Mick Butler - a rare specimen of God's creation

Mick 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" at Mass.

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 tidal Suir.

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 and supper.
"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, and well-read.

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 man.
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