BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Paris Texas was packed to the rafters for the launch of Jimmy Rhatigan’s book, Treasure Lost, Treasure Found.
Hundreds of well-wishers converged on the High Street venue from all over Ireland and a few even travelled from as far afield as Belfast, the USA and Latvia for the big night. Family, old pals from his newspaper days, soccer fans, and schoolmates mingled with book-lovers and the cream of academia that streamed into the pub/restaurant from every street in the Marble City to savour the long and eagerly awaited launch.
The book recalls the uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking, story of how the Rhatigan family coped when Jimmy’s father died suddenly in 1953. His untimely departure from their lives, and the homestead at Fatima Place Kilkenny left wife Maureen (28), and sons Jimmy (3) and Joe (12) bereft. They faced a struggle for survival in an economically ravaged and socially conservative country.
But far from sinking without trace beneath a tide of gloom and desolation, the Rhatigan family got through that bleak era with dignity and strength, thanks to the staunch backing of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the unparalleled community sprit exhibited by the residents of Fatima Place. The locals knew how to lend a helping hand to each other in good times and bad.
Jimmy brings the past to life in his customary way with words. So you feel you’re back in those monochrome days and nights of the 1950s…with Granny Dunne in Goods to buy shoes with money raised from the sale of pigs reared by his grandparents, or in church when the names of donors were called out at mass and the amounts cited for all to hear. This humiliated some mass-goers and delighted other- the ones who could afford to be generous.
Or you go along in fancy with Jimmy to attend his first hurling and soccer games, where he discovered his lifelong love of sport…or see him in the classroom at the local CBS, hoping to avoid getting whacked as so many pupils did in that “Other Ireland./”
Avoiding the stick or the leather was almost as big a challenge as learning, but Jimmy managed to clear the obstacle course that was the Irish educational system without any serious war wounds.
A rare treat and welcome break from schoolwork and austerity was the occasional visit to Beale’s house in Fatima Place to watch TV. Only a select few homes had the goggle box back then.
He emerged from the CBS a wiser youth and it was an essay he wrote while in that dusty old classroom that impressed a local broadsheet editor. Reading it, the perceptive newspaper chief decided that Jimmy had the makings of a journalist. His uncanny grasp of the language, and fanciful turns of phrase had heads in a whirl.
Once he got inside a newspaper office, Jimmy never looked back, plying his trade for more than five decades before taking a well-earned rest, and then resuming his journalistic forays via the Kilkenny Press online portal.
Throughout his lengthy career as a scribe he divided time between journalism and his unquenchable passion for football, managing a local club and encouraging youth involvement.
He played a prominent, life-enhancing role in both putting Kilkenny on the sporting map for something other than hurling and keeping youngsters out of trouble by channeling their energies into kicking a ball. Saving souls and scoring goals went hand-in-hand for the man from Fatima Place.
In his writing he went beyond the reporting of bare facts and keeping people informed of news developments. He penned hilarious pieces that turned many a frown into a smile in homes, pubs and cafes. His breezy style won the hearts of thousands.
Families avidly watched the clock ticking towards that magic moment when the paper would hit the street so they could get their weekly “fix” of Right on Rhatigan-his uproarious gossip column, or his latest wacky or poignantly evocative colour-piece.
Among the papers he edited was the KIlkenny Observer, which he commends in the book for its continued commitment to high standards in local journalism.
The book branches off from personal memoir to touch upon a broad range of themes. He tackles the great issues of today and yesteryear, combining a penetrating intellectual prowess with his unfailing brand of wry humour.
He doesn’t t shy from controversy, giving his own take on the Northern conflict, the present-day political landscape in Ireland, and the challenges posed to print journalism by the rise of social media.
Despite the grim prognosis offered by so many commentators and analysts, Jimmy is hopeful that the trusty newspaper that you can hold in your hands, its paper rusting as you scan the pages, will remain a feature of our lives for decades to come.
The book also celebrates some the great characters Jimmy got to know and write about: People like Tom Cantwell of TC Tyres, a colossus on the Kilkenny social scene, legendary journalist Sean Hurley, whom Jimmy credits for assisting him up the high and sometimes rickety ladder of achievement, and Callan boxing coach Jimmy Walsh, who continues to attend ringside though his sight isn’t the best. 90-year old Jimmy was at the launch to support the man who has written countless articles about his sporting career.
The Bard of Tullaroan, Paddy Fitzpatrick, gets a mention too, and there’s host of sporting anecdotes sprinkled throughout the pages.
Jimmy thanked the people who had made a lasting impact on him via their outstanding qualities, achievements or sheer abundance of human decency. Among the large gathering at Paris Texas, for example, was former nurse Marianne Kelly, who Jimmy recalled had cared so lovingly for his mother in her final hours.
While he had fond memories of his journalistic career, Jimmy said he believed, after all his vast experience of life; that one’s family and friends came first. As if to emphasize this, the official launching of the book was left to Jimmy’s grandson.
Little MJ introduced the world, amid a fanfare of joy and applause, to Treasure Lost, Treasure Found.
The book cost 20 Euro and is available at Khan’s Book shop in James’s Street, Kilkenny.