By Jimmy Rhatigan
Pic: Donal Foley
TODAY, The Reporter brings readers on a believe it or not trip that would have Ripley scratching his head.
It is a love story of sorts, a nostalgic tale that began when an eight year old boy in short trousers pulled on a pair of wellies and ran for all he was worth.
It is a wacky but heart warming scenario that highlights the value of roots, focuses on courage, love of place and family pride and also flashes into bright lights, admirable words like humility and ambition.
We fast forward to New Year’s Day as we again meet the wellie nipper, now a successful adult for whom the wheel of family joy has turned full circle.
When Castlecomer Wellie Race Personality, aka the boy in short britches and wellies, our esteemed Mayor Michael Doyle officially launched wellie day he was digging right back to his roots in Skehana, his mother’s birthplace and the Doyle family home in Muckalee and particularly to the now world famous ‘Comer Wellie Race.
And he was following in the hallowed footsteps of his beloved mother, Kathleen Doyle who was a champion of wellie races in 1982 and ‘83.
Brown bread, butter and broken biscuits
Pic: Donal Foley
Like Ripley, the notion is that Mayor Michael probably scratched his head when the unofficial Lord Mayor of ‘Comer popped the question in November.
“Will you do us the honour of being our Wellie Race Personality for our 38th event,” Chubby Brennan asked.
It was akin to asking a little boy or girl if he or she would like a bar of chocolate.
“I was delighted, thrilled, I said ‘yes’ without hesitation. What an honour. It meant the world to me to be asked, this is super for all my family, my parents, my sisters and brother, all of whom are steeped in the great traditions of North Kilkenny.”
The story gets even more interesting.
Since they were knee high to a grasshopper, the Doyle youngsters whose roots were in wellie country, the now world famous Castlecomer Wellie Race was their brown bread, butter and broken biscuits.
In a tale of beauty that would bring tears to a turnip, Mayor Michael competed twice in the great Wellie Race, in 1987 and 1988 and his mother was a wonderful double winning wellie woman.
The Wellie Race over the years was to the Doyle family, and many families like them, what horse racing is to the greater Mullins family and hurling was to the late great Seán ‘Georgie’ Leahy, his wife, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and now his beloved grandchildren.
A panto of sorts, a potential fairytale, may have sidled up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Little Red Riding Hood on Monday when a so proud Michael Doyle, wearing his chain as First Citizen, returned to his roots.
Call it what you will, but that which, with respect, we term the Doyle Panto, Michael Doyle and his Rubber Runners perhaps, has enough twists and turns, romance, loyalty and love and a generous helping of devotion to make it a must for Deenside Players and Watergate Productions.
Whether or not the potential panto makes the big stage, only time will tell, but we know that being asked by Chubby Brennan to be the head honcho at Wellie Race No. 38 will always be remembered by Michael as one of the great stages of his city and county hall tenure.
Mining aims shafted with the closure of pits
Pic: Donal Foley
The Doyles grew up in wellie country, Powley Vale, Moyhora, hinterlands of a once great mining town that sat comfortably under the Gaelic name of Caisleán an Chomair.
Today, the one time home of Anthracite Coal, first mined in ‘Comer in 1640, continues to be a tunnel of love for the courageous who worked underground and for their successors whose mining aims were shafted with the closure of pits that put grub on tables and clothed hardy children.
Tragic underground accidents ripped the hearts of a brave mining community in the past. But a job was a job, was a job so devoted dads and their sons after them continued to put their lives and limbs at risk to safeguard the family unit.
The Doyle brothers, Michael and Tom were not born to dig coal. Tom was a successful jockey in England for 10 years and Ireland for five where he rode for Willie Mullins.
Michael liked racing too. As a boy he pulled on wellies and raced through the streets of a town he loved so well as fast as his then little legs would carry him.
He didn’t win the wellie race.
But his beloved mother did.
In fact, the former Kathleen Cody from Skehana hit the jackpot twice, winning the ladies section on two occasions, in 1983 and 1984.
Kathleen and her Coon born husband, George reared two fine sons and two talented daughters in Muckalee.
Daughter Mairead works in Dublin and her sister, Brigette teaches in Abu Dhabi.
In their spare time, Michael’s uncles Tom and Christy threw in their lot as members of the ‘Comer Wellie Race Committee.
The wellie connections are mighty, magic too.
And there will never be a shortage of quotes to embellish any press releases for the premiere of Michael Doyle and his Rubber Runners.
“It was a real honour to be invited to be wellie personality and I will always be proud of the small part I played on Monday in one of the great outdoor festivals of our time,” said Mayor Michael, who, along with his wife, Becky, was hugely popular in an ever warm and welcoming Castlecomer.
Becky and Michael who live in Ballinbarna, The Rower, Inistioge, have a son and a daughter, Seán, aged 8, and Katie, aged 6.