‘I don’t understand all the moaning about Seamus Heaney. His poetry didn’t rhyme’

 Eamon Hayes: ‘I stayed in Portumna because I could see opportunities opening up.’ Photograph: David Sleator

Eamon Hayes: ‘I stayed in Portumna because I could see opportunities opening up.’ Photograph: David Sleator

 

In conversation with Rosita Boland: Eamon Hayes, 91, is a retired chemist who lives in Portumna, Co Galway, in the house where he was born


My father was a chemist from Dublin who started working down here in Portumna and set up his own place. He married a local teacher, and they brought up eight of us. I was born in the house over the shop in the middle of the town, and I still live here, upstairs over the shop. There are a rake of stairs, but they don’t bother me one bit. I don’t mind at all going up and down the stairs.

My mother had been a teacher, and she wanted us all to be educated. She thought it was very important. We were all sent away to boarding school, because there were so few secondary schools around at the time. I went to the Marist school in Dundalk, St Mary’s. I was the second-eldest, and I did my apprenticeship in Dublin. When I got qualified my parents said to me that if I didn’t want to settle down in a one-horse town like Portumna I should consider myself free to become a travelling rep for a firm such as Glaxo. If you were a rep you were supplied with a car, which was a big thing in those days.

But I decided I’d join my father, because he was a grand man to work along with; he was easygoing.

So I stayed in Portumna because it was 1945, just after the war, and I could see opportunities opening up. All the medical supplies that had been coming from the US and England, instead of going to the troops, they were now available to the public. After four years of war that was a great breakthrough for us. I could see a great future for the pharmaceutical business.

I renovated the shop, and then I got married, to Kay, when I was 32. Kay was a nurse. She’d worked in Dr Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, and in Belfast, and in the US.

We had four children. I’m very proud of my children. They all have professions. I worked alongside my father until he retired, and I took over. My son married a chemist, and they keep the business going now.

One of the first things I did after getting married was to buy a sailing boat for £30, and I joined the Dromineer Yacht Club. We couldn’t afford that when we were children, because there were eight of us. Kay and myself and the children used to have picnics on the Shannon. We swam the whole summer, and the kids were brought up on the river. We fished as well. Kay was quite a good fly fisher, better than I was.

I helped set up the Portumna Players. I’m the sole remaining founder member. We used to run two plays every year, and when the amateur drama festival in Athlone started we won a lovely trophy doing a play called Paul Twining . That was probably one of the happiest days of my life.

Generally, I had fairly big parts in the plays. I had to give it up finally because the family was getting big, and the business was getting big too.

We had a dynamic parish priest here in those days. He was an exceptional man. He and a few others started the Portumna Development Company, in the late 1940s. It was a committee established with a view to making the most of our position on the Shannon as a tourist centre, for swimming and fishing and boating. It’s still going.

I have two radios. One is tuned to Lyric and the other to RTÉ Radio 1. I know I could change the settings, but I don’t want to be doing it every time, so I have two radios. I get music and jazz and that kind of thing on Lyric, and the news on RTÉ.

I love the old-timers playing jazz, and I love poetry. But it has to rhyme. I don’t understand all the moaning and groaning about the man who died there lately, Seamus Heaney. His poetry didn’t rhyme. I’d prefer Wordsworth or Shelley.

Most evenings I go out and have a jar with the local lads. I drink Guinness, or I’ll have a hot whiskey if it’s cold out. I do that about four times a week. It makes me happy, and it seems to make the lads happy too.

Luck plays a big part in life. Blessings from God, I call it. I’ve been very lucky in my life. If I was in any crisis I’d call on the Lord to help me, and he generally does. I’m a Catholic, and my faith is very important.

I go to Mass every Sunday, and unless the weather is cold I go every morning. I feel I have a lot to thank the Lord for, and the least I might do is to go to church.

Death possibly is the end, I think. I don’t ask any questions, though. I’m not one for probing. I just keep going to Mass and paying my respects to the Boss.

People dying and disappearing is all part of life. Friends. Peers. It doesn’t bother me too much. Maybe I’m hard-hearted.

My wife had Alzheimer’s disease, and when she got that I had to confer all my attention on her. It was very hard. When she died, 10 years ago, I didn’t cry for about a fortnight. And then I broke.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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