AN ODE TO MY FATHER

Published in theLeader; June 2019

Largely thanks to this very column, a fairly significant number of people around the town have asked in a fairly unique Letterkenny style: “Which Foley would he be now?” Many of the town’s more long-term residents will follow that up by inquiring if I’m a son of Joe’s – a Guard who served the town for many years – and so just to confirm, yes, that is me.

By Jonathan Foley

As many of you know, dad passed away after a short illness in 2010. The image of which will always stay with me due to the fact that I was holding him in an embraced hug at the very moment he drew his last breath and slipped away. The rest of our family were there, of course, amid the peaceful surroundings of the Donegal Hospice; a building which you can see our family home and vice-versa as it overlooks the Gortlee area.

The reason I write this article is not to create a sad tone. Far from it, really. The real reason is because that today – the 12th day of June – marks when dad would have turned 65. And because he is so well-known to many in this part of the world, I thought it might be perhaps more fitting, to celebrate his memory instead. 

I’m the first to admit that growing up, I never really got to know dad properly as a person until I got a bit older; maybe in and around the time of my late teens, if I’m honest. It’s not that we had no relationship before that, but as a child, he was away a lot with his work and once we weathered my hormonal moody adolescent rebel stage of life, we became more like friends. 

During the time I was studying for my Masters Degree in my early twenties, Dad and I would always nip to the local pub on a Thursday evening for a few quiet ones. Granted, there were some evenings he’d come home after an hour and I’d sit on with a few of the boys for another bit, but overall, the Thursday night jar was a nice wee tradition we had.

These evenings are something that I’ll always hold dear in my memory. Through the chats we used to have, I think we both came to learn that we shared a similar outlook on life and we had a very similar sense of humour. In fact, you could nearly say I was envious of how quickly he could produce a one-liner that would bring a laugh to any topic of conversation. 

In sport, our main shared interest was in our support of Liverpool FC. Certainly, things like the progress of Celtic FC, GAA, rugby, golf and international teams were important topics of conversation at our kitchen table (still are, mind you) but with regard to he and I, Liverpool and their trials and tribulations was the real common ground that we shared.

None ever more so than the night of the 2005 Champions League Final when the Reds staged a miraculous comeback from 3-0 down to draw level and eventually beat a star-studded AC Milan team on penalties. Every ‘Pool fan adores that game, but for me, it holds special memories of spending time with my father. 

In the build-up to the game, Sky Sports showed a montage of famous Liverpool moments and faces from years gone by and to a wonderfully fitting rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ They showed clips of the players and big moments from the era when he himself would’ve been a youngster celebrating the team’s successes under Shankly and the likes. 

Dad turned 50 previous year but you wouldn’t have thought that when he was watching this pre-match reel. His eyes light up as wide as a child’s, leaning forward on the sitting room chair to get a better look and even saying to Mum “when we were only going out, didn’t I used to tell you how class this team was, love?” Mum could remember and agree, of course.

It nearly goes without saying that when Jerzy Dudek saved the decisive penalty in the shootout, mass scenes of revelry took place amongst Liverpool supporters across the world and our living room was no exception as myself and my dad – two generations of fans – high-fived, hugged and comically tumbled to the ground in the most joyous of celebrations. 

I was almost 21 at the time and Liverpool hadn’t won a European Cup since six months before I was born, so it had been a long wait to win another for all concerned. 

When it was all over, the presenter of the broadcast stated “I hope you’ve enjoyed, you might never see another night like it.” As the credits rolled to ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles, just like the presenter’s sign-off, the lyrics of Lennon and McCartney seemed fitting: “All these places had their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living. In my life, I’ve loved them all.” A song that always strikes a chord with me since then. 

I like to think that when Liverpool won back the Champions League a fortnight ago; their first time since that famous night in Istanbul 14 years earlier, that Dad was somewhere up above raising a glass to the Redmen. 

Outside his work as a Detective Sergeant, Dad was also known for his work with local charities; particularly as quizmaster which I, myself, have dabbled in since. 

On the mantelpiece at Letterkenny Golf Club, Dad’s photo and trophy stand proud and, I will admit, when I had to go there for a meeting about a year ago, it was somewhat surreal (not difficult as such) to stay focused on the agenda knowing that a photo of my late father was in my eyeline. 

Finally, what a lot of people don’t know about Dad was that he was a very well read gentlemen. On Sundays, he’d sit alone in the dining reading through broadsheet newspapers and entertaining himself with trickier-than-usual crosswords. 

He could occasionally make a joking reference to Shakespeare even watching football. One that stands out for me was when Celtic lost a European game to FC Copenhagen and he uttered “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” which is a subtle reference to Hamlet. 

He also told me that, during his treatments, he read ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ in the space of one day and despite the best efforts of my brother and I, we could never beat him at Scrabble. In return, we used to joke “sure you can’t beat someone who goes to bed every night reading the bloody dictionary!” Good times. 

My mother has often said that I look more like her side of the family, and that’s true as a lot of my aunts possess dark brown eyes and slightly sallo features, but mum will also state that I have the mannerisms and habits of my father. 

The sense of humour, the quiet enjoyment of a microphone or a sing-song, being actively involved in sports clubs, the willingness to help young people in the belief it will make them better people, the reading of books and even the way (I’m told!) I rest my chin on my hand when sitting at a table. I suppose it’s the wee subtle things that people notice. 

Let me just round things off so by wishing many happy returns to my dad today and I do so in the belief that wherever you are, I’m sure they all love you there just as much as so many of us still do down here. Joe ‘Some Man for One Man’ Foley. My dad. Happy Birthday, Chief. 

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