This featured in out July 17, 2018 edition. You can read some of Ollie’s wife Kathleen’s memories here.
“THERE’S people who would scandalise you for not putting in the ‘saint’,” St Johns Park man Ollie Walsh says resting in the shade out the front of his house surrounded by toys. The adoring grandad had spent the day looking after his sole grandchild but he had a rare moment to himself as three-year-old Tom recharged his batteries indoors thanks to a roll prepared by his Granny Kathleen. A proud Johnny, Ollie was born and bred in the house he lives in today and he didn’t have to look far to find love – his wife lived a golf putt away across the road.
Ollie was of eight children but the house was rarely cramped as children of that era spent more time outside of the house. While locals spent hours playing in Fr Pat’s field, he has fond memories of playing football “morning, noon and night” down in the Square, where a stalwart of Johnville FC Ned Dewberry would arrange keenly contested games he’d often get involved in himself.
“Oh I’m telling you there were some beauties there. Ned’s a legend of John’s Park. We were only boys and Ned would organise a football game every second evening and they’d be hell for leather. There’s be kicks dished out no doubt about it. He took his fair share himself but he’d never complain – he’d just get up. I done the dirt on him one time and I knew it. I said the next chance he gets he’ll destroy me. He could have but he just tapped me on the back and said ‘now, you’ve learned your lesson’. He knew I was worried he’d give me a kick.”
Ollie enjoyed his time in Scoil Lorcain, a stone’s throw away and visible from his front door, even though teachers of that time were tough, although he wasn’t as fond of Mount Sion where he had to learn already difficult subjects through Irish. As he entered the world of work he was employed at Kiely’s Brewery and found a team of men similar to himself – they wanted to get on, get paid and get out.
“Dan Bolger was the manager and when he said jump you asked how high. We used to lock fellas into the big tankers that we used to take in the Guinness in. They had to be scrubbed down spotless and often you’d be in there and all of a sudden it’s be pitch black. It wasn’t very nice and if Dan wasn’t around you could be in there for I don’t know how long.”
Ollie, who later worked out on the lines for the Post Office, became involved in the Scouts just as the local 15th Sacred Heart group were being set up. As the years progressed, he also helped establish groups in other areas of the town and never misses the chance to sing the movement’s praises.
“It gives youngsters great skills but the best thing about it is the comradery between people. You go off with your friends for weekends and summer camps and 10-days away is the whole job for a boy from the city. I remember trips to Glenstal Abbey the most because I shouldn’t have come home out of one of them. I wasn’t a good swimmer and tried to swim out to the middle of a lake. I got in trouble and was lucky to get out of it. A lot of the skills are basic but they stand with you for years.”
When asked to single one of these out, he says leadership without missing a beat. During his time as the Chairman of the St John’s Park Residents Association, he said he used his knack of drawing people together, although he’s blessed that was never difficult in St John’s Park. During our chat a number of passers-by greet him over the wall and they are always replied to by name.
“Neighbours here are never in trouble – anybody who wanted or needed anything be it ourselves or others would get it. There’s always someone here to help you out. If you didn’t have anything from sugar to a few pound until they got paid on a Friday all they had to do was ask and it would always be paid back too no doubt about it. 20 years ago I knew everybody in every house here.”
He is a man fully content with life in the tightly-knit community and would happily place himself in the front garden for the day splitting his time on his plants and chatting with friends who walk past.
“I’d spend hours upon hours in this garden. Now I know nothing about it, but still! There was a hedge all around the garden up to 10 or 12 years ago and I hated the thing. It was the greatest b*****ding thing ever. I had to use the clippers and every second fella that was passing was throwing empty cans and bottles in behind it. I don’t do too much but I like poking around at it and I could start at 10 in the morning and she’d have to call me at 6 o’clock for the dinner on a good fine day.”
A Manchester United fan who used travel across the Irish Sea six times a season, he was reared a Waterford FC fan and has countless fond memories of away days in an era where the interaction between players and fans was unimpeded, sometimes to their detriment.
“We used gamble on the bus back and a lot of the players would join us. Tommy Jackson who was the manager came down to us after a Shamrock Rovers match one day and told us all to stop playing the cards. He said one of the players was after losing everything to us and was tapping Jackson for money! If he lost any more the club would be broke!”
“We were all on the bus together and you know yourself when you all have a few beers you’ll take the p*** out of each other, it grew a bond between us and the players like Sid Wallace and Vinnie McCarthy. We had some days with them fellas and they used to play five-aside with us on the weekends if they didn’t have a match. Better again, when it was finished they were on the p*** with us.”
Just after he says this, young Tom comes back outside with Kathleen, who having overheard her husband tells him to wash his mouth with salts. As I stand up to leave, the three-year-old sits snugly alongside his Grandad to read a book of shapes, with Ollie turning the pages.
Looking on lovingly, he states: “As long as I have a breath in me body he’ll never want for nothing.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey.