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Remembering Joanie

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by John Kelly

As his mother's 19th anniversary nears on 11th November John Kelly recalls happy times .

The happiest moment of my life? Well, it had to be that glorious summer in Sarsfield Park . . . just shortly after the accident.

Perhaps a mishap would be a better way to describe the day my best friend, Gerry Byrne, saved my life, pulling a frightened teenage boy away from a falling rock at the back of the Lucan Health Centre - known locally as the Dispensary - which was heading perilously close to my head.

On our way home from playing in a field at the rear of Carroll's Butchers that evening, I had accidently pulled away a large stone as we scaled the ten-foot wall that divided it from the medical supplies and dental treatment building.

To this day, I still thank God - as well as my fellow West Ham United fan - that the mighty boulder had only hit me on my right leg, digging out a huge chunk of flesh just below the knee.

Not that I had noticed anything at first as the adrenaline and shock had thrown a protective blanket over me, but as I pulled my trousers up to reveal a white sock covered in blood, I knew I was in deep trouble. Seconds later, the look of horror on our two young faces told the real story and the full extent of the damage. The gaping hole reminded me of a volcanic crater, with sinews and blood running down my leg like molten lava from an active eruption.

Still, it didn't stop me from jumping to my feet and legging it home to the safety of the house and into the reassuring warmth of my mumís arms, with a trail of blood on the footpaths that would have done justice to a wounded animal on the Serengeti plains.

Dad was in work at the time so it was left to Mrs Cullen, a kind neighbour who lived at the top of our council estate, to drive us to Dr Steevens' Hospital, where I was stitched back together without any anesthetic.

Mum would later joke that the whole of Lucan could hear my screams as two burly nurses grappled to keep me still while a doctor dragged, for what seemed an eternity, a huge needle and thread through the wound. And then a few hours later, after a couple of tetanus injections, I was back home feeling a wee bit sorry for myself. And how, you may be wondering, could I possibly regard this traumatic event as one of the happiest moments in my life? The injury had the added complication of damaging some of the nerve tissues in the top of my calf muscle and the doctor's orders were explicit . . . Master Kelly was to stay off his feet for at least eight weeks. Now I was to be the centre of attention in our closely-knit family of six but much more importantly, it was to bring me under the constant scrutiny of my mum for two months. Like most of the women in the estate in those days, she was like an old mother hen who protected her young with a warm heart and a gentle soul. Everything she did, she did for the family.

That summer, mum nursed me through some difficult times. She wiped away my tears and was always first with the big hugs. But mostly she would just sit there for hours in the front garden in a beautiful floral dress, holding my hand and removing any doubts or fears as I sat in a small brown wicker chair, unable to join in a kickabout with my friends or a game of Bulldog-One-Two-Three.

Other times she would read me a book like Treasure Island while the other local kids listened on transfixed, next to my three lovely sisters. A unique bond was forged during those memorable months and without hardly a word being said, a special love between a mother and son was taken to a whole new level that summer.