A MAN OF TRADITION.
No matter how many times you experience bereavement, it still always comes with a mixture of shock and sadness that pangs just as much as the first time you lost someone. As I sad as I am to know that I’ll never see our friend Raymond again, I’ll try to remain positive and glad of the fact that I knew him.
By Jonathan Foley
As the PRO of St Eunan’s GAA club, you’d expect the role to be mostly focused on match previews, score updates and general club news. While a lot of it is that, sending out news via email on Saturday morning about Raymond’s passing was certainly no easy task.
As I’ve just mentioned though, I immediately sprang to the happy memories I’ll always have of him. Ones that I know will always stay with me and I’ve no doubt that the people who knew him better will have some stories to tell over the next while.
At the GAA club, I never played under the teams that he managed. He’d taken a step back from coaching around about the time that I was an adolescent.
Where I’d often meet up though was in his pub on the Main Street for a post-match jar with the lads. This being when I was a little older, of course.
Raymond was traditional in the way he’d always give the players a round on the house first. Even if we’d lost or not performed all that well.
And if we got beat, he’d casually let us know that we had to pull the socks up for the next game and even if we won with a gutsy performance, he’d not let us get cocky. He’d simply remind us that we’d another game coming up and that we had to keep our feet on the ground.
He’d never own up to it but he was always quietly delighted when we’d be give him the news of a victory though.
Another thing that will always stand out for me is how the staff in Blake’s Bar put in place the rule that mobile phone conversations were not allowed when sitting at bar.
“The bar is for speaking to one another in person, don’t ya know?” And in my opinion, they were quite right to put that rule in force. What’s funny about it though is how there were no exemptions.
Back in 2013, I received huge praise one day at the club after a team I was joint-manager pulled off a remarkable Championship victory, against all the odds, in a rain-soaked game against Naomh Conaill.
Upon arrival into Blake’s for a celebratory pint, I was getting pats on the back, handshakes as well as squeezed hugs and kisses from a girl I was seeing at the time. And of course, there was Raymond with a complimentary pint there waiting for me.
Amid all the excitement, I thought this was a moment to cherish and it was. Then of course, I must’ve forgotten where I was when I had the audacity to answer a call on my phone while I was at the bar!
Raymond very quickly blew a whistle that he’d unearthed from somewhere. The bar fell silent with that noise and he produced a yellow card to me as a warning that if I did it again, I was out. Man of the Moment or not. I’ll always remember that day fondly.
One thing we always have to give Raymond credit for is for how traditional he kept his premises. The street it’s located on became a flurry for trendy cocktail bars, outdoor dining and pubs with big plasma screen televisions.
Certainly Raymond wasn’t backward. He was well informed and up to speed with all topics of conversation: politics, sport, music (Pink Floyd in particular) current affairs. You name it.
In addition to that, he was a dab hand at social media too and it was here, in 2016, where I remember where his wit came through the best.
During the European Championships that summer, a lot of pubs in the town were doing special offers on drinks and advertising the fact they’d be showing the games on big screens.
On the Blake’s Bar Facebook page, Raymond devilishly posted the following:
“Big game tonight in the quarter finals of Euro 2016. Come down and watch it on the small screen. Special offer on pints tonight. Order one pint … and pay for it!”
I was living in Scotland back then and I must say I was nearly sore with the laughing I did that day. When I shared the post, I referred to Raymond as a ‘King Amongst Men’ and in a way, I’m always glad I did that.
It also has to be noted that Raymond wasn’t always the fun and happy publican. He also had a very supportive and compassionate side to him and he showed this to me on the night of my own father’s funeral in 2010.
After a tiring few days keeping vigil with dad and then the wake and the funeral itself, emotional and physical fatigue set in and a few of us popped to Blake’s for a drink.
Raymond was very sensitive to the situation. He welcomed in some of my cousins and cracked a few jokes to help them settle and a few minutes later, he took me aside, put his arm on my shoulder and told me to “keep the head right, son. This will pass.”
He told me that if there was anything he could do to help, all I had to do was let him know. That moment alone showed me how seriously he took the importance of community values.
As sad as it was to see him go so quickly and as emotional as it was to see the lone piper perform Amazing Graze outside the pub during the Saint Patrick’s Day procession, I’m still glad that this was a man I knew.
Raymond Blake; 1963-2019. Our Friend.