Schoolmate Bob

In memory of Robert Welch

Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 13:00

There was never any need to tell this to Bob. He had been doing it before the rest of had woken up. It may have been in Inter Cert, or more likely in Fifth Year, when he returned an essay entitled “Thus Spake Zara MotorCar”. We were gobsmacked, or even struck dumb. We hadn’t the least clue what it was about, as the teacher read it to us, and as he was equally smitten by wonder.

We knew that Bob read widely and wildly. He rattled on about Jazz when we didn’t know what it was; he spoke about classical music when we knew it was something that was only listened to in Montenotte. Charlie Parker is still a mystery to me, but the anarchy of Tchaicovsky still shudders my members. But books were something else.

We were lucky in having those teachers who thought that education was not just about exams. So we could talk about writers we had read under blankets by the light of torches in the darkness of rooms. I remember hearing about DH Lawrence’s verse behind a boiler in the corner of a yard where most of the literary critics were smoking. Bob declaimed Walt Whitman in the same place, and mouths were a-gawp.

I remember nights out beyond the Snotty Bridge (so-called because of the stalactites which dripped from its roof) where he argued about Dostoievski with his good friend Tom Murphy (and about whom he has written most eloquently in his memoir Japhy Ryder ar Shleasaibh na Mangartan) while the rest of us gawped on.

Our mutual colleague through these years, Pat Butler, put it simply in saying he was away ahead of us; or as Seán Ó Ríordáin said about Corkery, “do mhúin sé an tslí”.

His scholarship will stand, but his friendship resonates.

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