Butler - a rare specimen of God's creation
Butler has lived everyday of his 78 years in Licketstown.
It is a little hamlet of some modern, and many ye olde world
charm thatched residences, nestling on an isthmus of land
that separates the parish of Mooncoin from the "raging
at high tide" River Suir.
Seldom, if ever, this column entertains a revisitation of
times past, but in the case of a unique, unforgettable,
captivating character in the mould of Mick Butler, we are
thrilled to be afforded another audience with this most
indulging of God's creatures, who lives in the closely-knit
Hans Christian Anderson type hamlet.
Everybody knows Mick. Everyone has an enormous respect for
the man. All respect his opinions, and betimes, he is like
a chameleon that changes with the weather.
Whether or which, Mick Butler waxes lyrical whenever he
is of the opinion that a change of tack is appropriate.
Even though he is approaching his twilight years, and his
days of travel outside of his family territory on the banks
of the river are diminishing, he is still the raconteur.
Mick is still the man with a very focussed point of view
and to hell with begrudgery. He is still the man who talks
an awful lot of sense in his own inimitable way, and still
the man who challenges the efforts of the best church preacher,
as he holds court on the "seat inside the door"
He has opinions on an encyclopedic range of subject matter.
He has an engagingly simple way of expression. He looks
you straight in the eye, says his piece, and the listener
is left in no doubt as to the thrust of the statement. It
comes at you at mach 2 speed, at a high rate of decibels.
He has opinions on Politics, Politicians, the Church, Income
Tax, Farmers, Social Services, the Health Service, the GAA,
Orthopedics and many more topics.
The first impression of Licketstown is of serenity, with
its abundance of newly thatched, beautiful presented homes.
Travelling down the narrow road, beyond every bend, a new
vista unfurls. Even when I was leaving Mick Butler's yard,
he warned, "be careful there you sir going out that
gate. There's lads coming down that road and you would think
that they are on the dual carraigeway. They are doing nearly
40 mile an hour, and they care for nobody" he warned.
Now in his 79th years, he lives with his sister Maggie,
who is also in her late seventies.
"Mick, you got it very right for the All-Ireland Final.
The lads knocked a couple of scuds out of the Cork lads,
and it was all over," I opened up with.
"Didn't I tell ya we would win by three points or more
if the lads cut into the Cork lads," said he. "That
young Hickey is a strong man, and not a big man. He hit
that Corcoran a terrible belt early on, and I'd say that
it was like getting 'a kick from a cut jack."
But I took the bubbling Mick back to his youth and the memories.
He started school in Carrigeen National School. "Mr
Walsh up there abroad, "pointing to where, I couldn't
tell you, "was the first teacher I ever had. And we
had Sean Maher as well. He was the brother of Fr Maher,
the best trainer Kilkenny ever had; the best trainer of
any of them."
Hurling was king then. After school, or on Sunday, "if
the lads were idle, they would play in a lay field. It didn't
matter if they cut it up or not, because it would be ploughed
up in the Spring.
"We played handball too, off three walls in an ould
farm house down there abroad. That's what's wrong with a
lot of the hurlers nowadays. They should be playing more
handball, and they would get used to grabbin' the ball."
I would not wish to be a tourist lost in Licketstown, and
having to ask Mick for directions, because quite simply,
going down there abroad could drive me directly into the
He spoke glowingly of hurlers of yore.
"I knew them all. The Doyles of Dournane, Neddy Doyle
of Luffany, the Dunphys, Drug Walsh and his brother Patsy,
Pat Fielding, Dick Doherty, Tommy Carroll. They were great
hurlers, boy. Joe Fewer, and Joe Delahunty from Curragh.
"There were five great hurlers from the village here.
Foxy Billy was the leading man; Jim Rockett, and Willie
Rockett, and Mick Fitzpatrick from Moonveen, from beyond
alongside where Bob O'Keeffe was born and reared."
Fishing was a proud, and lucrative tradition in Mick Butler's
neck of the woods.
"The old people would tell you that when the potato
famine struck Ireland, no man had to leave these three villages
during the Famine. The ate fish for their breakfast, dinner
"They caught plenty, and then thrun (threw) them down
in a stan, and salted them. Now he cripes, we can't go near
our river at all. They're mindin' it for all the foreigners
with their big talk, their big money and their fishin' rods."
People earned money thinning beet, "and 'twas many
a day we gave on the knees - they were like boils when you
were finished after the day. "Twas the only way you
would get a few bob. They weren't throwing fists of money
at you like they are now with the dole and the social, to
go off and give the whole day in the pub with it."
Rural electrification caused total panic, particularly down
in rural Ireland.
"Before it came in, we had to clane (clean) the globes,
and cut the wicks. We went to bed with candles, and often
without candles, because we couldn't afford them. Some of
me older aunts and uncles were afraid that the house would
go on fire if the light was switched on."
Mick has always been an independent soul, who worked hard
and long for his living, doing an honest days work for an
honest days pay.
I asked him about the bachelor state, and did he ever take
an interest in the fairer sex.
"Oh indeed there were plenty of girls around at the
time. They used to drive some lads daft. You would hear
some quare stories, and some of the things bejaysus would
turn you off. Then other lads were mad about it. And then
you wouldn't know whether they were or they weren't"
he laughed most heartily.
With his brother Pat in 1940 he purchased a new fangled
contraption called a horse binder - look it up, as I have
not the space to instruct on the enormous merits of a horse
binder, although I drove one.
"People thought we came from Heaven, "Mick said.
"On one place where we were working, the woman of the
house brought the tae to the field. She said that she wanted
to give a sup to the man who was doing the binding, and
she couldn't understand it, when we told her that it was
oil he was drinking!
Again, Pat and Mick were the first agricultural contractors
to purchase a combine harvester. They travelled the South
East with this revolutionary harvesting creation, that cut,
threshed, bagged, and ranked the straw.
I manoeuvred Mick towards one of his favourite conversational
subject - Public Servants and Politicians.
"Jaysus, don't talk to me about about them lads. They
couldn't tell you the right day. They'd promise ya Heaven,
and it's to Hell they'd put ya. I have no great time for
them robbers at all.
"And then I read how Bertie Ahern was spending thousands
on make-up. It fairly fell off him when he was answering
questions in the Dail about the money he could remember.
He had a fairly sour face on him then, didn't he?
"And then you see him smiling as his motor was speedin'
down the roads, and he tellin' us to slow down, and take
it easy, and he going like a lunatic. And there's no point
in blamin' the Garda driver ayther, sure isn't Bertie the
boss. And going back to the make-up, you can't make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear.
At 65 years of age, Mick Butler was forced, after enduring
three years pain, to replace his two hips.
"That young lad in Waterford, a great hurler, Tadhg
Sullivan did them for me. A great job, and he had me in
and out in double jig time. A grand young lad he is, and
we had great chats about the hurling. He knows his job alright."
Praise indeed for one of Ireland's most eminent orthopedic
surgeons, from a simple country man.
A regular visitor to Tommy Ryan's hostelry in Carrigeen
to play cards, Mick Butler would hold court for one and
all. His captivated audience are left exhausted by the hyperbole
of this enthralling working man, who is so well informed,
Mick Butler has seen all the great hurlers over the years.
He saw Ring and Langton, Lynch and Mulcahy.
"The best hurler I ever saw was Frank Cummins. He was
a giant of a man, who never met his match. You can't bate
the lads that have to work hard on the land. Now the lads
are driving round in motors, with white shirts, sittin'
at desks, and clane faces.
That's why Cummins was so great. He worked hard, and often
he would be down at his brother Joe's place, there abroad,
and he come over for a sup of tae. Ah, but he was a great
So was Eddie Keher, and Pat Henderson, and DJ Carey. But
I'll tell ya. They will have to get rid of a lot of them
referees. Handin' out yellow cards, and red cards. In the
fire them yokes should be thrun. Long ago, the ref would
just wag his finger, and lads knew how far they could go."
I could have stayed talking to this delightful character
for many hours, as he took me through so many other stories,
including how ice cold drinks was the cause of many African
immigrants meeting an untimely death in Italy, from liver
disease; about his uncle, who returned from New York after
serving as a mounted policeman in the New York police force,
and the stories he told him about law-breakers, and gangsters.
Not to be enamoured about the quality of television, Mick
is never entertained by people purporting to be actors.
"When you consider the acting talents of George Daniels
and Vic Loving, they were rale actors. Now all the actors
can so is curse and take their clothes off. Sure any eejit
can take off their clothes."
Mick Butler is a rare specimen of God's creation. His like
may never cross my path again. I enjoyed his company, his
simplicity, and his welcome.
Nior beigh a leitheid ann aris.
Courtesy of the Kilkenny People