ONWARDS AND UPWARDS Dick Bourke, pictured outside his home in Knockranny beside his recognisable Dazzle Discs van, has being dealing with ill-health during the Covid-19 pandemic but is determined to soldier on. Pic: Conor McKeown
DJ Dick Bourke suffered the loss of his son to suicide and has been dogged by serious health issues, but he refuses to let life get him down
When a leading consultant in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin tells you it’s time to give up the drink, you sit up and take notice, especially when you never drank in your life.
That’s the message well-known Westport DJ and music promotor Dick Bourke got in 2003, when his pancreas became inflamed leaving him in excruciating pain. Disease of the pancreas is normally associated with alcohol abuse, so when teetotal Dick was told to give up the drink it left him and St Vincent’s finest somewhat confused.
“He [consultant, Dr Donal Maguire] was there, and a couple of other surgeons around him, when I said I never drank a day in my life. They all started laughing. He thought I was [lying] but my wife said ‘No, he has never drank or smoked’. He just couldn’t believe it,” Dick recalled.
A further investigation proved that Dick was not a secret alcoholic. A gallstone had blocked the bile duct to the pancreas, causing it go gangrenous.
Dick had the rotten parts of his pancreas removed ‘like a sod of turf’. That simple gallstone has resulted in serious health complications that affect him to this day.
He has been left with a pancreas that operates at 8 percent capacity. He became a diabetic overnight. On Christmas morning in 2018, his kidneys collapsed, and he must now endure dialysis three days a week in Castlebar.
He has been placed on the transplant list for a new pancreas and kidney, but all transplants have been suspended due to the Covid pandemic.
Four toes on his left foot have been removed, along with nine of his teeth, to avoid the risk of infection, and he has to get three injections annually to keep the sight in his eyes.
Last year, his lungs became infected resulting in a stint in hospital last February. Recently, he has had two stents inserted in his heart.
If he did not have enough to deal with, his wife Mags was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018.
Talking to Shane
To most people that would be enough. They would give up, lie in a darkened room and lament the hand they were dealt in life. But Dick refuses to let his sickness hold him back and is adamant he will remain positive for the future.
“I don’t find this too bad. I get up in the morning and I don’t think of the negatives at all. You have to keep plodding along. It will work out in the long run. I don’t think negative… okay there is the odd time, but that is very rare.
“I am not feeling sorry for myself under any circumstances. My wife, Mags, got breast cancer in 2018 aged 55, and between breast cancer and losing a son, these things [his own physical ailments] are only minor to me,” he said.
The son Dick refers to is Shane, who tragically died in December 2013 after committing suicide on the grounds of Rice College in Westport. Before his death, Shane had confided to his parents that he had been abused by a person who worked for Dick in the music business. The abuser, who Dick said they trusted, would inject Shane with a horse tranquilliser when Shane was aged only eleven or 12 before abusing him. He has since been dealt with by the courts.
While the pain is still raw for Dick, he explains that he enjoys talking about Shane. It is a coping mechanism for him to deal with the pain.
“I need to talk about Shane … I do often meet his friends and they often talk about him. I go to the grave a lot and have a chat with him. Every morning when I get up in the morning I head down to his room and have a chat with him and then head off again. It is hard to believe, and then you go to the grave and realise it is true. You have all sorts of emotions.”
Shane was 19 when he told his parents of what happened to him. Although Shane was upset, Dick said there was no indication he would take his own life.
“When he told us, we thought ‘God that’s great’ because he had it out of his system now and it’s not inside him.”
After Shane revealed he was abused, the family got in contact with local priest, Fr Charlie McDonnell. Dick has nothing but praise for how Fr Charlie counselled Shane.
“He absolutely loved Fr Charlie because he could speak to him in normal language. I have to say that Fr Charlie was a great inspiration to that young lad. He was brilliant. I remember the first meeting he had with Fr Charlie, and he said ‘Dad, God he is something else’. He enjoyed his company so much. Fr Charlie has a great way about him.”
It was Fr Charlie who had the unenviable task of calling to the family home in Knockranny to tell both Dick and Mags of Shane’s death.
“My phone rang and Fr Charlie said Dick come down and open the door. I said to my wife its Shane. I just got that feeling.
“It has been tough, but I have no problems talking about it. I feel better talking about it. Other people don’t like to talk, but I do. We always talk to him and have the craic. It hasn’t been a nice road, but what can you do?”
Few people in the music business in the west of Ireland have not come across Dick. He has been either DJing or promoting bands since the mid ’70s. His late father, Larry, was the caretaker in the Starlight Ballroom on the Castlebar Road, and as a young teenager, Dick would open up the hall for the stars of the showband era. He crossed paths with the likes of Joe Dolan and Big Tom and he was hooked on the music business.
“DJing was starting, and I was only 13 or 14 when bought my first record player. I started doing it and got bigger and bigger and that is how that happened.”
In the mid-’80s, he set up Dazzle Disco with Ronnie Ring and Ger Lenehan from Westport. They were out on the road five to six nights a week DJing at discos in halls all around west Mayo and beyond.
“It was crazy then. You’d be wrecked after it, but it wasn’t hard because I loved doing it.”
As well as organising discos, Dick was also involved promoting bands, and he worked for Louis Walsh for up a few years, organising gigs for the likes of the Carter Twins in the west of Ireland. He also organised the highly successful Westport Musical Festival, which he hopes to revise as a celebration when the coronavirus pandemic passes and the world gets back to normal.
Dick will be 60 later this month. Despite his health issues he refuses to believe his music days are behind him. He is confident he will reach full health again.
In the meantime, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he takes Corfuff’s bus to Mayo University Hospital at seven in the morning to begin a gruelling a four-hour dialysis treatment. In a layman’s terms, the procedure involves taking the blood from his body, cleaning it and returning it back.
“It knocks hell out of you. The last few weeks I have been weak, somedays good but somedays very bad. But like everything you get used to it.”
Dick knows that if he contracts Covid-19 he could be in ‘dire straits’ given his complications, but throughout the pandemic he has travelled to and from the hospital without any fear.
“I have to say the nurses are top class. No Covid ever got into that unit. They are brilliant.”
Despite his positive outlook and refusal to let things get him down, setbacks along the way have challenged him. These include the loss of the four toes in his left foot as a result of his diabetes. No matter how positive you are, Dick admits, it not a nice thing to happen.
“I woke up the morning after the operation and doctor came in and took the bandages off. My God when I looked at it and all I had was the big toe and the blood...” he recalled with disgust.
“The doctor took out a short pin and said you are going to be sore here. I said what are you going to do and he said ‘I have to feel for the bone’. He stuck in the pin – and it was some pain. There was blood all over the place, but they said it was a good thing.
“Today when I go for the shower I look down and think my God. Other days I wouldn’t think and come downstairs into the kitchen without socks on, and the kids are there and Mags even can’t look at it. To see someone without four toes on their left foot does look terrible, but it’s not sore,” he said adding that doctors have mentioned the prospect of giving him prosthetic toes.
In order to prepare for the kidney and pancreas transplant, Dick has had to have teeth removed. He is now left with just his front teeth – which he was told he was lucky to keep.
“I’ve learned to chew with the front ones. I had a steak the other evening and it was lovely,” he laughed proving he can still enjoy the good things in life.
Covid has resulted in all transplants being postponed, but again Dick refuses to let that get him down. He is confident that once Covid passes, he will get the call.
“I stay positive all the time that I will get it. Why I say that I don’t know, but I feel I’ll get it. I never think about the bad, I think that someday I will be in the back of a car heading to Dublin.”
The only downside to getting the call, he says, is that it will be the result of a tragedy, when the donor’s family like his is grieving the loss of a loved one.
“That is not a nice thought… if only they could make plastic ones.
“I have read up on it and some people who have a family member who is a donor don’t want to meet the person who got his organs and some people do.
“That is something I will have to deal with down the road. That is not the nicest feeling to think you have to wait for someone to die to get their organs. But maybe the way to look at it is that this guy is helping me out. But yes sometimes when I think of it I say, ‘Oh God’.”
Until he gets that call Dick says he will continue to enjoy life with his wife, Mags, who was given the all clear after her own cancer battle, and their children, Elisha, Richard and Aaron, and their grandchildren Eilidh and Aflie who currently live in Aberdeen with Elisha.
“There are a few more years left in me yet. If I get ten or more years doing the music and promoting I will be a happy man. The main thing is to keep the head up, keep fighting and to hell with negativity.
“I got an awful rattle since 2003, and it has been a long road.
It is coming to an end.”