To begin this week’s offering, a hilarious anecdote delivered on Thursday night last by one of the finest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering.
“I remember meeting a former student; his name escapes me now, down the Main Street one day and, as I tend to do when I meet such fellows, I asked him how he was getting on and if he was working,” said Noel Casey in Carrick-on-Suir Town Hall.
“To which the student replied: ‘I am working, no thanks to f**king you.'”
For a man not known for theatrics (though he did man a battery operated bell backstage to recall actors as the Strand Theatre interval drew to a close), Noel brought the house down with that one. It was one of many wonderful moments on a night brimming with them.
As I penned this column, the words of the 44th President of the United States were eloquently filling the office’s airspace.
Barack Obama’s public service began as a community organiser in Chicago – setting out, from the opening chapters of his extraordinary story not only to help people, but to engage people in community life.
Our own President has championed the community cause and sought to build bridges between communities on this island the bedrock of her time in the Phoenix Park.
What Presidents Obama and McAleese have addressed and promised to pursue, Noel Casey has done for the people of Carrick-on-Suir and its hinterland for over 40 years.
In 1979, the year of my birth, just months after John Paul II kissed the asphalt at Dublin Airport, a seed was sown in the extraordinary mind of Noel Casey, a man I’m proud to call my friend.
A tireless advocate of the vital contribution that the youth of a locality can make to its community, Noel Casey contacted Ballymena Academy, in the heart of Paisley country, at the height of the Troubles.
Amidst the backdrop of sectarian hatred, murder and paramilitarism, a great kinship was established on both sides of the border.
Many of the friendships forged by the Northern Ireland project between the pupils of Ballymena Academy and Carrick CBS (along with Scoil Mhuire in Greenhill) have continued into adulthood.
Six years before the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 19 years before the Good Friday Agreement and 28 years before the Reverend Paisley gladly shook the hand of Bertie Ahern on the banks of the Boyne, Noel Casey set a ball rolling.
A pioneer on so many levels, Noel has achieved something that few teachers have ever achieved: genuine, lifelong friendships with many of his pupils. And by many, I mean dozens. And dozens.
Many, to this day, call up to Noel’s home in Carrickbeg to seek his counsel. His interest in people is as sincere as it is profound.
Those now on distant shores recall Noel’s contribution to their formative years with great affection, including Doctor Patrick Landy, a native of Carrick who now lives in Ontario, Canada.
“(Noel) had an unwavering belief in the ability of young people to become involved and get things done,” he wrote last week.
“He unselfishly spent hours of his own time guiding young pupils to decide on career paths, not only helping them but also furnishing them with a map outlining the peaks and valleys along the journey.”
I’m happy to state that I rank among those who were handed a map from Noel during my schooling at Mount Saint Nicholas.
A font of knowledge and wisdom, a man who can get things done and, crucially, a man who knows how to get the best out of those around him; Noel Casey is a true community champion.
And what a magnificent contribution he has made to both the town and diocese he happily calls home. Comhghairdeas, a chara.