The recent sad passing of a true Clonmel man, Billy Devine, on his 85th birthday, was sadly received by many throughout the town and far beyond. His death on 20th February at South Tipperary General Hospital, after a lengthy illness, leaves a heartbroken family and a world of wonderful friends.
Son of John and Mary Devine, Billy grew up at 7 Cross Street, Clonmel, in a family of five boys and five girls. Now, after Billy’s death, only his sister Frances Gardiner (Elm Park) remains.
His loving wife Kitty (Hughes) predeceased him in 1982, a loss, his family feel, Billy never really got over. Things were never the same without her but he immersed himself fully in the lives of his three children and grandchildren, and in the pursuit of his hobbies and interests to keep himself forever active and busy.
Billy’s first job after his formal education was as a linesman with the ESB. However it was in Chappies (later Clonmel Foods) that Billy would spend most of his working life. Here he met many friends he kept for life including Gerry Keane and Chris O’Flaherty. From start to finish, under a few changes in management, Billy spent 47 years working at the ‘top of Irishtown’. For all of those years, in all weathers, twice a day he would cycle up and down the length of the town on his bike. He never bothered with a car, even when he was in a position to purchase one, as he felt more at ease coming and going, and meeting people easily, while cycling.
Outside of work, and he worked very hard in rearing a great family in tough times, Billy had many hobbies and between one thing and another he never seemed to stop.
Gardening was a passion, and if it could be grown Billy Devine had the greenfingers to grow it. The front garden at his home in 74 Griffith Avenue was immaculately kept and every season had its features, especially summer time when the place was a picture of colour. People passing by often stopped Billy at his work to pass on their compliments.
The back garden and a special plot he had in Jock’s Field (Carrolls) were for vegetable growing. His wife Kitty never had to buy a vegetable in their married life as Billy always provided the best of produce for the family table.
And Billy was so well-known and competent at gardening that he could make it into a little earner too. Over many years after retirement from Clonmel Foods he helped his great friend, Dan Casey, with the landscaping of gardens, and did a lot of work in the Willow Park area of Clonmel in particular.
However it was not just vegetables he provided either because at certain times during the year pheasants and rabbits found their way to Billy’s shed, as he was a great man with a gun and enjoyed nothing better than a day’s shooting.
At the bottom of the garden in Griffith Avenue was Billy’s racing pigeon loft. Over a lifetime he was to get immense pleasure from his hobby and won many cups and trophies along the way. He was a member of the Munster Federation for many years and raced pigeons from all four corners of Ireland and beyond to England and Scotland too. Some of these marathon pigeon races could take two and three days and always Billy would sit patiently in his prized back garden, waiting for the feathered friends to return. Getting the pigeons back in the loft and clocked was vitally important in an event when seconds were precious. Billy was never found wanting.
Sport was to play a huge part in his life also and he passed this on to his three children, Leonard, Lorraine and Bradley, who were all proficient in different codes, and still are. Handball, boxing, pitch and putt and especially billiards were his favourites but he professed to loving all games.
As a young man he played a lot of handball, especially at the old handball alley at the back of St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Irishtown. He also boxed out of the Boys Club in Sarsfield Street and won many All-Ireland juvenile titles in the ring. The love of boxing carried on to his son Leonard, and even today, to his great grandson, young Lee Kelly. Billy loved following Lee’s development as a boxer, winning county and Munster titles in the process. Sadly Billy wasn’t around to see Lee win his All-Ireland title recently but somehow the family felt he was in the corner all the way.
Billiards was without doubt his favourite and there were few, if any, around this neck of the woods who could match Billy Devine over the green baize. He accredited all his skill with a cue to the legendary Tommy O’Brien of RTE fame (and a former editor of The Nationalist) who taught him everything he knew about billiards at the Denis Lacy Club on The Mall. He would also play billiards at St. Mary’s Hall in Irishtown when such a sporting facility existed.
In a strange way, years later, billiards was to provide Billy with one of his lifetime’s proudest moments. In 1978, when RTE were making a documentary on the remarkable and interesting life of the aforementioned Clonmelman Tommy O’Brien, Billy was sent for. The oft-time All-Ireland champion O’Brien, due to failing eyesight, was unable to do the “shots” necessary for the billiards segment of the film, and he would have none other than Billy Devine stand in. It was the ultimate compliment from teacher to pupil, recognising and trusting in the other, a brilliance and indeed a friendship. It was something Billy would always treasure.
The filming was done at the gentleman’s enclave that is the Donoughmore Club in Nelson Street and after RTE had returned to Montrose Billy was invited to become an honorary life member of the club and to play anytime he wanted. He availed of the gesture and brought along great friends Sonny Poyntz and Eddie Owens on occasions for some fiercely-contested yet always friendly frames. He felt comfortably at home here and said so.
Some months later a cheque arrived from RTE, and son Leonard jokes about it now. For his starring role Billy was paid £25 which back in the late 70s was a tidy sum. He never wanted to take payment, as he felt he was doing a friend a favour and wanted to return the cheque. His wife Kitty was having none of it and the cheque became hers. A solution had been found and everyone was happy once again.
Years later when Tommy O’Brien died he left his favourite billiards cue to Billy as if to cement a great friendship. It gave Billy and his family a great sense of satisfaction to be remembered thus.
After the billiards Billy gravitated towards pitch and putt. His eldest son Leonard had taken up the sport at Hillview and soon Billy, the interested parent he always was, found himself picking up the wedge and putter too. And he was to excel here also winning many club competitions over the years, including a handful of hard-to-win scratch cups. He went on to represent his county on many occasions too. Indeed it is widely acknowledged that Billy Devine was one of the greatest pitch and putt players to come out of Hillview Sports Club.
Hillview became almost a second home for him and he made great friends there including Davy Fenlon, Johnny and Dominic Kavanagh and Kevin Condon, all of whom are sadly deceased. Up above now they won’t be short for an interesting fourball at any stage.
However it wasn’t only in Hillview that Billy was to make friends. Travelling all over Ireland, north and south, with Leonard and the other Hillview and county players, Billy was well received everywhere as a great pitch and putt man, a true gentleman, on and off the course.
Billy was also regarded as good company always and a great man to have at a social occasion. He loved music and he loved to sing; John McCormack was a favourite. At family events his party pieces were “Juanita” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen”, indeed the latter was poignantly sang at his funeral mass. He passed on this singing ability to daughter Lorraine who was talented from a young age with a great voice.
As the years moved on Billy began to slow down as his health began to fail. His youngest son Bradley lovingly cared for him over many years, keeping him at home always, right up to the time of his sad passing at South Tipperary General Hospital. The family acknowledge and truly appreciate the tremendous attention and care Billy received from all staff while in hospital at this sad time.
Finally the family also recognise the great kindness shown to Billy by all in his favourite pub, Kate Ryan’s, including Johnny and Marian O’Flaherty (proprietors), and especially Noeleen Johnson. It was only fitting then they should return here after his funeral mass. Family and friends combined to give Billy the send-off he would have wished for and deserved, amongst good musicians and singers including Noel O’Neill, John Russell and Ricky Ryan. Billy would have loved nothing better and it was a fitting send-off to a life lived to the full.
May he rest in peace.
Billy’s Month’s Mind Mass will be celebrated in Ss Peter and Paul’s Church, Clonmel on this Saturday evening, 12th May, at 7.30.