VALENTINE LAMB looked me in the eye and said: “I can probably spare time for one Guinness. I have a paper to get out”.
Val was editor of the Irish Field, the leading racing and equestrian journal in Ireland, and I was visiting him in his office in Dublin, with a letter of introduction from Courier-Mail turf writer, Peter Cameron.
Val and Peter were great mates, and when Peter heard I was taking my 1990 Kangaroo Rugby league supporters group on a side trip to Ireland, he implored me to say hello to one of the country’s finest journalists.
Val, who died in 2015, was in fact an Englishman (born in Wiltshire) , who grew to love Ireland during his stays at the family estate in Westmeath County. His father was an artist, his mother, a writer. Val’s grandfather, the fourth Earl of Langford, was killed at Gallipoli.
Ireland, more particularly, Dublin, had been Val’s home since 1970.
My tour group had arrived in Dublin on the night of October 17, after (appropriately enough, given I was to see Val) visiting the Irish stud in County Kildare.
The next day was a free day and our coach driver, Bob Robinson, from Swindon in Wiltshire, suggested he and I go out for a few drinks, given he didn’t have to drive the next day.
Bob had never been to Ireland, and was nervous, being English, given ‘the troubles’ in the north. He begged us to take down the Australian flag from the back window of the coach, given it included the Union Jack. (We told him to get stuffed).
When the lift door opened at reception of the Royal Hotel in busy O’Connell Street, and I saw Bob ready for a night out, I pressed the close button and returned to my room to reassess things. Bob was wearing an all white suit, and stood out like a sore thumb, and with his English accent, I thought – no way.
I’m ashamed to say I found another way out of the hotel and left Bob stranded.
The next day I walked around Phoenix Park and that night, with some trepidation, called in at Val’s office. When I say, some trepidation. I didn’t know the man, and I knew he would be busy.
Busy he was, but, as I mentioned earlier, he said he could spare time for one ale, at Mulligans, where there were sure to be many other scribes, that he could leave me with.
What a great night, and Val had more than the one. (I’m not sure how the Irish Field got out that night).
I met some wonderful characters, most notably Mayo born, Sean Kilfeather, a sports journalist with the Irish Times, who, at the time, was boxing correspondent. He also had a great love of Gaelic sports, in particular hurling, and I recall him mentioning a Tipperary hurler, Nicky English.
One of the rules I imposed on my tour group of 33 brave individuals, was that a monetary fine would be imposed on anyone visiting a McDonalds.
I had to fine myself that night. As I walked back up O’Connell Street, to our hotel, from Mulligans, the Golden Arches got me in for a mid-night burger.
It wasn’t great prep for our early ferry departure for Wales the next morning. Tour member, Len Conroy, a legendary coach from Brisbane Easts’ rugby league club, had the perfect pick me-up – a pint of Guinness.
Len had set the pace from the time we boarded the ferry at Fishguard in Wales, after an overnight stay in Swansea, although he was given a run for his money by another Easts’ man, Bob Smith.
On our first night in Ireland we stayed in the Tower Hotel, Waterford, visiting the famous crystal factory the following morning. Cashel was our lunch stop and the town folk were in ‘mourning’. Their hurling team had been beaten in the final the day before.
After the ‘compulsory’ visit to Blarney castle, to kiss the stone, we stayed at the Metropole, Cork, a hotel from another age, with lifts that worked when they felt like it.
A few of us ate at Halpin’s Deli, where, to have a beer with dinner, one had to cross the lane to the nearest pub, and then bring the pints back. Not a problem.
At Killarney, we stayed at the International, which had live music that night, with our group loving every minute of it, particularly my mother, Lola Ricketts (nee Kelly) and her dear friend, Pat Sorensen (nee Bindon), school mates at St Mary’s in Lismore back in the 1930s and ’40s.
The next night we stayed at the Ryan Hotel, Limerick and attended a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle, where tour member, Rod Jennings was thrown in the dungeon, after saying ‘More Mead. More Mead’ one too many times.
Footnote: During our stay in Killarney, I met a boxing trainer – I have forgotten his name – who said he was known as ‘Killer’. He showed me a newspaper article about St Andrews Club from Killarney, sending four young men to the Munster Juvenile and Youth Boxing Championships at the Granary, Limerick.
“Top of the Bill was youthful John O’Brien, who stormed out of the red corner to clinch the 63.5kg Munster title, defeating F McKiernan, Cork,” the article stated. “Hope springs eternal in the ‘Killers’ mind, as he now pitches his hopes once more on a national title.”
I wonder if Kilfeather ever wrote about ‘Killer’.
1 Valentine Lamb
2 Len Conroy
3 Pat Bindon (left) and Lola Kelly in their young, carefree days on the Richmond River Coast in New South Wales.