Wonderful memories of Callan in the 60’s and 70’s remembered as ‘The Beekeeper and the River’ launched

Barrie Henriques, Joe Kearney and Frank McKenna at the launch of ‘The Beekeeper and the River’

The inaugural launch of Dr Joe Kearney’s story collection, ‘The Beekeeper 
and the River,’ was held in Keogh’s pub in Mill Street Callan recently.

There was big turnout for the event as Joe originally hails from Callan and his Sunday Miscellany contributions on RTE very often feature the town and his memories from growing up there.

Many present were surprised to see that Joe is a banjo and harmonica player. Together with guitarist and balladeer Denis O’ Donoghoe they entertained the assembled gathering for a few hours after the launch.

Joe’s mother, Nancy, also a Callan resident, was persuaded to contribute a song or two.

The book was launched by historian and retired school principal, Frank McKenna.

This week in The Kilkenny Observer, we are delighted to report on the launch.

Opening proceedings on the night, Frank McKenna welcomed the attendance and explained that he only really got to know Joe Kearney in the last decade.

Dr Joe has, long before tonight, been acclaimed for his contributions to Sunday Miscellany, his award-winning documentaries and his previous books including ‘Then There Was Light’ (the story of rural electrification) and ‘From the Candy Store to the Galtymore’.

“Tonight, I have been asked to launch his latest book the Beekeeper and the River” began Frank, going on to explain that the river in question was the King’s River which is 46.27 km long. Frank joked “despite how many of you here tonight may feel about it, a good deal of it flows through Tipperary as well as through Kilkenny.”

The MC continues: “as much as we associate it with Callan and Niall of the Hostages it is also shared by Ballingarry, Mullinahone and Kells.

There are houses and restaurants and businesses that have some variation of the King’s River or Avonree in their name and indeed our new school is called Coláiste Abhainn Rí.”

Mr McKenna explained that few things annoy Callan people more than the state of the river bed which generates huge traction on social media and the politician that is eventually credited with fixing it will be re-elected as often as he/she runs for office.

“It is hard to be oblivious to the King’s river.

It is a shapeshifter and a chameleon. It has a face for every season and a few more to spare.

If you were into fishing in the river or picnicking or swimming in the Paupers when you could swim there or just walking in the Motte or the Abbey Meadow you have seen these faces- they are often benign but they are frequently ferocious.”, said Frank.

Frank went on to reminisce about times past explaining “Usually one goes to see the river but the river often comes to see you especially if you live in the Bridge Street area.

Twice, in the late eighties, I pulled up the late Miss O’Regan’s carpets off her floor, just as the river was entering her house.

In 1986 I got a phone call to say that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Charlie, our furniture in number 3 was floating down Bridge Street.

So many have their own story about the river but tonight we feature just a short portion of the river – the few miles that feature in Joe’s latest book that we launch tonight. “

The former CBS principal recounted that in the story Draining the Paupers Joe uses the phrase “Let the river do the talking” and in many ways that is what the river is doing through Joe.

You might say that the King’s River is to Joe Kearney as ‘The stony grey soil of Monaghan’ is to Patrick Kavanagh.”

Reminding the author of his roots McKenna said: “You could try to take the boy out of Callan, and Joe has been gone from Callan for well over 50 years, but Callan has never been taken out of Joe.”

It’s as if the teenage Joe, long before cloud technology and digital photography, screenshot the scenes of his youth in 1960 and 70s Callan and stored them in the Dropbox of his imagination until the time was right to let them loose and that time, thankfully, is now.

Bringing the attendance back to the 60’s and 70’s Frank remembered the cartoon character Curly wee. “In the story Reading Curly Wee, Joe actually uses the phrase ‘Those pictures actually live in my head’, which sums it up perfectly.”

Joe had not forgotten his time in London either. “Any of us here tonight that ever waited in line outside the Crown in Cricklewood looking for ‘the start’ or took the ‘Wimpy shilling’ knew all about hardship and stress, loneliness and longing.

Joe, skilfully, brings both of those worlds together especially in the story Moon Arch, my particular favourite in the book.

Here, Joe adopts a theme as old as time itself and well developed by the likes of J M Synge, but gives it a Callan setting with a blend of characters so well imagined, and seemingly real, and so skilfully meshed together, that one struggles to differentiate as which is which. Martin McDonagh would have great fun with a character from that story that Joe depicts as the Bugler Cody.”

As you move from story to story in the book , you experience the full gamut of emotions – revenge, rage, love in many shapes and forms.

The book is really funny in places but, just like the river, it turns dark in an instant.

The river features to varying degrees throughout the 15 short stories but it does appear in them all and by doing so Joe paints a warts and all picture of life in Callan as the country arose from the severity of the 50’s and began to embrace the new world.

The efforts of Joe and his pals to bring flower power to Callan in 1969 as detailed in Say it with Flowers dates the book well and it can be argued that The Beekeeper and the River is also a powerful social history of those times, and as P J Cunningham said, will ensure that the “book will endure for ages to come”.

Concluding proceedings on the night Mr Mc Kenna said “on May 29th last Joe came back to Callan to launch the history of his alma mater. The story he contributed to that particular book was a homage to his mother, Nancy, titled Wellspring . Those long summer days that Joe spent in the home he shared with his parents have supplied the wellspring of ideas and plots that have culminated in the Beekeeper and the River and I am honoured to launch it here tonight.

‘The Beekeeper and the River’ is available for purchase at Maher’s Inver Service Station, Lyons Fruit and Veg Callan as well as The Book Centre Kilkenny.


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