Special Guest, Michael O Muircheartaigh with young Callam Flynn at the official opening of the Brickeys GAA Club Hurling Wall and second pitch a number of years ago. Included were Kathleen Oates, Austin Flynn, Jimmy O’Gorman, Chairman Munster Council, Cathal Curran and Brian Hilliard, Club Development Officer. Photo: Sean Byrne.
“My father didn’t tell me how to live, he lived, and let me watch him do it”
My father, Austin Flynn, was the most influential person in my life, he was indeed my inspiration. From a very early age he forged a special bond with me, a bond that even in death can never be broken. I always knew that I could bring anything to the table, knowing that he would meet me with kindness, understanding and a mutual respect.
As a child he would take me to Mass, as he would say himself, twelve in Abbeyside and afterwards we would visit our cousins in the village, the consolation prize an ice cream cone on the way home. I remember at one stage querying how many cousins a person could possibly have and he jovially explained that if you are born in or any way affiliated with someone from Abbeyside, then we are all collectively cousins. Although he crossed the bridge many years ago, built a guesthouse, worked for the Health Board and reared his family, it was very clear that his heart was always in Abbeyside, often reminiscing about his days in the scouts and of course the sailing which was such a huge part of his life.
So it was only befitting that we brought dad home to Abbeyside for his final 12 o’clock mass. And who better to welcome him home to the village than his great friend Fr. Michael Enright, another staunch Abbeyside man. Father Michael made sure too that, as the final whistle was blown on Austin, his pals from the 1959 team were dutifully welcomed and made feel part of our fond farewell to dad.
My father was one of life’s gentlemen. He epitomised greatness and humility in equal measure in a life well lived. He embodied all the great qualities a man can strive to possess, respect, kindness and that well known firm handshake to everyone he met, and from all walks of life. He put so much more into the world than he took out, touching the lives of so many as he let his light shine in so many ways.
He always had his heart in the right place, putting the needs of others first, most particularly his family, my late mother Sybil, my sister Anita, his grandchildren Cormac, Cathal, Clara, Gus and Róisín and my husband John whom he always considered and loved as one of his own. So too, to the wider family as well he was the great fullback. Uncle Austin was always the one to call on in times of crisis or need, or just for a bit of advice or a shoulder to lean on. He was a man of great wisdom, intuition and discernment and could recognise the emotions of others, being able to put himself in their shoes. He had a lovely turn of phrase “be there when you’re needed,” and dad always was.
A MAN OF HUGE INTEGRITY
He was a man of huge integrity, advising that life is very simple when you do the right thing, it’s when you don’t that things get complicated, and I’m very proud to say that from our family’s point of view, Austin always did the right thing. He would say that if you don’t stand up for what is right and for what you believe in, then you aren’t living at all, you’re only spectating and Austin always stood up for what he believed in and encouraged us as a family to do the same.
I’ve been told too that even on the hurling pitch he showed his integrity, described as the cleanest fullback in the game. He explained to me one time that hurling back then was played in a more ruthless spirit than it is at present, but that he never got involved in the dirty play that was considered macho at the time, as he felt that there was nothing macho about hitting someone with a hurley. Speaking of which, only very recently I’ve been told a story that sometime back in the day in a match between Abbeyside and dare I say the Brickey Rangers Austin accidentally hit a Brickey man with his hurley and immediately stopped in his tracks and asked was he okay. However, I’ve my own theory on that mind you, I’m thinking that he may have had a little premonition that three of his grandchildren might one day play for the Brickeys and he might have thought it best to wipe the slate clean. I’m sure all the Brickey people will enjoy that story as Austin was always held with such fondness and affection by all in the club.
AN AMBASSADOR FOR THE GAA
My father was, in my opinion, a significant and distinguished ambassador for the GAA and the goodness it stands for. He was indeed an iconic figure being one of the few hurlers in Waterford with every honour in the game, yet in all of that he was always so unassuming and humble. As someone said to me recently you could be having a chat with Austin about the 1959 All-Ireland and such was his humility, you wouldn’t even realise that he was playing in it.
Although denied a Senior County Medal with his beloved Abbeyside, he was always gracious in defeat. He played in four finals, all against Mount Sion, but Mount Sion won all four. When questioned about this, in his own words, he said that he got as much satisfaction out of the efforts in trying to topple Mount Sion and thereby win a County title for the Village as his friends on the Mount Sion team got in adding to their collection.
In one of his many interviews he said that it was the GAA that was the biggest influence in his life, and that only for it he wouldn’t have met the most wonderful of people. It was through hurling that he forged so many lifelong friendships with people from all walks of life. He never put any huge emphasis on the medals and all the palavre surrounding them, to Austin it was always the person, not the accolades that was of importance.
He loved talking about the glory days and all those great stories attached to them, but he was always uncomfortable with what he termed the “exaggerated importance” assigned to himself and the 1959ers. He was always very generous in his praise for the modern game and always applauded and supported it saying that it was better than the game he played back then.
Austin pictured with his daughters Anita and Janice.
AN INTERVIEWER’S DELIGHT
Austin was any interviewer’s delight. If you were to interview Austin there wouldn’t be any need for preparation because Austin didn’t prepare either. He had such eloquence of words, such great charm, and such a great sense of humour. In one particular interview where the interviewer was a young girl who seemed a little nervous addressing him as Mister Flynn, he immediately put her at ease, telling her that there was never any Misters in his family and the interview just flowed beautifully from there. Indeed, in all of the interviews he gave over the years there was never any personal agenda. He always had an uncompromising willingness to be authentic and always showed a brutal self honesty and a huge depth of self-awareness, and we all loved him for that.
It is said that great fathers get promoted to grandfathers and indeed Austin excelled there. As a Grandad he was a mixture of fondness and wisdom and so appreciative of his five grandchildren and took great pride in them. He gave of his time, there was always an adventure of some kind, treasure hunts in the Cunnigar, the trips to Thurles to the matches were particularly memorable. Whilst Nanny Flynn would have provided the packed lunches and lined their pockets, there was always the gentleman’s agreement that John was the driver and Grandad was the burser. And as they grew older, but the three boys in particular, not any wiser, Grandad was always their great fullback, coming to their defence, philosophising to me that “to be old and wise you have to be young and stupid,” and so I would be forced to concede, and all would be forgiven.
He enjoyed their matches too, Clara’s included, and there was never any pre-match advice, or indeed post-mortems after. He always just wished them all the best and told them to enjoy the match. There was one occasion however, on the eve of Cormac’s All-Ireland when I overheard him say to him, “if anyone tries to rile you tomorrow, the only answer is to catch the next ball and throw it over the bar,” very sound advice from one All-Ireland Champion in our family, to what was to become another the following day. As per all occasions Grandad gave the lovely card, this one most particularly special as it read, “Congratulations Cormac on being an All-Ireland Champion, but more importantly on being Cormac,” and it is there that you have the most beautiful summation of Austin, and his role as Grandad Flynn.
NEW YORK TRIP
It is said that the greatest thing we’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return, and that all happened in 2008 when dad was invited to New York by the Waterford Association to their annual banquet where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. It would be difficult to ruffle Austin but we managed to pull a stroke, giving him the shock of his life when just before the award was to be made we arrived at the hotel. My sister Anita, Cormac, Cathal, Gus and myself, he not knowing any of our plans to follow him out. Cathal gave a lovely little speech on our behalf and presented him with a “This is your life ” book which they composed as a tribute to him, with lovely photos and little writings about their beautiful memories of him, something which he always cherished, proving his point that the hurling really was about the special moments and the lovely memories.
He had the most fantastic sense of humour. He told me one time, actually he told everyone, that he never missed a match when he was playing himself, which I found peculiar and he went on to explain that he was afraid they’d find someone better to take his place. So to as supplies officer in the hospital various salesmen would stand to him at Christmas time with a few bottles of whiskey. Not wanting to offend them he would graciously accept them and bring them home and put them in a press. I asked him at one stage what he was going to do with all the whiskey, he being a teetotaler and me being underage, he told me that he was going to stash it all up until he retired and then he was going to become an alcoholic. Speaking of retirement it was at his retirement celebration that I learned how highly he was regarded by so many people standing up speaking so beautifully about him, telling their own stories of how Austin touched their lives in so many ways.
Austin pictured with his son-in-law John and grandsons Gus, Cathal and Cormac.
‘SAW THE GOODNESS IN EVERYONE’
He had an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that filled him with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern for others. He saw goodness in everyone and if it wasn’t always immediately apparent, he would dig deeper to find it, and he always did. He used to share a lot of stories with me about where he worked, the County Home as it was called at that time. He would talk to me about people who were living in the poorhouse as it was called. He would explain to me how those people were somehow marginalised by life, how they were or how society had made them feel like as dad would say second class citizens. However, Austin being Austin, would not accept that, and he went out of his way in all his dealings with them to insure to lift them right back up there to, in his mind first class and beyond. He would always impress on me that none of us are above another human being and that we are all equal in the eyes of God. He was indeed Christianity personified and a humanitarian in his own right.
Austin’s skills as the great fullback were put to the test back in 1982, on the untimely death of my sister, our beloved Mary, at the tender age of seventeen years. I remember so vividly what he said to me “Jan, our boat has capsized” which indeed it had, and when we, my mother, Anita and myself couldn’t swim, it was dad who provided the lifejackets which kept us afloat during that most awful, unforgettable storm. It was during that most difficult time that one of his greatest qualities came to the fore, his deep faith and spirituality. He composed a beautiful book in memory of Mary comprising beautiful poems and writings, most of which were his own composition and he shared it with many people, the extent of which I have only come to know in recent times. He did likewise when my mother died in 2015, again finding solace and comfort in his most beautiful art of writing. He was a man of huge compassion, reaching out to people in their hour of need, most particularly those in grief. He would write the most beautiful letters to people, and would always encourage me to, as he’d say, put pen to paper, if I thought something meaningful needed to be said, and I do, as I’m doing now.
There were many occasions too when I would hear him on the phone or a person might call to the door and I would know to make myself scarce knowing that some sort of sharing or healing would be going on. Although he was made of stories and some great ones too, he also had the great art of listening. I used to find at times if I were teasing out an issue with him, by the end of the conversation I would have figured out a solution myself. Psychotherapy, I suppose, without the fee.
So, I think that it is in time of grief we come to realise how very fragile we are, how so very equal we are. We come to recognise those people of significance in our lives, our family, our friends, those who rally round, those who carry the cross when we’re overburdened. We come to appreciate too those very special ones who reach down and pick up all those broken pieces of ourselves, and somehow glue them back together for us. If you were any part of that, I’m very grateful, and I say thanks.
Austin with his grandaughter Róisín.
‘SO MANY GREAT MEMORIES’
It is said that wherever a beautiful soul has been, there is a trail of beautiful memories, and I’m very blessed, indeed we all are, that my father has left so many great memories to cherish and to pass on. Even the sad times are memorable too because therein he was always my ray of hope, my beacon light. So too, as time moves on I ponder what do I do with all the love that’s left over now that dad is gone. I’ll do what Austin would do, what he did all of his life, I’ll pass it on. And so I do, to my sister Anita, my right hand, to my husband John, my rock and always my strength, to Gus who is surely now Austin Flynn reincarnated, to Cormac and Cathal although afar never more nearer and closer now, to Clara for her unwavering love for her Grandad, and to Róisín, our little star, who in the midst of all the tears for Grandad was able to provide some light relief, with her infectious laugh and her Grandad’s sense of humour.
Father Michael’s mass for dad was beautiful, it was humble, it was sincere and a little bit of humour thrown in as well, and dad would have enjoyed that. He quoted a lovely Buddhist proverb which said, “If you’re facing in the right direction, all you need to do is to keep walking.” He went on to say that Austin was always facing in the right direction, always kept walking, knowing that one day, he would walk into heaven. And there’s no doubt we’ll all agree on that.
Austin is undoubtedly now in God’s winning dressing room, with all those great hurlers gone before him, safe and at peace in my mother Sybil’s arms, and at long last holding Mary’s hand.
In final tribute to my father Austin, he was, still is, and he will always be the greatest fullback in my life.