This week The Kilkenny Observer is delighted to introduce a short story from a Newpark resident
Renowned for sporting prowess over decades, the inhabitants of Newpark regularly brought honours and titles to their beloved estate. High performances delivered accolades in hurling, courtesy of O’Loughlins and Dicksboro. Much to the chagrin of some observers, the other city-based team (whose name at present escapes me) also found a fair share of glory.
Other sports to bring success were golf and its offspring, pitch and putt. It must be recognized that athletics gave more popular pursuits a run for their money. Nor should we forget that football (of the foreign variety) brought silverware to the estate. The Gaelic version was at this time much derided (although a rumour persists that Billy Deegan and Donie Phelan both togged out in striped jerseys, for the county, one wet November evening in Ballyragget).
Excluded from our list are the caps awarded to those who represented the community on Sunday afternoons, pounding the greens fronting the estate. This group of rogues was invariably made up of Codys, Deegans, Fogartys, Hayeses, Hickeys, McCormacks, Marnells, O’Briens and Phelans. Their ranks were supplemented by imports such as Bob Brophy, Bosco Buckley, Rocksie Deegan and Mons Heffernan from satellite hamlets on the Johnswell Road and New Orchard.
Today, as we cast a retrospective eye over those youthful endeavours, we recall masculine and amazingly handsome men constantly achieving magnificence. But one story, amid all this brilliance, remains untold. The lacuna remains an account of the night Bruno McCormack, perhaps Newpark’s most stellar sporting icon, became a champion.
If the years have dimmed your memory, if you have never heard of Bruno, you might imagine him a middle weight boxer. Not so. Bruno was a white Jack Russell terrier with black spots.
A knowledgeable former resident (let’s call her Mary, for that is her name) often remarks that Newpark was the only place where dogs had surnames. Proving this point, other notable canines included Spot Bergin, Penny Cody, Ringo Hickey and Bruce Meaney. But these entities were your common or garden mutt and must be left to tell their own tales.
For our story, we head back to the 1960s, when a makeshift dog track appeared at Greenshill. This arena was situated on a piece of ground owned by or usurped by (I never knew which) John Dalton. It was to be found between the Nore and the drinking establishment named after the river.
This field was known as ‘The Bow Wow Track’. Here, dogs of various sizes, hues and disputed pedigrees gathered to do battle. A specially convened open championship for terriers allowed Bruno his opportunity.
Announced on a Monday, the race was to take place the following Friday evening. The short timeframe necessitated the implementation of a major training schedule – for the dog, at least. The owners/trainers were siblings Dinnie, Tom and Margo, with baby sister Mary the official ‘Little Mascot’.
Assistance to the family syndicate was rendered by a host of close neighbours. Joe Cody, Ger O’Brien and Eugene Phelan were recruited to help with training duties, while Podge Cody and Merch Marnell acted as handlers. Precise roles were never defined and nothing more was required than doing as instructed by Dinnie.
Following an intense week of planning, allied to a walking and running regime for Bruno, the longed for day arrived. A crowd of supporters, simulating the antics of the Pied Piper’s followers, departed from Newpark, marching behind the owners, who were proudly carrying their charge. Consultations with legendary doggie man Mick Lennon emphasized Bruno needing to conserve all his energies for the exertions ahead.
The racing began but we paid no heed. We were totally focused on our representative. Prior to the off, Bruno was cosseted: stroked, washed and given (on a warm summer evening) copious amounts of water to quench his obvious thirst.
O ye of little knowledge… “Are ye trying to kill the little dog?” asked an auld fella, Craven A cigarette hanging from his lip.
Then our race was called. Dinnie and Tom strategically placed Bruno in the centre of participants. At the start line, using a forefinger beneath the collar, the owners held their entrant at the ready.
Now the first part of Newpark’s plan was put into action. Tom brought Bruno to the start line, while Dinnie remained at the side, so as to indicate the optimum moment of release.
‘Go!’ yelled the starter.
Bruno sped away.
Opinion differed afterwards. Either this terrier showed phenomenal acceleration or Dinnie called early, granting his candidate an advantage.
Whatever the case, Bruno ran straight and true, galloping home well ahead of a devastated field.
This outcome was no accident. The second part of Newpark’s plan had also worked a treat.
As some dogs faltered and ran off course, Bruno never wavered. He ran straight to the end line, where Margo and Mary were stationed. Bruno had a special affinity with the Little Mascot. Hearing her call, he rushed forward and jumped into her arms.
Bedlam ensued as we greeted our hero. Yahoos resounded as we paraded our champion homeward. That night, we celebrated wildly with bags of Taytos, Flash bars and bottles of milk.
The devotion levied on Bruno outdid even the plaudits lavished on an All Ireland Champion. Demonstrating that we had learned the importance of good dog care, he was rewarded during the following weeks with chocolate and doughnuts. In our defence, Bruno was unaware that these items were bad for him and therefore thrived.
Honouring the victory, Dinnie, Tom, Margo and Mary, in a moment of supreme affection, assumed Bruno’s surname. Even today, they are still known to the older residents of the estate as ‘The McCormacks’.
Near half a century has passed since those fun-filled days. Now walking aids and grey bespectacled heads, when the old gang get together to reminisce, attest to the ever changing community that is Newpark.
Bruno is no longer with us. Neither, alas, are Ger, Joe and Podge. Yet sadness gives way to contentment, knowing they too inhabit the world of golden memory, where we are forever young and where we still recall Newpark’s greatest sporting triumph.