The cobbler who came from nowhere

County View

County View
John Healy

There are many tales told of individuals who change their names, change their identities, and live out their lives under an assumed persona. And there are many stories told of mendicant loners who live out lives of abject poverty, depending on the kindness of strangers, only for it to be discovered that they were wealthier than friends or neighbours thought possible.
It was in 1920, that year of civil turmoil and unrest as the War of Independence raged, that the man known as Martin Keane quietly slipped into Newport and took up residence in Medlicott Street. Nobody knew exactly from where he had come, or what his background was, but then in the febrile atmosphere of the time, people came and went and not too many questions were asked. By the time normal life had resumed, the stranger had managed to absorb himself into the community without causing any major ripples.
Keane was a man happy to live a frugal life. Not apparently over blessed with the world’s goods, the kindly neighbours saw to it that he was not left in destitution. Food and fuel and clothing came his way, and he spent his days happy with his lot and content with what little he earned, added to what the neighbours were pleased to share with him.
And so it went on for 32 years, the cobbler Martin Keane as happy as the day was long, but never going into much detail of his background or his origins. And then, on an April morning in 1952, Jim Mulloy, who worked in Kilroy’s foundry, remembered that he had not seen the cobbler for a couple of days, and went to investigate. He found the old man’s door ajar, with the key in the lock, and underneath the kitchen table where he carried out his shoemaking repairs, the occupant lay dead.
The Gardaí and the local doctor were summoned, the latter concluding that death was due to natural causes, meaning that an inquest was not deemed necessary, but that he had been dead for some days. A thorough search of the house followed in order to trace any clue as to who Keane’s next of kin might be. The first surprise of the search was the discovery of two large leather purses, bulging with money, in the clothing of the deceased. The poor old mendicant had not been so poor, after all.
But a greater surprise was the discovery of a passport which revealed that the holder was one Bronislov Gorodetzk, a native of Lithuania. For the first time, the real identity of the gentle cobbler was disclosed.
No other clue as to family or kin was found, but some neighbours recalled that several years earlier, a daughter had come to the town to visit him and had stayed at Devine’s Hotel on Main Street. A check of the visitor’s book at the hotel revealed the lady’s name, and her address in Edinburgh.
Newport Gardaí contacted the Edinburgh police to discover that, according to civic records, ‘Keane’ had a wife, now aged 74, who had married another Lithuanian six years earlier. There followed an intensive search to establish her whereabouts, but she was finally located and, an hour before the funeral was due to take place, she gave permission to the Gardaí for his burial in Ireland.
And so Bronislov Gorodetzk, of the Greek Orthodox faith, was laid to rest in Kilbride cemetery, amidst the deceased neighbours and friends who all their lives had known him as Martin Keane.