Garret Maguire’s top model of the old Farnyard in St Patrick’s College inspired a most wonderful moment.

My gold medal win and a top model moment

Gerard Smith is going back down memory again in his latest WordSmith column, this time to this school days and his brief brush with sporting stardom...

I’m not a man known for my sporting achievements. Yet, I was good at it; particularly athletics and track events. Sadly, it wasn’t a talent I appreciated. Until one July afternoon in Manchester during my 16th year when I won my Olympic Gold.

I was visiting my sister and her husband on my old estate; and on returning from the market, I noticed the local bad-lads leaning against their car – waiting. At the time anti-Irish sentiment was rife; I readied for fight or flight.

“Ave you been planting bombs up the precinct?” asked one. The ring-leader looked at me with derision and said, “Him, he’s more bumb-boy than bomb-boy,” which caused an eruption of laughter.

Their mirth was my starting-pistol – I sprinted from a long planned beating. Their verbal abuse became ever distant as I out-ran all three. I looked back to see them stalled, resting hands on knees, panting like defeated dogs. Ambling back to my sister’s, I thought to myself, ‘That was a Gold-Medal-Sprint.’ Years later, I received a message from an old primary school friend who told me my performance had been witnessed by many, and I was most revered. Thereafter and, unbeknownst to me, I was forever known as ‘Speedy-Gonzales’ on my old estate.

Now to one July afternoon in Cavan during my sister’s 16th year. I was mooching round St Patrick’s College Farmyard; then a busy working farm. I was in a quandary. My sister had changed and I couldn’t understand why. We were so close, always together. But now she moved away from her kid brother, towards an older boy. Moments before, she’d left me alone in the farm yard to go to St Patrick’s College with said boy, making it clear I wasn’t welcome.

St Patrick’s College was an imposing building that instilled fear in me; but wanting to discover more about my sister’s switch in alliance, I began running towards it. When I heard crowding cheers of elation, which dropped to drones of disappointment – I began to sprint towards what sounded like a gladiatorial event.

These sounds continued to ebb and flow carrying me along in their wake. Then I burst through a clearing to a great choral crescendo. This chorus was not for my arrival. No, a goal had been scored. Spectators cheered in celebration for the game-winning scorer. I’d arrived at a football match. This world I’d ran into was alien to me. I didn’t understand the physicality or language of this game that was so revered, yet I secretly reviled.

I watched as proud fathers back-slapped triumphant sons and loving mothers soothed their dearly-defeated. Then, I saw my sister sitting with the boy. My confusion deepened; she liked watching Miss World and Musicals with me, not football with this lad. The boy saw me and approached, “You missed a great game there wee-fella; some of those those lads made the whole county proud when they lifted the cup,” he said. “Why’d they lift a cup?” I asked. He chuckled, “It wasn’t any auld cup, ‘twas the Hogan Cup!”

Embarrassment reddened my face. On seeing my discomfort my sister said, “You don’t like football, Gerard, go back to your ghost-hunting in the farmyard.” I sloped off, alone again, naturally.

Now, I realise that summer was my big-sister’s coming-of-age, wherein the company of boys her own age became preferable to that of her kid brother.

Last week I wrote of AI and the importance of bringing our past places and people back to life. I’ve wrote vividly of St Patrick’s College Farmyard, to re-create the place with words. Relatively recently, I received a message from a man who’d read my musings, “I worked in the farmyard as a teen, the yard holds great memories for me. When I heard it was to be demolished, I made a model of it…”

I stared at the images of Garret Maguire’s model with astonishment at the accuracy of his skilful re-creation of a dead place. Showing the images to an elder relative whose memory is diminishing, I became misty eyed as her eyes lit up and she beamed. The images triggered a ‘reminiscence-bump’ in her, and she recalled with joy every corner of her childhood place – Garret’s top model inspired a most wonderful moment.


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