Timing is everything - in life, in politics and in sport. Beleagured Taoiseach Brian Cowen found that to be true last weekend when he travelled to Killeigh for the official unveiling of a statue to legendary greyhound Mick The Miller.
By Vivienne Clarke
The Taoiseach's timing was impeccable. Thirty minutes fashionably late, he received a rapturous welcome from a large gathering.
On a weekend when he was involved in some life-changing decisions it must have been heartening for the Taoiseach to be "preaching to the converted". Master of Ceremonies, Damien White, Principal of Killeigh National School and Dick O'Sullivan, Chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board were both fullsome in their praise of the Taoiseach who is a life-long greyhound fan.
And it was Brian Cowen the greyhound fan who arrived in Killeigh on Saturday afternoon, trailed by a posse of journalists all wanting to know if he would be running again. Politely the Taoiseach explained that he had to discuss the matter with "the most important person" - his wife Mary.
From 2.30pm onwards people had been gathering on the picturesque Green in the middle of Killeigh village. Children ran around, piper Mick Foy practised in the distance and a lone greyhound behaved beautifully while he was photographed, petted and walked. No, he wasn't a descendant of Mick The Miller. He was rescued from the pound, but he lived locally so his owner brought him along to enjoy the ceremony. A little boy wandered around clutching a signed photograph of the Taoiseach, not in the least put out that the Taoiseach had scrawled his signature across his own face which was now barely visible.
Local councillors, of all political persuasions also attended as this was a ceremony of great significance to the people of Killeigh and greyhound enthusiasts from all over the country. Mick The Miller was the first superstar of greyhound racing. As speaker after speaker described him - he was the Arkle of his day. he is regarded as 'The Dog Who Made Greyhound Racing.'
Mick the Miller was bred by Killeigh parish curate Fr Martin Brophy at Millbrook, Killeigh in June 1926. He was small and frail as a pup, but for some reason Michael Greene insisted that he was the pup to be kept and trained. So Michael hand-reared, trained and walked him all around Killeigh between 1926 and 1929. Another man who played a significant role in Mick The Miller's upbringing was Mick Flanagan. Local children were also a big influence and played a vital part in his early training as they were often called upon by Michael Greene to help run and walk the dog in the fields and bogs around the village.
Local man Brendan Berry became interested in the subject of Mick The Miller over 20 years ago and felt that the "genuine Irish sporting legend" should have a fitting memorial. A committee was formed, sponsors were approached, and with the help and support of the Irish Greyhound Board funds were raised and it was decided to erect a statue to Mick The Miller.
Sculptor Elizabeth O'Kane was the unanimous choice of the committee both for the quality of her previous work and because of her family's background in greyhounds. Her father Des had a dog that won the English Derby in 1948.
As Master of Ceremonies Damien White pointed out the project became a labour of love for the whole community from the fund-raising committee to Paddy Guilfoyle who built the stone plinth on which the bronze statue rests from stones from Mick the Miller's birthplace.
Local school children also carried out projects on Mick The Miller which were proudly displayed on the day and some enterprising boys also designed and printed T shirts for the day saying Mick the Miller Killeigh-born Thriller.
Dick O'Sullivan, Chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board said that as a Kerryman he was always careful in Offaly. He described Saturday afternoon's event as the most pleasant ceremony he had attended in his five year period in office.
"Greyhond racing today is popular because of Mick The Miller. He was a superstar of this time. Greyhound racing has the support of the ordinary people and events like this bind communities together."
Mr O'Sullivan also thanked the Taoiseach for his ongoing support of the greyhound industry. "Every decent Irish person cringes at the treatment given to the Taoiseach over the last 12 months. The silent majority say little, but they think a lot. If we don't respect our leaders, we don't respect ourselves."
Sculptor Elizabeth O'Kane joked that her studio looked like a shrine to Mick the Miller and explained that she had decided to sculpt him "standing tall and proud and a little larger than life."
Damien White thanked all the local politicians for attending. "I know you are all very busy," he said before going on to introduce the Taoiseach by saying there was "no one braver than the man behind me."
The Taoiseach appeared to be in fine form and thanked Dick O'Sullivan for his kind words before paying tribute to him and joking that they didn't have a mutual admiration society. He said that Killeigh was famous for many things. He had hurled against them on a number of occasions. "They wear the Kilkenny colours, you'd have to be up early to beat them."
He went on to say that there had always been dogs in his home while growing up. The greyhound was the poorman's horse and there was a wonderful camarderie among the greyhound fraternity. He concluded by thanking everyone for their support and said that he didn't mind what was said about him. "We won't lose our sense of humour," he promised.
The ceremonies concluded then with the unveiling of the beautiful statue and a rendition of Amhrn na bhFiann by Mick Foy. Teas and coffees and refreshments were then served in Langton's and Doyle's.