A gifted Callan man with a lifelong love of sport, literature, and carpentry has passed away. Michael (“Mick”) Holden died peacefully in New York, his adopted city.
Michael was born on All-Ireland Sunday, 1950, at 13 Green Lane, Callan. He was the third youngest in a family of eight. His parents, John and Sally Holden (nee Bennet), were for decades household names in the Callan district. John was a gifted entrepreneur possessed of uncanny business acumen, and Sally, from Tinnahinch, Graiguenamanagh, was to prove the inspiration behind many successful enterprises that her sons would initiate, whether locally or overseas.
The Holden family home at Kilbricken, Callan, was always precious to Michael. He carried memories of it, and of his happy childhood years, with him when he later crossed the Atlantic.
In his youth and childhood, when he wasn’t at school in the CBS or in the house at Kilbricken, you might find Michael at the nearest hurling match. Whether it was a friendly game, a practise session, a county championship, or, his dream of dreams, an All-Ireland Final with Kilkenny playing, he would seldom be absent from the throng of fans, joining in the ancient chorus of repartee and hearty support as boys or men battled to win honours on the pitch.
Boxing was another youthful passion of his. He trained on the grounds of the old Workhouse building in Callan under the renowned coach Jimmy Walsh and he never lost what locals called “that magic JW touch”.
And when it wasn’t a hurling match or a spot of boxing, Michael might be seen in the company of one or more of his brothers in a field at the back of Mikey Doheny’s house at the Commons, just outside Callan. Here, at an improvised track was held the legendary Maxtown Terrier Racing.
This drew huge crowds, in the early sixties, with people from neighbouring counties joining locals to watch every conceivable breed and cross breed of dog competing. Michael’s brother Tom had a multi-prize-winning terrier called “Frazier” and this gave the event an added appeal for Michael.
After leaving school and working for a brief period with Mahon and McPhilips in Kilkenny with Billy Whelan of Collins Park, Callan, and in England, Michael opted, like so many Irish men and women before him, to seek employment in the United States. He said good bye to his family at the age of 18 and boarded a ship that docked at New York.
Though America proved a huge cultural change, Michael quickly adapted to this new situation. He opted to serve his time to carpentry. He had a keen aptitude for the trade that he had acquired from an early age in Callan.
Being naturally adventurous, Michael also felt drawn towards a career in the armed forces. This was 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War and the government was avidly recruiting young men to serve their country at a pivotal time in its history. Michael joined the navy.
Parallel with his military service, he continued to hone his skills as a carpenter and serve his time to that trade in the Seabees, as a 3rd class Petty Officer in Mobile Construction Battalion Number 5.
He was respected as much by his fellow officers and naval personnel for his quick wit and superb intellectual attributes as for his competency with wood. He had a phenomenal memory, astounding people around him with his recollection of essential information and the obscurest of details concerning anything he had heard or seen or read about.
After the navy, Michael focused on his chosen trade, joining the famed Irish Carpenters Local 608 Union in New York City. His work took him to locations across the State...to Queens, Bayside, and Flushing. He would occasionally work alongside his brother Liam and his nephew Brendan. Brendan was devoted to his uncle and greatly respected his craftsmanship and Michael was always ready to help and advise the younger members of the Holden clan.
Throughout his life in New York, he never lost touch with his native town three thousands mile away. Distance was no object when it to came to honouring and recognising his family back in Callan. Sometimes, when asked where he came from originally, he would, without hesitation, say “Kilbricken”, before elaborating.
Michael’s wife Carol bore him three sons, Michael, Aidan, and Kieran. When not occupied with his work and their upbringing, and the constant demands of family life, he found time for his many hobbies and interests.
These included poetry, folklore, coin collecting (he had samples of just about every known unit of exchange in the world), travelling (he visited every state in the Union) and a lifelong passion for reading, especially books dealing with United States and world history. The outdoor life appealed to him, and he looked forward to those well-earned breaks when he could reach for his fishing rod or hunting rifle to savour the freedom of a scenic wonderland in Upstate New York.
He loved to debate with friends, work colleagues and relatives the pros and cons of whatever issue was topical or just happened to be uppermost in his mind. He would get to the heart of a subject, overlooking no aspect of it.
And he had no shortage of admiring friends down the years with which to share his insights and informed opinions on a bewildering array of themes: friends like Dominick Yazzo of New York City, who is now an environmental judge, and Brian Cassidy of San Francisco, a native of Dundrum, County Tipperary. Ronnie Hughes, and Rosie and Martin McGuire were special friends. He would spend many an evening exchanging views and reminiscences with Henry Holden of Mill Street, Callan (a distant relative) and Martin Murphy of Tullamaine.
But one passion always came to the fore, regardless of what was happening is his life, or whatever distractions or even health concerns vied for his attention. That was his love of hurling. For Kilkenny folk it has often been something of a religion as much as a sport. To Michael it was a matter of keeping the faith and making that essential pilgrimage back across the Atlantic to be in Croke Park for the big showdown on All-Ireland day.
Michael’s love of sport was a talking point at his funeral, which took place at Little Neck, New York and was attended by a large gathering of friends and loved ones. Memories of his trips back to the “old country” each year were on the minds of mourners at Calverton National Cemetery, Long Island, where his mortal remains were laid to rest.
But Michael himself was already in a better world, where illness is unknown. And his brother Tom made an astute observation: this year, Michael would not need to worry about getting a seat with a good view in the Hogan Stand. He would be there in spirit, said Tom, because if anyone ever deserved a free ticket to the All-Ireland it had to be Michael Holden.
Michael is survived by his wife Carol, his sons Aidan, Michael, and Kieran, his brothers Tom, Richard, Bernard, Seamus, Pat, Henry, and Liam, relatives, and friends. The Holden family wishes to thank all who attended the funeral and who sent their condolences, in Ireland and the USA. On April 16th, a special mass was celebrated for Michael at Saint Kevin’s Church, Bayside, New York.
-A Friend of the Holden Family