Sunday, March 25, 2007

A non-interview with Liam Evans…..

“Rose, its Maureen Evans here; Tony’s brother, Liam is home from England and he would love to meet you for a chat……” Having worked late three weeks in a row, my brain was addled – “Liam Evans, who the hell is Liam Evans” I was thinking. My late father had spoken of him – was it handball, football – I couldn’t remember but my parents had great time for Liam’s uncle, Albert “Boney” Evans of Briencan and his sister, Maisie Browne. Tony and Liam’s mother, Mollie is remembered fondly in Ballymore and Billy Evans – well, Billy Evans wrote for The Echo for years, he was Tim’s predecessor in the poetry stakes. On top of that, Maureen was so kind to my late grand-aunt Kate, if she had asked me to climb Everest, I would have felt obliged to say yes.
Readers, I was as grumpy as ten bears that week but the following evening I popped up to Bishopsland to meet Liam and his eldest son Joe. To be honest, I thought I’d have a cup of tea and politely excuse myself after a half hour. Two chances…. Liam could out talk me – I’d say he could out talk Ian Paisley had he a mind to. As we exchanged pleasantries, it became clear that Liam was expecting an interview, pen and paper was shoved in front of me and the ‘casual chat cum interview’ began!

I share my conversation with Liam here as I recall it; one minute we were talking handball from decades ago, the next we were speaking of Mollie and Billy, of Punchestown, GAA, Liam’s friendship with my father, Liam’s children, poems missing from Billy’s collection, Maria Woulfe…… Liam, like his parents, has a lively mind and proved an animated storyteller.

Those of you who knew Mollie and Billy will enjoy my chat with Liam; those of you who didn’t and are about to turn over the page, DON’T – their enduring relationship and the obstacles they faced together is both endearing and inspiring. Bear with me and read on.

Billy the Poet
Billy Evans poems were one of the notable features in the early editions of The Echo, lovely simple images of a frosty Christmas morning in Ballymore Eustace or the excitement of raceweek at Punchestown captured beautifully by our local poet. In works such as The Millionaire and The Batchelors of Ballymore, Billy showed a keen sense of humour.

Billy Evans couldn’t read or write when he first created his poetry; early poems and narratives were recorded and written down by Maria Woulfe. I was flabbergasted.

Even more incredible, Billy Evans was the ‘ganger’ at The Filter Beds station, his work involved daily recording of the men’s hours, supplies bought and the ledgers to be kept accurate to a ha’penny. So how did he manage that? Simple, with his sharp memory, he went home to Mollie, verbally rattled off the hours and monies spent; Mollie wrote it out and Billy copied the figures and letters into the ledgers on his return to work. That’s amazing. What character – he didn’t balk under the responsibility or his lack of education; and Mollie recognised his intelligence rather than his lack of learning. As the children were growing up, she taught Billy to read and write and Liam recalled fondly that his father was never without a book in latter years, having developed an insatiable need to read.

Mollie The Women’s Libber
But then, Mollie was as exceptional as Billy was; an early women’s libber, Mollie always worked – even if it was only part-time in the office at The Filter Beds, Mollie Evans drew her own wage every week of her adult life and then her pension during her retirement. They were Labour activists, both of them. Mollie believed avidly in the rights of the worker and the equality of men and women.

In the midst of our chatting, Tony produced Mollie’s ‘bibles’, her most treasured possessions – a copy of The Debate on the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland as recorded in the Dail in 1921. Oh, I wouldn’t mind delving into that book – direct quotes from De Valera, Brugha, Corish, Collins, O’ Higgins, Griffiths, Childers, Cosgrave, O’Byrne, Aylward, Fahy, MacEntee not forgetting the great lady of Irish Republicanism, Countess Marckeivitz. The Speaker was Dr Eoin Mac Neill. All the great names and political families so prevalent in the history of our state.

Her second prized possession was the Report of the Two Committees on the Constitution, 1967. “Whenever there was an amendment to the Constitution” said Maureen, Tony’s wife “Mollie would get out her 1967 report and study it. But she was always consistent – having studied the proposed amendment and the original guidelines, she’d vote against the changes!”

As we dwelt on the strong bond of Liam’s parents, we drifted in and out of passages of his memories of his youth. Handball featured strongly – Liam played with Bill Lawlor and they were beaten in an All-Ireland Championship. Liam then went working in Dublin and the following year Bill Lawlor and Paddy Monaghan played together and won the All Ireland Championship. Liam won several Intermediate and Junior handball medals and one Senior medal. He went on to play softball with Dr. Des Dillon and together they won the Dublin Senior Championship. Des was one of the best hurlers and competed for both Clare and Munster. Liam also played with Jim Bolger, Bobbie Grattan, Paddy Monaghan, Willie and Paddy Grace, Dan Murphy, Ned Winders, Tommy Nugent and last but not least, the king of the sponge ball, Barney McNight.

“Your father took me down one year, you know to a final in Kilkenny, in a little blue A35 van, brought me into the Imperial Hotel and persuaded me to have a shower and eat. Himself and Johnny Hobin, who was also from Galway, were plastering then for Tom O’Rourke.”

Billy played football with Two Mile House and one of his team mates had a son named Paddy Buckley who went on to win the 1963 English Grand National on a horse named “Ayala” -it came in at 66/1!

Billy also played soccer with the Ballymore team, Liffey Rangers, in the Dublin League. Liffey Rangers played their home games in Mullaboden Field, in front of the houses in Briencan. Other members of the team at that time include Jack Byrne, Paddy and Fred Hennesey “Warhawk”, Paddy Martin, Eddie and Willie Grace.

“I remember being at one match between Ballymore and Naas once and a Naas supporter stuck a hat-pin into Paddy Winders! No holes barred there…”

From football, Liam leapt over to greyhounds and had us in stitches talking about “Sillagh Grove” whom Bill Lawlor trained. “We had no cars then so we used to cadge a lift for the dog over to Newbridge racetrack – usually the breadman would oblige and we would cycle after them. Mrs Higgins of the pub had a relation of the same dog – I think hers was named “Sillagh Gorse”…

Naturally racing and Punchestown came into the conversation. Liam loves racing to this day and attends Worchester, Ludlow, Warwick, Bangor and Stratford. Liam’s brother Joe, who lives in Cheltenham, is also an avid follower of racing.

Another important part of his youth was music, having played with his Uncle Josie, Tommy Keenan and Ned Dunne, together they formed a popular band who played in Hollywood.

“We had great neighbours at the Filter Beds – Charlie Geoghegan, Frank Murphy, Jimmy Carroll, Tom Graham and Tom Malone. The houses here were one of the first to have flush toilets and electricity so we thought we were shockin’ posh! Times were tough but my parents had deep faith; my mother always carried her Padre Pio relic and her rosary beads and my father never got into bed once at night without going down on his knees and praying first. He was an optimist ‘Son, no matter what tragedy befalls you, stand where you are, look around you – there’s always somebody worse off than you!’ That was an attitude that got him through life - no regrets, thankful to God for what he had.”

And Liam himself is pretty proud of his own family – having emigrated to Birmingham in 1954, he returned home regularly, indeed as often as every three weeks when Mollie was getting on in years; Liam reared six children himself - daughters Bridget and Mary who both teach and are Heads of Departments at Holy Trinity Catholic Media Arts College in Birmingham; sons Joe, Kevin and Liam – all three working with the Police Force; and the youngest Sean, who works in the electronics industry. Obviously Mollie Evans is still influencing her grand daughters – none of them wasting ‘a good education’! Liam has sixteen grandchildren all of whom he adores. Liam’s wife, Bridie Evans (nee O’Connor), was born and brought up in Pallaskenry, County Limerick; a loving wife and a great mother, she sadly passed away in 1998.

Indeed it was a coincidence last October that Mary Evans of Bishopsland (Maureen and Tony’s daughter) was married to Jonathan Lynch from Kiltoon at the Hodson Bay Hotel, outside Athlone for this is where Catherine Kelly, Mollie’s mother hailed from before she travelled East with her husband Joe Lee of Broadleas.

I’d say Liam could have given me enough to fill a full edition of The Bugle with his memories and I have absolutely no doubt the next time he is home, he will! For now, I am satisfied with the notion of a young Mollie and Billy, totally dedicated to each other and family; supporting one another through life’s ups and downs; he coming home from work entrusting his memory and his job to her; she coaching him over the years to read and write and develop his skills.

Nowadays, we have an over educated population, an over qualified work force who haven’t the faintest idea how to cope with an emergency inside or outside the job ‘if its not in the manual’…. I think I preferred the Evans’ ethos – “Get on with on it, live and learn – and remember, there’s always somebody worse off than you”

Rose B O Donoghue January 2007

Regarding the poetry of the late Billy Evans, Liam and his daughter Mary are hoping to amass a collection of Billy’s works. I will be running a poem by Billy over the coming months but if you any of you have original copies of the Echo or any other publications which featured Billy’s poems, will you contact Maureen or Tony Evans at Bishopsland.

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