South of the border
“It’s time to say goodbye to yesterday, this is where the cowboy rides away.” (George Strait)
Every village needs a character. Their antics splay bright colourings on life’s canvas. They’re becoming an endangered species. On Thursday morning gone another thespian of real life’s dais slipped away without fuss. Cowboy Jack Holian had long since attained legendary status. Fame and instant recognition rested easy on his shoulders. It was whilst a London exile he was christened ‘The Cowboy’. The ways of the old west as portrayed in the novels of Louis L’Amour or the ballads of Gene Autry and Roy Acuff captured his imagination.
He purchased the cowboy gear in a Chelsea haberdashery. He toured the clubs of London and a star was born. When he returned to his native Lackafinna, an idyllic settlement on the winding road between Cross and Cong he remained true to the moniker. He named his beautifully appointed home ‘Daffodil Ranch’. The fields of renowned Moytura where the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fir Bolg’s went head-to-head back in the day became his prairie lands.
In the 80s rural Ireland was awash with carnivals. The Culchie Festival was conceived and in 1989 The Cowboy appeared on the Late Late Show to promote the event. Jack became the original Culchie. Terry Wogan and the BBC came calling later and Jack was on international footing. Wogan even expressed his envy of The Cowboy’s tranquil lifestyle.
He held court in O’Malley’s Bar or Brendan O’Mahony’s hostelry in Cross or at Danaher’s or Lydon’s Lodge in Cong at other times. He regaled all gatherings with yarns as only he could spin. He was economical with the truth if the tale needed enhancing. He had an eye for the ladies betimes too but don’t fault him on that score. Let he who is without sin and all the rest. He was in and out of love and in between but his beloved Rita was with him at the final showdown scene.
When Gerry Reynolds and his RTÉ entourage came west to produce a television series titled The Local Eye, a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of local newspapers this parish was in their focus. The Cowboy featured prominently in one memorable episode. And just before the final credits rolled The Cowboy’s candour and public atonement for his wayward ways caught everyone off guard. The programme has been repeated with the regularity of The Angelus. “I wish to God I’d negotiated royalties with them”, he quipped later.
He was a master stonemason. In his gifted hand he’d chisel a jagged rock into a perfect cornerstone. Should the road ever lead you out the way break your journey and cast an eye on the stone marvel he erected in honouring his late father. Cowboy regarded it as his finest work. It’s a masterpiece of human craftsmanship. No challenge was too big. Singlehandedly he constructed a manmade road linking The Derries and Gortacurra.
His detailed stone builds take pride of place in umpteen homes around the region. The Cowboy was to masonry as Liam Clancy was to singing, Con Houlihan to writing or Ciaran McDonald to football.
He was a devoted Neale and Mayo supporter. Time expired on his wish to see Mayo win Sam. He got immense satisfaction and celebrated with unbridled joy when The Neale won their first historic County Junior title. The Hall of Fame accolade they presented him holds pride of place in Daffodil Ranch. He observed tradition too. Despite the modern designing’s Cowboy only wore the Genfitt Mayo jersey sponsored by Larry McEllin. “Larry’s Shirt” as it’s named up this quarter.
He was The Cowboy to the end. He lay in stately repose in Daffodil Ranch attired in western garb. He’d not be seen dead in anything else. His wandering spirit has crossed The Big Valley to The Little House on the Prairie. But around Cross, Cong and Moytura’s grassy plains he’ll live long in the memory.
The legacy of Cowboy Jack Holian is forever set in stone.
South of the border