5/9/15 Roy (Robert David) Hegarty. 1929 – 2015.
It’s just 61 years ago now, 1954. I was ten years old and standing obediently on the steps of Ely Nursing Home, on the shore of the Slaney. My mom was to collect me in the family Vauxhall, a sedate saloon, and bring me home after my very near fatal bout with pleurisy.
She never came.
But a black MG TD, registration number MI 8989, roared through the gate, tore up the driveway and slithered to a halt at the foot of the steps. Out hopped my eldest brother, Roy.
I spread my hands in query, lost for words.
‘C’mon’, he said.’ We’re off for a bit of a scooch around the county. It’ll blow the cobwebs out.’
‘What for?’ I asked.
‘Celebration’ he laughed.
He walked up the steps, put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Your survival, Little Brother. Let’s go.’
Back at the car, we climbed over the cutaway doors and plonked on the floor-low seats. Roy fired the engine up and gave a couple of chassis shaking revs. ‘Hold on to that’ he shouted over the engine noise, pointing to a grabhandle on the passenger side of the dashboard. No seatbelts in those days.
Now, what a grabhandle would do for me, if, rushing through a blind bend, on a twisting Irish country road, accelerating in third gear up to 70 miles an hour, and we ran smack, bang into a Combine Harvester, or a Ferguson tractor, or a cow , or a wandering horse, I don’t know.
It was a bit like telling a man in a small boat, caught out in a sudden force 8 gale, to hold on to the mast; you may drown, but you won’t go anywhere.
Off we went under a high blue Autumn sky. Turning right at the gate, Roy floored the throttle and we shot off out the Castlebridge road.
To my ten year old eyes, the road streamed open through a shuddering, twisting tunnel of hedgerow. We slowed through the village, Castlebridge, and then picked up again, howling up through Eden Vale, on out through Crossabeg, up and down the hilly country road, wind wild in our hair, the grabhandle holding me on the hopping seat, Roy’s hands darting back and forth from the spoked steering wheel to the stubby gearstick, in perfect sync with the singing howl of the straight through exhaust.
Then down the wider concrete road to Ferrycarrig, the MG twitching through the esses underneath the bridge, and accelerating hard up through the steep twists and on out to the Barntown area, where the road levelled and the sturdy, brave, little car settled on the new surface. We sprinted on out to the far side of Clonard.
Taking a sharp right, we barrelled on out through an endless series of totally blind lefts and rights, engine note rising and falling in and out of second and third, on full song, flat out, till we emerged on the New Line, a long straight road, raising and dipping gently through the countryside, all the way back to Wexford town.
Foot to the floor, up through second, the car shot forward. Knocking her into third, roaring on up into fourth, his right foot pressed on the floor, we flattened out along the shuddering, undulating ribbon of road that swept beneath the black, square bouncing bonnet.
The mirror on top of the dash was a shivering blur. I pushed back against the seat, glanced over at the speedo’, just touching 95 miles an hour. The MG bounced, skipped, screamed over the hard tarred metalled road. The wind passed straight over us, buffeted up by the aeroscreens.
And then the long, long lefthander, sloping back down to the town, engine slowing, dropping an octave, settling the car at an even steady sixty as we neared the town. On in past the hurling park, slowing all the time, down the road through Bishopswater, ditches and hedges giving way to new housing and streetways as we slowed and rumbled at a crawl of 30 miles an hour, past the Boker, round by Bride St., slowly up John’s St., and finally turning into George’s St. and home.
I was a bit like one of Bond’s cocktails; slightly shaken, much stirred, and imbued with the simmering idea somewhere in the back of my youthful mind that you drive hard, use your gears, perform to the limits of your abilities, but always, always, always, stay between the ditches.
Roy gave me quite a few life lessons, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. From the sliding seat on a planning Hornet dinghy, I learned that sometimes you stayed the course, but when it blows up hard, never be afraid to run for cover.
I had great kindness from him and Eithne, and Maggs and Pete and Rob.
And it was very good to know too that he experienced the same in his final years from his own family and from Anton and Liz and Mark and Joyce.
Francoise and I met him a couple of years ago in Dublin, not long after Eithne’s passing. I thought a large part of him had gone with her. He told me he’d had a good life, no complaints. I believe as well that he made a strong, positive impression on those he knew.
So let’s not only mourn his passing, but celebrate too, a life well- lived, well-marked, and well-remembered.
Rest in Peace.