Where are you, Walter Lally …

By Ned Egan

Part 2

Nearly seventy years ago, and I remember that kind woman. May her God be extremely good to her, and may she sit forever in His Innermost Sanctum. A Roscommon woman – bless the county and parents who produced her.

Now, I get to Walter Lally. From the very first day I spent in the San, I had heard tales of derring-do related to him: stories about this youth, which would rank him up there with the likes of Beau Geste or Huckleberry Finn. There was no adventure he hadn’t starred in, and his prowess in all things was absolutely accepted, and beyond question.

In all gatherings of humans, whether they be male or female, little or big – you will always find a dissenter to the almost unanimous perception of an alleged hero. But in the case of Walter Lally – there was no nay-sayer. He was revered and worshipped by one and all. Handsome as they come, he looked like Sinatra.

He had left Peamount many moons before I arrived, but had never forgotten his little friends, and arrived out, regular as clockwork, twice every month, to visit his former fiefdom.

Apparently, because of his wise ways and kind nature, and despite the fact he was well into his teens, he’d been deputised – {had ‘the nod’ – from Sister Boyle – of course!} to spend all his spare time with the children in our Wing – a good ‘big brother’ to them all.

All through the week before the Sunday of his first visit of my hospitalisation, the ward was in a state of high excitement. Close friends of his basked in his reflected glory, telling ever more dramatic tales about their hero. He had, indeed, the status of a Sultan, and we all – even those who had never met him – tried to make up tales that would add to his luminous legend.

On the Sunday he was due, we were all agog. He was, it seemed, just as popular with the staff as he was with the children, and was escorted down to our ward by a Sister.

When he came in the door, I saw someone who was most unusual, someone who seemed out of reach – exotic as a Prince of far exotic Realms. This tanned young man, immaculately dressed, had an aura about him that set him apart from the rest of our simple raw brigade of know-nothings. He was our first contact with civilised man. Although we knew it not, at the time.

Walking around amongst his former lieutenants, he asked how were things going, and if he could be of assistance. Many a letter was handed over, to be stamped and posted – at his own expense, and uncensored – to some poor mother waiting for news of her son.

For a couple of hours, he circulated amongst ‘old friends,’ giving hope and encouragement to those whom he could define, from experience, as not being in the greatest of health or form.

I had stayed over in my bed in a corner, too shy to approach this Grecian god who had appeared amongst us. Then, to my amazement, he walked down to my bed! The other lads didn’t seem a bit surprised. Nor jealous – they were a lovely crowd of children.

“And who have we here”, he go, flashing that great big lightning-strike of a smile, “and where in Erin’s Isle are you from”?

I could hardly answer, I was so dumbstruck. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and said: “I was new here myself, a few years ago. I was lucky that a lad from Ballyragget – Jimmy Moore – made me feel at home. I got on well with everyone, after that. Don’t believe all the stories these lads tell you about me – they have to have a hero in a place like this – and I happened to fit the bill. I tried not to let them down – and they never let me down. Now, what did you say your name was”?

So I told him I was Ned Egan, a son of the famous footballer of the same name, captain of Tipperary. It was all I had to brag about. “Well, the great Ned Egan of Tipperary!” he go – “The famous man! Bejay, but you’re a lucky lad!” And he went on to praise the ‘great Tipperary Football Team’ to the rafters, and made me feel that, indirectly, I amounted to something, in the great scheme of things. {It was only many years later that I realised he’d have had no idea at all about a junior match that took place in 1912. He was just boosting me up. And it worked.}

He then – in a completely unexpected {by me} gesture – shook my hand and said “See you next time, Neddy boy!” and went on to the another bed, where he used his magic to cheer up Danny, a desperately long thin and lonely reclusive bed-wetting Donegal boy, who had just few pain-ridden months to travel along, before the mercy and final comfort of the box embraced him.

All through that dark winters afternoon he talked to us, and encouraged and entertained us. He produced several bags of sweets, and some marbles for those lads – like myself – who hadn’t managed to acquire this magic glass currency.

Yes, he gave them only to those who had nothing. And not one boy tried to cheat their way into getting a tiny shimmering ball: his magic rubbed off on all – even on the tough chaws – or what passed for hard cases in that innocent place.

He sometimes brought his beautiful girlfriend along, and she was as kind – and as welcomed – as himself.

When he finally left, although we were sad to see him go, we gave him a great cheer. He assured us that he’d be back in a few weeks, and waved to us all the way down the driveway, until cut off by the trees.

I saw him many times afterwards, and he never changed.

The only sad thing about it was that when I went home, it was a sudden thing, and I never got the chance to say ‘good luck’ to him.

So, if you ever see this story, Walter Lally, you’ll know that your legacy of kindness wasn’t wasted.

You live on in my life, and always will. And, when I thank you, I am sure I speak for many other small lonely victims of a hard life, to whom you were a real hero.


Ned E



The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.

Previous A mindful workplace is a successful workplace
Next What will climate change mean for allergies?