A candle flickered and a green and gold Kerry flag billowed gently in the breeze as people came to pay their respects at Con Houlihan’s monument in his native Castleisland.
No sooner had word of the 86-year-old’s passing reached his hometown on Saturday than locals started to honour him at the bronze bust at the bottom of Main St.
One placed a single yellow rose, with a note attached, which read: “Rest in Peace Con.”
Though he left Castleisland for Dublin some 40 years ago, the sportswriting giant is remembered affectionately in the Kerry town which he often mentioned in his columns.
They still talk of his days playing rugby with the local club in his bare feet, of giving grinds to children, of picking potatoes, fishing and hunting, and working on the bog.
His last visit was in 2004 for the unveiling of the bust on which he is described as a fisherman, turf-cutter, rugby player, teacher, and writer.
Castleisland publican Bobby O’Connell said Houlihan never forgot his roots.
“Not many people have a statue and a €30m bypass dedicated to them in their own place but Con had — and that’s testament to how people felt about him and admired him,” he said.
“He was a totally unique individual and an absolute genius. There could never again be anyone like Con Houlihan.”
Former rugby international Mick Galwey recalled links going back to his childhood and of being encouraged to play rugby by Houlihan.
“I was born in Currow, just three miles from Castleisland, so Con always looked out for me. Any time I was dropped from the Irish rugby team, people used to say to me that it was Con Houlihan that ran campaigns to get me back on again,” he said.
Galwey also recalled how he and other players would seek out the writer’s compulsive company in various pubs where he held court after big matches.
Personalities from various sporting codes paid tribute over the weekend, with All-Ireland winning Kerry footballer Mick Gleeson, who recently visited the ailing writer, saying sport was central to his entire life.
“Cardiff Arms Park, Wembley Stadium, and countless other stadiums were his spiritual homes and his graceful words celebrated with gay abandon the scores and passions that breathed life into the games and into his glorious prose,” Gleeson said.
“But standing on Hill 16, without pen or paper, astutely observing the happenings in Croke Park was probably his greatest joy, particularly when some of Kerry’s finest were weaving their special magic.
“His seemingly effortless prose matched the brilliance that he beheld and enriched the lives of countless readers.”
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