By Jimmy Rhatigan
Pic: Donal Foley
COMMUNITY camaraderie and conviviality are ways of life, particularly in rural villages and towns.
These beautiful aspects of rustic living make many of our bailiwicks akin to next door neighbours of that amazing spot called Utopia.
The latter is coined from Greek words that when translated mean ‘no place’.
But for most of us that same Utopia represents the happiest place on God’s Earth.
When you find such a spot that is inevitably drenched in community spirit, you know that you are amongst great people.
But when you stumble on a trinity of local hamlets, satellite entities to each other perhaps, you can be assured that you are somewhere really special.
The Reporter spent a few hours lapping up a little bit of Heaven on Saturday.
We were invited to join local people as they celebrated the life of a gentleman and scholar who had spent an active and interesting life in a beautiful peripheral that is less than a 15-minute drive from Kilkenny City.
We were among friends, fantastic folk from three local areas, Johnswell, Muckalee and Ballyfoyle who sent out the clear message that neighbourliness, friendship and close-knit are qualities that can be shared and enjoyed together.
Neville Ryan of Drumherin, Ballyfoyle passed away in St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny last Ferbruary after a short illness.
At 71 he had lived a full, busy and happy lifetime in an area he loved so well and where the local community returned that love and respect in bucketfuls.
He had lost his beloved wife Violet in a road accident in 1989, a little less than 30 years ago.
That was a huge blow, a life-changing accident.
Friends, neighbours and family shared grief
Pics: Donal Foley
His many friends in the local community rallied and poured out their hearts as they did their utmost to ease Neville’s pain.
Friends, neighbours and his hugely supportive extended family shared his grief.
Neville was larger than life, kind, caring, a good humoured man who enjoyed socializing with kith and kin and was the life and soul of local gatherings.
So it was no surprise that there was a tremendous turnout for a charity tractor run in his memory at the weekend.
Family came from several parts of the country, locals turned up in big numbers and it was a case of one, big happy family as participants in an event that would boost the purse of Castlecomer District Hospital, drove tractors and vintage cars together.
Men, women and children enjoyed pre-run tea, post event hot food courtesy of butcher extraordinaire Dick Dooley and, as tradition would deem, supped a few creamy pints of porter together in Ann Brennan’s welcoming public house.
How Neville would have enjoyed such an occasion.
No doubt he was there in spirit.
The gathering replicated perhaps his time in hospital when members of practically every local family sat at his bedside at different times, hoping, praying, swapping stories with a true friend.
A rallying community was certainly appreciated.
Neville’s proud nephew, Geoffrey Hanbidge, who led the tractor run driving his uncle’s Ford, told The Reporter that when he visited there were always members of some local family at his bedside.
Neville would have been at home driving any of the 126 tractors of all makes, shapes and sizes and collection of vintage cars that made up a convoy of love that left Pat Murphy’s field, Johnswell.
Relationship was hunky dory two-way street
He spent many years working for local farmers, spreading fertilizers and topping.
Rain poured down as the mid-afternoon trail of tractors moved out. It took 16 minutes to empty the entourage of heavy machinery from the field beside Johnswell Community Hall.
The route was via Higginstown, Sandford Court, Ballyfoyle, Muckalee Creamery and back to base through Wildfield and Rue Line.
Some of the tractors did not have cabs but the drivers, many of them friends of the late Neville, simply ignored the heavy drizzle which eventually eased.
Along with Geoffrey, there were many other Ryan and Hanbidge nephews and nieces in attendance including Judith, Clifford, Olivia and Edwina, along with Neville’s brother-in-law Kenneth Hanbidge and his first cousin David Ryan.
Everyone we spoke to sing the praises of a late lamented friend who won local hearts and minds in a wonderful community relationship that was a hunky dory two-way street.
Local councilor, Pat Fitzpatrick’s spoke for so many when he said: “Neville may be gone from us but he will never be forgotten.”
The event was superbly organized, almost with military-like precision, with a committee of Stephen Brennan, John Buggy, Liam Murphy, Ann Brennan, David Ryan, Michael Callanan, Geraldine Hanlon and Pat Murphy doing the local villages proud.
Those who did not sit on committee wore high viz jackets as they made up a winning team of dedicated stewards.
Turning back the clock, admirers of Neville Ryan recalled his love of dancing and socializing and told of how his outgoing personality and friendliness ensured that he was well known and liked in Kilkenny City and County and further field.
There was no need to stress the latter.
The memorial run told that story.