On Tuesday there was a knock on the half-door. A man in his 70s was standing in front of me.
I am so sorry to intrude on you, this is not the kind of thing I would normally do. My name is Michael. I am from Killiney and I wonder could I have a quick word?”
He looked a tad distressed, so I invited him in.
“I am hoping,” says he, “that when you hear my son’s story, you might write a little piece on him, he is an amazing fellow altogether.”
“Come in,” says I, “and tell me what’s happening.”
“In November 2017, my son Guy’s young wife suggested he go in for a health check because I myself had bowel cancer and she thought it might be in the family,” says Michael. Guy had absolutely no symptoms at the time and being a young, fit fellow, he went reluctantly to the hospital.
“And guess what? He was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer and had to undergo a very complex operation. It wasn’t looking good at all. A few months later, after what we thought was a great recovery, the oncologist told Guy the cancer had spread to his liver and he’d need more than a year of intense chemotherapy. We were so shocked. It was simply horrendous.
“Yet, believe it or not, he went from this awful time of gruelling chemo to being cancer-free and he was swimming 31 miles just six months later.
“This month he’s back home for good after working in London for 13 years and is house hunting with his wife Aoife. We’re thrilled to have him home.
Every day Guy O’Leary swims a mile and has raised thousands for cancer research. And there are people all over the world joining him for his mile sea journey.
“Now, Biddy, do you think you could meet him?”
It was a shocking story. Everything in Guy’s life had seemed perfect before things went haywire. It’s not a pleasant task to come to grips with a diagnosis of cancer. I know all about it.
The following day I arranged to meet Guy and Aoife at “my office” – the wall at Coliemore Harbour.
Jesus, they blew me away. They are such a good-looking couple, they wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of Vanity Fair. They were two absolute dotes and, despite their travails, they seemed as happy as bumblebees finding honey.
After meeting Guy you’d forget any trifling experiences you may have had.
What did he do with his cancer diagnosis? He adapted himself intelligently, wisely, calmly.
He told me that the experience has brought many brilliant transformations in his life.
Once again I was in awe. And after many storms and sacrifices, he just keeps swimming. Already he has raised enough money to fund seven years of PhD cancer research. It’s an extraordinary achievement.
So if any of you out there has a few extra spondulicks, you can log on to mileadayinmay.org and donate any spare shillings you have.
You’d be doing a great thing altogether. Sure aren’t we all affected by it?
“Biddy,” says Ann O’ Donoghue. “You have to come down to Cavan and do an aul bit of country dancing.”
The bould Ann thought I’d be straight down to see her, but with the comings and goings of daily life, didn’t it take me two months to get to Cavan.
Well, she wasn’t impressed at all, at all. She was having none of it. Talk about being persistent. I had so many messages torturing me I was getting a bit thick.
It’s like this: dancing wouldn’t be big on my list of delights. I have the coordination of a duck.
Eventually I hit the road and I met her in her garden because she was just getting over Covid.
Now, let me tell you about Ann, I’m guessing she’s in her mid-50s and looks 40, a pretty woman with a blonde bob and great legs that are a testimony to her obsession with dancing. I’d say she’s definitely a hit on the dance floor.
“Biddy, I go dancing twice a week for three solid hours with my friends Bridie and Deirdre. We go to Killashandra, Ballina, Mohill and the Kilmore Hotel in Cavan town.
“Hundreds of us follow Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Mick Flavin, Robert Mizzell and Gerry Guthrie. We’re stone mad about their singing.
“Now, you can forget about Slimming World or Weight Watchers, dancing to these lads is the way to drop the pounds,” says she.
“It’s the anticipation that keeps us obsessed. You might meet your dream boat dancing.
“And we always have a defibrillator ready in case someone’s heart gets dicky from looking at the women. Who knows?
“And it’s fierce cheap, Biddy, €10 entry and you get three hours dancing, sandwiches, tea or minerals, homemade cakes and free raffle tickets. And no alcohol, we don’t need it.”
“Now that’s hard to beat,” says I.
“And I forgot to mention,” says Ann. “They give you free water. You’d be knocking it back, the sweat would be dripping off you after a few dances.
“Most of the men bring a change of shirt because they’d be perspiring buckets. Sometimes you’d put your arm around a man and your hands would be soaked.”
Yours truly would hate it.
“Any aul romance?” says I, being ever so nosy.
“Oh, I’ve had a few love interests alright. I used to get the toy boys when I started first but I gave up on them.
“Now, you’ve got to meet my friend Tony, who is as obsessed as I am. I’ll call him,” says she.
We meet up with Tony and sit in the sun outside a cafe in Virginia town.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t keep up with my schedule,” says Tony Murtagh, a raw-boned, perky looking fellow in his late 60s.
Now, as they say in the country, Tony had “a wire about him”. He was dressed in obedience to the 1950s with trousers so high waisted you’d think the belt was under his chin. ”I’m just mad about the dancing,” says he.
He’s not the only one. He tells me about one dance hall in “real bandit country” that kept running all through lockdown. “The PSNI would come in one door but everyone would run out the other one because the hall is built on the Border, and vice versa – if the gardaí came in the other door, they could leg it to the other side.”
Where else would you get it?