Recently I was returning from a holiday overseas and I picked up the Aer Lingus in-house magazine, Cara.
Thumbing through the pages I happened upon a feature with a picture of three people looking at a particular flower bed, writes Barrie Henriques.
One was obviously a gardener, complete with wellingtons, wheelbarrow and implements. “Jazus,” said I, “that’s Paddy Daly” my former colleague from Kilkenny radio days. I read the feature in which Paddy was lauded for his work at the Mount Juliet Estate.
You know how you would be when you are out of the country and you see a relevance to Ireland, or you meet someone from the Emerald Isle.
“I must do a feature on Daly sometime,” I noted. So here we are.
When you spend most of your working life, practically in a blue-chip location, then surely there must be a stirring story about times past. Paddy Daly is a tremendous raconteur, blessed with a superb memory. He has worked in the world famous Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown for over 40 years.
It must have been everything that an employee would yearn for. There must have been a sense of absolute job and satisfaction. How else could one linger so long? Paddy Daly did the time, and never a mini-moment did he entertain thoughts of leaving.
“Sure you would want to be stone daft to even consider it,” he smiled. “I didn’t linger too long in school. Times were tough, and we had a big family, so we all in our time had to put some weight on the drive shaft.”
Paddy well remembers the day in 1969 when he left home to take up his position in the Norelands Stud.
“I started on a Saturday in the Stud,” he told us. “My first few years were spent with horses. I loved horses and being in the stud farm was my greatest wish. Wales were hammering Ireland in rugby. It was raining. I remember my poor mother crying the day I left home to go to my first day’s employment.”
One envisages a mother standing beside the road, a dainty handkerchief dabbing her misty eyes, waving goodbye as the bus pulled away to a place where God knows what awaited. I am reminded of the Kerrygold advert on TV with the lad putting a sod of earth into a Jacobs biscuits tin box so his expected baby would trod on Irish soil first when he arrived in some foreign land. Hold on, Paddy, was born in Thomastown?
“I was, on the Station Road,” he informed when asked. Paddy actually lived on the job, so to speak, for 41 years, moving out to build his own house with his wife, Rose, in Thomastown three years ago. So you have retired then?
“Not at all. I’m far too young to retire,”, he smirked. “I’m still working there as the Head Gardener, and still love every second of it.”
Strange to say, but Paddy Daly, Thomastown born, would not know too many people in Thomastown because Mount Juliet was his home, the centre of his social activity and really the epi-centre of his univer
“I didn’t need for anything,” he said when he took up the story. “Everything I needed was in Mount Juliet. In particular when the Major (Victor McCalmont) and the family were still in residence. They were superb people, who cared about every person that lived and worked on their 1550 acre estate.
“They were on first name terms with every single person working there. It was a small community really, with many families living on the estate in very fine housing provided by the McCalmont family. We needed for nothing. We were self-sufficient, and there was no need to even go outside the perimeter of the estate.
“The social life among the population living there was tremendous, and times like Christmas were particularly memorable, particularly with the many parties being held in the great house,” he said.
Paddy took me through the lines of succession to the Mount Juliet Estates. Major Victor was the only son of Major Dermot McCalmont and Lady Helen Conyngham, a first cousin to the Mount Charles family of Slane Castle fame. When Lady Helen died prematurely, Major Dermot married again.
The marriage produced three sons - Major Victor’s step brothers. They are still alive. Major Dermot McCalmont died whilst visiting a son in Rhodesia, and his ashes were spread around the estate. Major Victor was living in Rathvindon Lodge (near the Arboretum Garden Centre), but on the death of his father, Major Dermot, he took over Mount Juliet. The step brothers, living on the estate re-located to estates in Limerick, after the succession of Major Victor.
The estate had originally belonged to the Earls of Carrick, who were part of the Butler, Wandsforde family tree. The Earls of Carrick are all buried in the private cemetery in Mount Juliet. Paddy remembered when his father worked in Norelands, and hunted with the McCalmont Hunt.
The men would hack (ride) a string of horses to the meeting point for the gentry, and wait until they returned after the hunt to hack all of the horses back to Norelands. No horse boxes in those days!
Some men would be used as beaters, while others would have to follow the ageing riders, guide their horses through easy gaps in ditches, or find shallow waters to ford streams and rivers. They would even have to hold them upright in the saddles if there was a danger they might fall off the horse.
A decision was made to build a state-of-the-art stud farm to accommodate a growing thoroughbred industry. Mount Juliet had established a universal reputation for the excellence of its equine operation. Ballylynch Stud was born.
Major Victor earned a reputation of excellence throughout the bloodstock industry, an industry still very much in its embryonic stages in Ireland. Sassafras and The Tetrarch were two giants of the turf
One remembered the marvellous Sassafras. One would hear the name Tetrarch, generally accepted as the best racehorse of the 20th Century, who was never defeated during his racing life. He was bred in Mount Juliet, and is buried (1935) in front of the main house.
Paddy spoke with great reverence about Major Victor McCalmont. Of course, his contribution to the bloodstock industry in Ireland and the UK was the stuff of legend.
“It would be fair to say that the McCalmont Stud farm was very much a leader in the field of thoroughbred racing,” Paddy felt. “The McCalmont progeny travelled the world, and even to this day, there are top class stallions standing at Ballylynch.
“The reputation established and well earned by the McCalmont stud farm is still right up there with the best there is,” said Paddy.
He and others attached to the thoroughbred section in Mount Juliet would have to take yearlings to the sales in Newmarket or Doncaster every year. They always travelled with the yearlings by road and sea, and it was not simple.
“It was an awful long way to Lambourne and Doncaster in those days,” he assured. “There were no motorways, other than the M1 from London to Birmingham. It was tough going.”
Paddy remembered mares in foal coming from places as far afield as Germany, Italy, even Australia. There were upwards of 150 mares in the stud farm at any given time. The same mares would return to their own places in foal, having been covered by the Mount Juliet stallion of choice, with a foal afoot.
It was big business, and lucrative to.
Their own band
Was he familiar with the Major, we wondcered?
“When I arrived, there could have been 150 people employed around the place,” Paddy recalled. “On the second day of your employment I can guarantee that the Major would know you by your first name. He was on first name terms with every one of his workers.
“Even on the day he was buried, a sod of grass from Gowran Park racecourse was placed upon his grave. That probably said all that there was to say about the Major. He was a truly remarkable, lovable Christian, who never wronged anyone.”
A remarkable appraisal.
Paddy spoke with gusto too about the social scene within the estate.
“We had our own band in Mount Juliet,” he smiled. “We had the great Joe Walsh - Ollie’s brother - who played saxophone. We had Tom Lee and John ‘Chalkie’ White, Billy Townsend and Eddie Collins as members of the band. Whenever there was a McCalmont gathering of socialites, be it at Hunt Balls or such like, the McCalmont orchestra was always in attendance.
“And when you have such a broad section of society working in a place like McCalmonts, you would have poets, musicians, singers, story tellers and you invariably would have a lad who would read a letter for you, write a letter for you, a kind of a half solicitor. Many of the employees going back the day would not have education, and might be semi-illiterate, but that was the way of life then.
“It was tremendous. We wanted for nothing,” he insisted.
Paddy followed the thoroughbreds to Ballylynch, where he continued for 14 years or so. He graduated to caring for all of the yearlings at Mount Juliet yard. It was tough going looking after upwards of 26 highly valued yearling.
Paddy’s other great interest at the time was athletics with the Thomastown club. It was difficult to train, or to get time off for competition. But he manoeuvred his way round difficulties.
“I loved athletics,” he always insisted.
He preferred cross-country running and he readily reminisced about lads like the O’Keeffe brothers and others in the club.
He then moved on to the gardening end of things.
“I went into the gardens under the watchful eye of one of the greatest gardeners ever, Paddy Morrissey,” Paddy explained. “Anything I learned or know about gardening, Paddy was responsible for. What he taught me would not be found in any book, college or manual.
“His knowledge was unbelievable. His instruction opened many doors for me in later years. Newspapers, gardening periodicals, gardening clubs would visit. I gave 13 years coming in to my great friend in Radio Kilkenny at the time talking to Mike Breen, God rest him.
“There was a huge area of ground under all deviations of gardening. It was exciting. It was fulfilling. It filled my life,” he glowed.
He spoke endearingly, and with great admiration, of Mrs Sally Flood, who designed most of the gardens that are still very much a feature of the McCalmont estate.
“She was a superb lady who had 20 men working with her in the designing of the gardens,” Paddy revealed. “She died in the gardens one day at the great age of 101 years.”
The estate was self-servicing with its own vegetables, meat, fowl of every denomination, fresh fish and fruit. The vegetable garden alone stretched to seven acres. The estate owned some six miles of the river Nore.
It had its own sawmill, farrier, blacksmith’s forge where all implements were made and repaired, including horse shoes of course.
And then Mr Toyoto in Ireland, Dr Tim Mahoney and his company arrived, purchasing 1550 acres of Mount Juliet, lock stock, garden, stud farm, houses, river - the lot. He announced that Mount Juliet presented an idyllic venue for a World class championship golf course. He went about creating his dream.
He needed the best design. He needed the best advice. He needed the best golf course possible. He got the best. Paddy Daly tell the intriguing story.
“Dr Mahony - God be good to a decent man - came to me and asked me to make myself available on the following weekend,” he revealed. “No information about my task, or what it was about. There was a cloak of secrecy thrown over the entire affair. A few days later, a brand new Toyoto mini-bus arrived in Mount Juliet, and I was instructed to familiarise myself with it.
“Still not a peep. On the following Saturday I was told to go to Rathvinen House where I would be given my instructions. To my surprise I was introduced to the Great Bear, Jack Nicklaus, and I was told to take him and his party to a restaurant in Inistioge, have a meal, and stay there until I drove the party to Mount Juliet at two in the morning.”
Whilst helicopters and drones are very much the tools of golf planning, Jack Nicklaus never stood higher than on a step ladder to view the site. The coup was in the landing of the Irish Open back in 1993, remaining there until 1995.
It brought the golfing glitterati from the four corners of the world. Kilkenny people were talking about Sevy, Faldo, Langer, Watson, Norman, Ells, Torrence, Darren Clarke (Club Pro), Harrington as if they were buddies. The Open happened again, with even a more notable who’s who of golf.
Then the World Matchplay came to Mount Juliet, and the name of Mount Juliet exploded across the world’s golfing canvas. Mount Juliet had established a reputation of legend proportion. The Matchplay brought the most iconic sportsman on the globe, Tiger Woods.
It was the candle on top of the birthday cake. Mount Juliet basked in the reflected acclaim. Paddy Daly met an enormous range of visitor to Mount Juliet. Some came to view his gardens. Others came to play the golf. Others wanted that special holiday in a world famous venue.
He has taken many of them on personal tours of the place. He has that easy way about him. He has fond memories of President Mary Robinson and her husband Nick.
“They are a beautiful couple,”, he said.
He remembered the Aosdan Seamus Heaney with great affection too. Hugh Leonard, Michael Flatley and more visited regularly. Former President of America, Jimmy Carter was a visitor on two occasions. Paddy met him too. But the most famous visitor in Paddy’s opinion came not too long ago.
CIA comes to Mount Juliet
“I was asked to present myself one day to greet a gentleman and his party, and take them around the place, paying particular attention to the workers houses and places where the forge was and things like that,” Paddy told us. “I met the gentleman who was introduced quite simply as Tom.
“Straight away I knew that I had seen the man before, because I had seen him beside President Obama at the White House. I just said to him ‘welcome to Mount Juliet Mr John Brennan’. He is the head of the CIA, one of the most powerful men in the US.
He had his father, Joe (94), with him. Joe wanted to see where he lived, where he worked in the forge and other places he remembered from his days long ago in Mount Juliet. John, his bodyguards (6), his dad and Paddy enjoyed a few pints later. The Head of the CIA was delighted that he was able to bring his dad back to Mount Juliet in the twilight of his years.
“I asked Joe how many horses he shod in a day, and he told me eight to ten,” Paddy explained. “He told me they were paid £4-10 shillings a week, which was two shillings more than carpenters. There were a few tears, even from the tough CIA boss.”
Paddy Daly has led an eventful, interesting life in his 41 years of employment in Mount Juliet. He felt blessed to have been chosen for the life he led. His last memory involved a poor woman with seven or eight children being evicted on to the street in Thomastown by the Sheriff.
“The vision of that has never left me,” he insisted.