Howya Horse ?

“So forget this cruel world
Where I belong
I’ll just sit and wait
And sing my song
And if one day you should see me in the crowd
Lend a hand and lift me
To your place in the cloud”

Nick Drake ( Cello Song)

Many, many years ago I had a plain white tee-shirt with large letters saying ‘Howya Horse ?’ and , I think a small logo for Harp Lager somewhere on it. I think I may have got it second hand from Fintan O’Donnell, and he may have received it as a prize on a promotion night  in The Slipper when he attended DCU…which was NIHE Dublin then. I don’t have it now. I believe that it now makes up part of my daughter Robyn’s magnificent collection of vintage tees.

I’ve written that down because at 4.10 am this morning when Tuna came into our room to let us know that she was fine and didn’t really want anything , and then told us again at 4.20am, and decided to scratch at the carpet on my side of the room, it led somewhere…but after getting up, going downstairs, putting out food for Tuna, Tuna ignoring the food, Tuna telling me that she was fine, loudly, picking her up and hurling her gently towards the hedge from the kitchen window, going back upstairs and getting back into bed where my Soulmate was still asleep and unaware that Tuna had been in…I’d forgotten.

I was going to cut it out and start again, but I have fond memories of going up to Dublin occasionally when my friends Fintan, Fintan, Looby, and Cyril were at college and going to places like The Slipper, The Cat & Cage, and Quinn’s in Drumcondra, which they always talked about.

So I’m leaving it here, because it’s my blog…so there !

Our son Jake is reading Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘The Green Fool’ at the moment and he messaged to ask me if I’d read it. I told him that we had been traumatised by having to study his poetry for both the Inter Cert and the Leaving Cert, and being teased about him by kids from all over Ireland who only knew Monaghan because of the Stony Grey Soil poem’s verse :

“You flung a ditch in my vision

Of beauty , love and truth.

O stony grey soil of Monaghan

You burgled the bank of my youth !”

I do like his poetry now. I see great beauty in it. I didn’t when I was 13.

Jake said that novel reads like a 264 page version of my blog, which I choose to take as high praise indeed.

My granny, who we and everyone in Dundalk called Nanny grew up in Hackball’s Cross, and knew Kavanagh. The bus from Inniskeen , where Kavanagh lived, passed Nanny’s home house on the way to Dundalk and she dreaded having to sit anywhere near him as he often smelled of meal , having slept on bags of it in a shed beside Mac Nello’s pub overnight. I remember saying to her that they were teaching us about him at school.

“They’ve little to be doing.” She said dismissively.

“Mr.Lee says he was a misunderstood genius.”

“Mr.Lee never had to sit near him on the bus… a smelly genius.”

Nanny thought Barbara Cartland was indeed a genius, and we both agreed that she would indeed smell nice if we ever met her. We didn’t.

I do like the story about Kavanagh meeting a teenage George Harrison in Dublin….true story…you can read it in the P.Ss …

Again, that’s not what I’m really writing about this week, but hey…

Sometime last week my brother Stephen bought an old campaign travelling writing desk. He discovered a hidden drawer which contained a letter from 1871. We’ve deciphered it as best we can :

“Dear James,

I very much fear somebody has told Mamma you kissed me. She may have heard it herself. She thinks it very wrong…I would not have allowed it if I thought it….. I told her you…. Donot fret we will love each other very much and be very happy without doing it as she thinks it so wrong. Nobody knows of this note .

Yours B.

Dear James – I will wear your ring every day instead of the kiss for that is surely not wrong.”

Bits are missing , frayed away on the almost 200 year old note. It feels a bit like time travel to hear her voice as you read the note. I wonder if they did end up together. He may well have been a military man, the travelling desk/box is in the campaign style for active travel. The Franco Prussian War ended in January, the Bristish Army was operating in New Zealand, India, Ireland, and many territories across the world. He may have been involved , or a journalist following them. Did he come back ?

The letter is a powerful thing. It feels different to receiving a text, or email. You can almost hear the voice of the person writing, and get a sense of the emotions.

I went home for lunch and found a small parcel containing a book and a letter from my old friend , Pat. It was just a quick ‘Hello’ prompted by a book he read that he thought I’d like, David Thorne’s ‘I’ll Go Home Then; It’s Warm There And Has Chairs’, and an invitation to have a coffee the next time I’m up in the Big Schmoke.

It made me smile.

I used to write letters a lot, even in the days of emails I would send a few letters every week to people that just popped into my head, or I read about. And I’d make cards and send them to people instead of buying them. And then one Christmas I sent cards I’d drawn to a bunch of friends that were in a businessy type group with me. This was almost 20 years ago and things were difficult for a lot of us, but meeting up with these folk once a month allowed us all to talk freely about our concerns and worries and get advice from each other. I made each one of them a card with a drawing related to something that we may have discussed, or an interest they have. And inside each one I wrote a note and signed off each one ‘Love, Paul’.

A few of them sent me a text or email thanking me, and I thought no more about it.

In between Christmas Day and New Year I had a missed call and a garbled voice message from one of the guys. I tried to call him back, and left him a message. This then ping-ponged for another day or two before we got to speak. He wanted to make it very clear that he was not ‘that way’ inclined. I struggled to think why he felt it necessary to say so.

“That card !”

“The Christmas card ?”


“Didn’t anyone else send you one ?”

“Not with a love note !”

“A love note ? Mine was the one with a picture of The Riddler on it.”

“I know your bloody card ! You said I love you !”

“Ach that ! I didn’t say ‘I love you’ , I signed it off ‘Love, Paul’”

“You don’t send ‘that’ to another man !”

“I do. I signed off the cards I sent to Edel, Richard, Clare, Robert, James, ….and even Edmund, the exact same way.”

“Are you mad ?”

“Yes. But you should get out more….and get over yourself.”

“We’ll agree to disagree.”


“Goodbye Paul.”

He hung up and I’ve never heard from , or met him, since. He stopped attending our meetings. And for a long, long time I only made cards for family members, and I never wrote anyone a letter.

Until yesterday.

Inspired by B’s letter to James, and Pat’s letter to me I decided to start writing letters again. I’ve written 9 so far and posted them out to people that I’ve meant to tell how much they mean to me, and others to say thanks.

I told one person that they were the nicest person that I’d ever met, and that I’d previously met two Popes, and one of them is now a Saint !

I told another person that I was writing to someone that I’d always been grateful for throughout my whole life and that I wanted to make sure that they knew how much they were cherished. I then told him that I’d sent that letter earlier , but there was another sheet left in the pack , so I thought I’d write to him as well.

I wrote to a lady that I don’t know particularly well, thank her for a kindness, and also for sharing an old blog of mine with the sister of an old friend who passed away many years ago, and she in turn got in touch and thanked me for remembering him.

I’m not writing them in order of importance to me, just in the order that thoughts pop in to my head.

I will be writing a lot more.

I may even start one with ‘Howya Horse ?’

But I will sign them all off with ‘Love ,Paul’.

It will be well meant.



P.S. This is for my friend Karl who loves Fontaines DC, but just doesn’t realise it yet. This their cover of Nick Drake’s ‘Cello Song’.

P.P.S I discovered this week that my blog is searchable. There are 231 blogs there, so if you ever want to catch up on old stories, or very real history of Monaghan, you can search by keyword.

P.P.P.S And this is the incredibly true story of the day Patrick Kavanagh met George Harrison…the Beatle, not the tax inspector with the hooky handicap….

Beatlemania was at one of it’s many peaks in 1964. They had their first tours of the US and New Zealand, released their third and fourth albums, had countless number 1’s across the world, and filmed and released their first film, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. It was a frenetic existence.

One evening in London George and his new girlfriend Patti Boyd, whom he’d met while filming the movie, went to dinner with John and Cynthia Lennon at the home of John’s dentist, John Riley. Without telling any of his guests, Riley laced everyone’s coffee with LSD.

George later said “I had such an overwhelming feeling of well being, that there was a God, and I could see him in every blade of grass.” And for the first time in 10 years he had a flashback to a meeting with a grumpy old man sitting on a park bench along the Grand Canal on Mespil Road in Dublin.

George’s Mum came from Ireland and George had cousins who lived in Drumcondra. Throughout his childhood his family were frequent visitors to Dublin. On this particular day in 1955, a shy 12 year old George Harrison got separated from his mother on O’Connell St. in Dublin and then took the wrong bus, ending up near Baggot St., Patrick Kavanagh’s stomping ground.

Kavanagh’s career as a poet was in the doldrums. His initial promise was tarnished by quite a decent attempt at alcoholism and keeping company with Flann O’Brien and Brendan Behan, whom he detested. 1954 had been a real low. Having taken offence at being referred to as an ‘alcoholic sponger’ in a tiny article in a regional paper, he decided to sue and the court case attracted huge attention. He lost. He also discovered that he had lung cancer and had to undergo a severe operation to have a lung removed. During his recovery he found his muse once more and started writing again.

On warm days he took to sitting on a bench on the banks of Dublin’s Grand Canal. He’d doze off, reciting lines from his poems, old, new, and unrealised, to himself.

The shy 12 year old from Liverpool wandered away from Baggot St. and sat at the opposite end of a park bench from an old man who was muttering to himself in his sleep…

“I gave her the gifts of the mind.
I gave her the secret sign…”

“The secret sign.” George repeated.

Kavanagh opened one eye,briefly, and smiled to himself.

“That’s known to all the artists who have
Known true Gods of Sound and Time.”

“Gods of Sound.” George repeated.

Kavanagh remained quiet for a moment and decide to try a new one on this young floppy haired fella…
“He knew that posterity had no use
For anything but the soul…”

“Soul” George whispered.

Kavanagh continued…

“The lines that speak the passionate heart,
The spirit that lives alone.”

George opened his mouth to say something but spotted that Kavangh was now wide awake and staring at him.

“Are you a bloody parrot ??”

“No Sir. I just liked to sound of your words and the way you said them.” George smiled a cheeky smile as he answered the old man.

The old man smiled.

“You’re a clever fella. On your holidays ?”

“Yeah, we’re visiting me cousins in Drumcondra. Got the wrong bus.” George looked down at his feet.

“No need to worry, just walk to the end of this road and all the buses that stop on this side will take you back to O’Connell St. and you can get the right bus from there this time. Do you need the fare ?”


Kavanagh stuck his hand in his pocket and took out a shilling which he flicked over to George.

“You owe me a pint if we ever meet again.”

“Thanks. What were the songs you were saying in your sleep ?”

“Just my own… poetry.” He offered George a handshake.” Patrick Kavanagh, pleased to meet you.”

George shook hands with the old man “George Harrison, charmed. I’d love to be able to write something like that.”

“You will, Mr.Harrison, you will, you have the secret sign.”

“Me ? I’m nothing , me. My teacher keeps telling me that even if I studied really, really hard , I’d be mediocre at best.”

“Did he indeed ? We have a word for men like him…you weren’t cursed with a Nun , were you ?” George shook his head. “ We have a word for men like him in Monaghan. We call them gobshites. Look at me when I tell you these two things and then you be on your way. Are you listening ?

George nodded this time.

Kavanagh, cleared his throat and spat on the ground. “Ready ?”

George nodded again.

“Firstly, we never heed a gobshite.”

George smiled.

“Second, no man needs to be a mediocrity if he accepts himself as God made him. God only made geniuses.”

George stood up and extended his hand to Patrick. “Thank you Mr.Kavanagh. I’ll try.”

“You’ll do better than that. You’ll write Something.”

“I will.”

“You will.”

And with that they parted and their paths never crossed again…not really.

Dublin was not a terribly big place in the 1950’s, it isn’t really now, and most people knew each other. Certainly a character as large as Kavanagh would not have been hard to track down, even for a relieved holidaying mum from Liverpool. Every morning at 11.30 Patrick Kavanagh entered The Waterloo Bar on Baggot St., ordered a pint and grumbled his way through the day’s newspapers. The day after he met George was the same, except that when he offered to pay for his first pint of the day, the barman said it was already paid for, as was his tab.

“I’ll have a whiskey to go with it so” he said, smiling, and then he asked who had paid for it.

The barman placed his Powers on the bar beside his pint and said “ She said that her name was Mrs.Harrison and that she wanted to thank you for something. So what was it ?”

“What was what ?” Kavanagh answered as he sipped on his Powers.

“What was the something ?” the barman snapped.

“That’s exactly what it was !”

The bar man turned on his heels and walked down to the other end of the bar leaving Kavanagh chuckling to himself as he flicked through the papers. One of the other regulars arrived, nodded to Kavanagh and walked the length of the bar and simply nodded at the barman who understood and poured him a pint. As a regular he could tell that the barman was in a foul mood.

“What’s up , me old flower?” he said cheerily.

“This bloody job ! The hours, I don’t mind. The pay could be better. I don’t even mind the drunks. But spare me  those fuckin’ poets !!”

Kavanagh gave another snort of laughter, held up his empty pint glass, and went back to his paper.

In 1964 George Harrison wrote ‘Something’. He sang it to Pattie in the kitchen of their bungalow , Kinfauns, but didn’t share it with the Beatles until 1968.

It was recorded and released on the Abbey Road album and was released as the first single and went to number one in the US and UK, the only Beatles song written by George to do so.

It is the second most recorded Beatles song after Yesterday.

Over 150 artists , including Elvis, Sinatra, Smokie Robinson and James Brown have recorded it.

Sinatra and many others have said it is the most beautiful and finest love song ever written.

Something was worth waiting for.

Somethings always are.

Author: paul

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