A War of Words: Houlihan and Johnnie, the man who answered Connie

In the early 1980s, Johnnie Roche, Chairman of Castleisland District Heritage, appeared in the Tops of the Town entertainment competition in Castleisland.  As far as Johnnie can recall, he was reciting a monologue, perhaps one of his favourites from the Harry Brogan show, such as The Man at the Back of the Hall.[1]


To the great amusement of the audience, Johnnie was introduced by Moss Teahan, the MC, as follows: ‘Now we’ll give you Johnnie, the man who answered Connie’ – alluding to a letter that had been published in a local newspaper about seven years earlier.


Memories: The late Moss Teahan (above right, seated) pictured with John Roche and Tomo Burke circa 1979/1980.  On the left, Sheila Roche (left) with Margaret Burke and the late Eilish McGaley


The letter, which was published in 1975 under the headline, ‘Farmer replies to Con Houlihan,’ has been unearthed.  It addressed farm politics, and Johnnie, as representative of various farming organisations, was well placed to comment.[2]


Nonetheless, it was a harsh attack on the local journalist who Johnnie referred to as ‘a biased Jack-of-all-trades writer’ who had a ‘lack of love’ for the farming community.  Con’s articles – or ‘ramblings’ – as Johnnie put it, did not support farmers’ loyalty to their leaders and Johnnie considered Con’s opinions were often an affront to the farming community.


Con’s knowledge of farming was ‘an occasional glance over the hedge as he strolls for his morning paper’:


His daily stroll only takes him through dairying land, and in the more advanced silage making area of the country, further limits his knowledge of the real misery that is the lot of many thousands of farmers who are not cushioned by the fairly good price being received for milk[3].


Con had no conception, raged Johnnie, of borrowing money and pumping it into cattle which lost value weekly, no conception of what it felt like to be unable to borrow anymore to keep going.  ‘People like Con Houlihan and politicians,’ said Johnnie, ‘should realise that the farmers’ memories are longer than many would think.’


Johnnie also referred to the Irish Sugar Company:


Con Houlihan pretends to be concerned for the future of the Sugar Co and its employees.  We all are.  He should also be concerned about the future of the meat factories in a year’s time, when the starving yearlings of the moment will not be beef at the normal beef age.


Johnnie concluded his letter with a compliment, and some strong advice:


Con, my friend, you are no doubt a highly intellectual fellow, an expert on mathematics and some other subjects I’m sure, but certainly no expert on farming problems.  So please, stick to subjects that you know something about.  Stop being a Jack of all Trades, and master of none.


Con Houlihan Papers


In a strange twist of fate, a collection of the papers of the late Con Houlihan has been deposited in the archive of Castleisland District Heritage.  The material has yet to be catalogued, but it may be that Johnnie’s letter forms part of the contents.


Johnnie Roche, an octogenarian, recalls the time his letter appeared in the press almost fifty years ago, and the reaction from people, and Con, in Castleisland:


This is a blast from the past, and a humorous reminder of another life in another era.  My vivid memory of the day that letter appeared in The Kerryman is the reaction of the locals who thought that Con and I would become sworn enemies.  Nothing would be further from the truth, as I never got a bigger salute from Con than that day as I passed him while driving my milk truck up town.  In fact, I think our friendship was stronger, and Con welcomed the controversy, resulting in much more anticipation of his column the next week.


We met regularly down the years, at greyhound meetings in Shelbourne Park and Croke Park.  My wife Sheila and I spent a very pleasant afternoon with Harriet and Con at the world cross-country championship in Limerick racecourse as we watched John Tracy win gold.  I was one of the Dairy Board reps who were sponsoring the event.


We had a laugh outside the church before Con’s funeral mass in Dublin as Bernard Cronin quoted verbatim from the said letter.  God grant you eternal rest Con.  You helped greatly to put Castle Island (as you called it) on the bigger stage.  Let’s resolve to continue and enhance that reputation, and entice much more of the diaspora to recognise and visit Castleisland.


[1] Words available at this link http://www.odonohoearchive.com/castleisland-theatricals-from-harry-brogans-party-pieces/

[2] See Born for Hardship (2019) memoir of Johnnie Roche, which discusses his agricultural background.

[3] Kerryman, 24 January 1975.