By Jimmy Rhatigan
THERE was a certain ambiguity and a good dollop of irony about ordering an Eddie Keher in your favourite watering hole.
Locals knew exactly what was being called for and visitors learned quickly.
A barman with even a smidgen of cop-on his locker knew exactly what beverage to pour.
The notion was that had aliens landed at Kilkenny Airfield at another time, their tall order in a local pub might have been an Eddie Keher and perhaps a Mars Bar.
In days of yore when hurlers had to be as tough and courageous as the gladiators of the Coliseum of Rome, an Eddie Keher was a pint of good old Arthur Guinness, black porter that for some had the kind of power that was attributed to holy water.
To the legions who loved and admired Eddie the son of Inistioge, the irony was obvious.
The small ball legend whose hurley was akin to a magic wand was not a porter patron.
In fact he was a non-drinker.
His opium consisted of a hurley and ball and he strummed a guitar quite well too.
His drug was the game that for generations has raised adrenalin in Cat Land.
Eddie mesmerised defenders who sometimes used a hurley stick as a weapon of war in an era when the game was for mountain men with hairy chests and bulky bodies.
When a tippler called for his pint in hurling lingo he was making a point, reminding that Kilkenny was the home of the undoubted prince of hurling.
Coincidentally, the man who may have set the ball rolling by calling for the first Eddie Keher, was, like Eddie, a bank employee.
Eddie was an AIB official, later a manager. Dickie Tennyson, God rest him, was, more irony, a porter at the Bank of Ireland, Parliament Street, Kilkenny, a next door neighbour of Bollard’s Bar.
It was in the latter noble establishment that Dickie Tennyson, a popular and very talented local entertainer who was often referred to as Kilkenny’s answer to Perry Como, enjoyed his pint of what some regaled as mother’s milk.
The tale that linked a pint of creamy porter to a sensational series of amazing Eddie Keher points on hurling fields of dreams, would have delighted the big gathering that paid homage to our hurling machine.
But time was of the essence and when deserved tributes were paid to Eddie and a CV of his sensational hurling life was outlined, well deserved thirst quenchers beckoned.
Venue was the Long Gallery of Kilkenny Castle where Eddie was conferred as a Freeman of Kilkenny City, a deserved accolade for a man who delighted thousands of hurling aficionados over a trophy-laden career that began when he was 15 and finished in what seemed like an eternity later.
He broke many hearts with his superb free taking and cracking goal grabbing and he delighted black and amber supporters who regarded him as an icon of the game.
He was to Kilkenny what Pele was to Brazil.
So it was no wonder that his Freeman honour got an unanimous thumbs up as Eddie celebrated with family, friends and former hurlers.
And while hurling was the shop window that catapulted Eddie Keher to fame, there is much more depth to the life and times of a man who is a past pupil of St Kieran’s College, a bank manager who finished his career as boss in Callan, a founder member of the No Name Club, along with his hurling team mate, Fr Tommy Murphy, coffee king, Bobby Kerr and retired Garda Eamonn Doyle.
In fairness, he has always been steeped in the GAA and continues to be an active member of the Kilkenny GAA Supporters’ Club.
He is now a fellow Freeman of Pat Shortis, Brian Cody and Kieran Crotty, all of whom attended the Friday ceremony.
Others who were honoured over the years were Bishop Peter Birch, Edmund Smithwick, Eamon De Valera, Michael McGuinness, Countess Markievicz and Seamus Pattison.