Thursday, March 22, 2018

The King of Greenhills

The old man sat by the fire burning on the ground. He watched the smoke rise across the stones of the roof, and make its way out through the opening to the sky. The smell from the burning logs filled his nostrils and he coughed softly as the smoke caught in his throat. The wind rising outside pushed it momentarily back in and his eyes smarted. As a draught ran up his back, he shivered and thought of the fast-approaching winter.

A man sitting in his cave a million years ago? No, an old man living today in the ruins of what was once the home of the Bishop of Kildare. Jack Gorman has lived in a corner of the old ruined castle in Greenhills for the last 25 years. The smoke from some 9,000 fires has blackened the stones of the room to an almost tarry texture. Describing his home as a ruin is perhaps a bit grand, because it is more of a hole in the wall. There are no doors or windows, just an opening into a darkness that your eyes take a bit of getting used to. When you can see in the gloom, the first thing that strikes you is the orderliness of what little material wealth that Jack Gorman does have. A niche for a tobacco tin; a shelf for a frying pan; and stones carefully laid on the lids of two buckets of water, so they won't be knocked over by the seven cats that share the ruin.

Most people would express shock and pity that a man in his seventies lives in such circumstances, within just half an hour's walk from Kilcullen. Many would say that he must be rescued from the hovel that he lives in, and be placed where he could be taken care of. But Jack Gorman can take care of himself, and he has a definite independence, not only of people, but of many of the trappings of civilisation that most of us take for granted, and indeed regard as essential to living. He doesn't need television, "... if there's something that I want to see, I can watch it in the pub in the town ...". He doesn't want to be put in an old peoples' home, "... I couldn't live in an institution, where I had to be in on time, and couldn't smoke my pipe in case it made the place smelly ..." and he resists any attempt to put him in one, "... Dr M tried to get me to go to Athy, saying I wouldn't live much longer in this smoke, but that was ten years ago, and many that went in then are dead now ... when these legs of mine can't carry me any more and I can't look after myself, then maybe I'll go in ...". He doesn't envy anyone better off than him, "... when Ari Onassis died, his family just squabbled about his money, and anyway it didn't stop him from dying ...".

People may laugh at Jack Gorman, and think him crazy to live where he does, but he's nobody's fool. He keeps in touch with what's happening in the world by listening to an old transistor radio that somebody gave him, and can hold his own in any conversation about what's happening. An old man, not too proud to accept the help that he gets from organisations and individuals, but with the principle to be his own man, regardless of how he may be looked on by others. We must always respect the right of a man to be himself.