It was the longest day of the year and I was in the Long Gallery of Kilkenny Castle at a short but very sweet ceremony honouring one of Kilkenny’s true gentlemen, Pat Shortis.
Short and sweet the occasion may have been but it is also one of the most significant events in the calendar of our city. Pat Shortis was being granted the Freedom of the City of Kilkenny and I felt honoured to be there.
Outside the rain drizzled down but it could not dampen this warm and festive occasion. All 12 members of the Borough Council were present dressed in their finery, around us, on the walls, hung the portraits of great and important men, dukes, princes and kings and there in the middle of them all - the man of the moment, the man in the smart grey suit, Pat Shortis. Fellow musician Johnny Hillman remarked that Pat looked like he’d just stepped out of Frank Wall’s window!
Of course there’s nothing remotely grey about Pat, he’s as colourful a character as you’ll find, not least on St. Stephens’s Day when he’s dressed ‘to the nines’ and on the wren; Councillor John Coonan (who proposed the motion of Freedom of the city for Pat) reckoned Pat is the longest performing ‘Wren Boy’ in Ireland, which raised a laugh, considering the ‘boy’ is all of “92 years young” to quote Councillor Paul Cuddihy who seconded the motion.
There may be no ’blue blood’ flowing through Pat Shortis’s veins but he possesses a nobility of spirit and a generosity of heart befitting any royal. And that’s what I loved about this occasion, sitting among the portraits of all these ‘royals’, among all the pomp and paraphernalia of dukes and duchesses to honour a down-to-earth, ordinary man who has raised extraordinary amounts of money for innumerable charities.
As Councillor Coonan put it “For over 50 years Pat Shortis has been making people happy. Quite simply – it’s what he does – and he does it quite simply - with a song, a joke, that unique whistling of his and, of course, with a blast from his famous saxophone and more often than not in the company of his great friend, Jim Coady or The Wetlands Orchestra as they are known – who have been on the road for forty years now; and are still going strong”.
And I was delighted to see Jim and his good wife there. I have had the pleasure of performing with The Wetlands Orchestra over the years – and still do occasionally in Cleere’s Bar and Leydon’s Bar. I recite some light verse, trying to be witty and clever while Pat tells old chestnuts of jokes – and gets all the laughs. A case of the old dog for the hard road, I guess. And it’s better Pat’s getting.
As Mayor Seán Ó hArgáin wrote in the programme “it is in retirement that Pat has truly blossomed”. I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, Pat, my old flower, I propose that our Borough Councillors send you to the Chelsea Flower Show. Oh boy, they wouldn’t know what hit them.