeshie’s words when he tells these stories and I often thought that his next book should have been an elaboration on the decades nursing these sad people. For although he was a great talker, he had a quality unusual in a great talker; he was also a great listener. And the residents were lucky to have him to listen to their life stories and, in some cases, be the only mourner at their funerals.
His qualities of talking and listening were of utmost importance in his radio career. This started as his nursing career was ending. Radio Kerry wasn’t long in existence when Weeshie, as PRO of the Legion club, was asked to phone in match reports lasting around a minute. It soon became obvious to the station bosses that they were listening to a man with a rare talent for communicating. Soon, he was recruited as co-commentator for club and county matches broadcast on the station. His voice was distinctive, his turns of phrase unique. This led to Terrace Talk, lasting an hour, soon extended to two. Here we had Weeshie as presenter, the topics eclectic. While mainly Gaelic football, especially in the championship months, all sports were covered. And Weeshie had expertise in them all. He did his research and knew the right questions to ask. He had a natural curiosity and could put himself at the level of an ordinary listener so that the conversation never became too technical and was always interesting.
And that was the secret of his success, he asked the questions the ordinary listener could relate to. So much so that Radio Kerry created another programme for him. In Conversation was broadcast for an hour every Wednesday. And, while some of his interviewees were sportspeople or celebrities, the vast majority were not. They were people whom you might meet in any street in any town in the county. His style was relaxing and natural and his interviewees forgot that there was a microphone.
Weeshie’s sporting career is well known. He played with Legion, East Kerry and Kerry. He was sub goalkeeper on the 1969 All Ireland team. He was on the East Kerry team which won the first All Ireland club championship in 1972. He was a distinguished referee and the success of the great Kerry team of the 70s and 80s probably prevented him from taking charge of an All Ireland final.
I had listened to Weeshie for many years. I liked his observations as co-commentator. His enthusiasm was infectious. Terrace Talk was essential listening especially in the summer championship season. When I heard that the man, who as a boy had been the mascot for Kerry in the famous 1947 Polo Grounds All Ireland, was visiting Kerry for the first time I knew Weeshie would be interested. I contacted Radio Kerry and he was soon on the phone. This led to an offer from him to me to write and broadcast talks on GAA matters on Terrace Talk. Almost ten years followed of visiting Weeshie in his home in Killarney, recording my pieces, enjoying chats and hospitality from Weeshie and his wife Joan. I found that the private man and the public man were exactly the same, kind, thoughtful, interested in all topics, always with projects in his head, either present or future.
Weeshie was involved in major projects, a DVD involving all Kerry captains from 1903 onwards, a biography of Dr Eamon O’Sullivan, a DVD about the Casey brothers from Sneem. His research led to Eamonn Fitzgerald, Kerry footballer and Olympic athlete being remembered. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Kerry GAA history. His website, Terrace Talk, is an extraordinary achievement. A comprehensive list of Kerry matches and players back to the 1920s, an archive of immense value to the ordinary follower and to the GAA historian.
Weeshie was recognised nationally and he and his programmes won many awards. In the latest addition to the Croke Park Museum, From Wireless to Wifi, he is a major figure, with only Micheal O’Hehir, Micheal O’Muircheartaigh and Marty Morrissey featuring more prominently.
There was a poignancy about this year’s All Ireland final and replay. Weeshie had attended every final involving Kerry since the 1950s. He had broadcast every final since 1997. He was no longer there. The previews, the outside broadcast from the Gresham, the commentary, the post match analysis all proceeded. This was Weeshie’s world, and this year his spirit hovered over all.
One year on, we pay tribute to Weeshie and reflect on his extraordinary contribution to Kerry, Kerry sport and humanity in general. He used his position to assist many charities and went far outside his comfort zone when he danced alone for charity on the INEC stage. A man of warmth, humanity, generosity, friend to all, a family man, a football man, Weeshie lies in Aghadoe, on a height overlooking the lakes he loved so well. In the phrase he so often used, may the sod rest lightly on his gentle soul.