In Kerry, a county with so many All-Ireland medals, what kind of person would be agreeable to the general populace as a radio sports host?
A man accustomed to keeping the peace on a football field, obviously.
The cover of Weeshie Fogarty’s new book, My Beautiful Obsession — Chasing the Kerry Dream, combines two aspects of the genial Killarney man’s personality.
On the front, Fogarty is captured in full flow on Terrace Talk, his multi-award winning sports talk show on Radio Kerry. On the back cover, a younger Fogarty stands between Billy Morgan of Cork and Tony Hanahoe of Dublin before a National Football League game, in the last lull before the ball is thrown in and battle commences.
Keeping big beasts like that in line must have been the ideal preparation for his radio career, surely?
“It probably was,” says Fogarty. “Though the fact that I was involved in every aspect of the club with Legion probably helped. Not to mention the fact that I’m interested in all sports, not just the GAA.”
Fogarty’s book certainly does justice to a catholic taste in pastimes. “All sports have played a part in my life — boxing, athletics, I saw the original Busby Babes play before the Munich air crash, so that brings in soccer, basketball... all of those.
“In my chapter on top Kerry living sportspeople I include all those sports. I also picked a favourite Kerry team — not a best Kerry team, but my favourite — and I’ve had plenty of people disagree with those selections. To be honest, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.”
There’s more to the book than scorelines and matches, however.
Fogarty gives an affecting account of his nine to five as a psychiatric nurse in St Finian’s Hospital, the mental health facility in Killarney: the people who were forcibly removed from their homes and brought to the hospital, the individuals who spent years there without visitors and who ended up totally institutionalised. It’s hardly surprising, then, that he welcomes the new openness when it comes to discussing mental health issues.
“Sport is a huge part of my life, but it’s just one part. When you reach my age you see things in perspective.
“People who’ve read the book have said to me they’ve found it all the more interesting because, as an elderly man said to me recently, it’s a book about life, not just sport.
“The fact that things are more open in terms of mental health is much better. Years ago it was all hidden away, which is why I dedicated a chapter to the men whose deaths I was present for.
“People were institutionalised and locked away and their existence wasn’t even mentioned, never mind their illnesses. One word of warning I’d have though is that while it’s good that these things are discussed openly, there’s so much now about suicide in all the media that I’d be a bit worried that we’re making it almost normal, that people will come to view it as something that’s inevitable.
“That’d worry me because I’d come from a perspective where I dealt in work with people who’d attempted suicide and who would later commit suicide.”
While sport is a huge element of Fogarty’s book, he also sets it in its proper context. The deaths of his siblings from cancer and the battle of Liam Higgins, his co-commentator on Radio Kerry, to make it to one more game give the book depth and perspective.
True to form though, he’s always looking for the next person to sit in his Tralee studio to while away an hour of sporting reminiscence.
If he could pull in one dream guest...
“Usain Bolt is one man I’d love to interview, he has huge charisma,” says Fogarty
“Going back in history Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali would have been a great interview in his prime — I was always a great fan of his.
“Katie Taylor, bringing it right up to date, is another fascinating person — her religious beliefs, never mind her sporting accomplishments, would make her a fascinating person to talk to.”
She’d be in good company. Terrace Talk has picked up more than one PPI Sports Programme of the Year award. Fogarty is appreciative of the opportunity (“Radio Kerry have been very good to me,”) even if he’s a little reticent about the prospect of another book.
“I’d written a book before about Dr Eamonn O’Sullivan, and the reason I wrote this book was that my family was decimated by cancer. Death was on our shoulder a long time.
“My immediate family were at me to do it, and then I met Con Collins of Collins Press, and he persuaded me to do it.
“My remaining sister, Sheila, is over from England for the launch tonight, Maurice Fitzgerald will do the honours, and we’re hoping it goes well.”
Why wouldn’t it?
* My Beautiful Obsession — Chasing the Kerry Dream by Weeshie Fogarty is launched tonight at The Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, at 8pm.
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