The Castlecomer Wellie Race has always been a huge attraction in Kilkenny on New Year's Day. With the world gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, this year's event was forced to go virtual
Although a fierce proud Corkman, Chubby Brennan has Kilkenny in his blood after living in Castlecomer for the past 41 years. He was born in Cobh 63 years ago, but with Castlecomer in his veins he couldn’t resist moving to Kilkenny.
He played Gaelic football and hurling for Erin’s Own with the likes of Martin Fogarty, the National Hurling Development manager. During this interview Chubby got a great chuckle out of telling me that he taught Martin Fogarty everything he knows about sport and wonders if Martin put that on his CV when going for the big job in Dublin!
Devilment aside, Chubby Brennan has bags of energy and a big heart. When he is not entertaining us on stage in panto or with the Barn Owl Players you can be sure to find him getting down to the serious job of fundraising for local charities.
I caught up with Chubby to chat about the recent success of the very first virtual Castlecomer Wellie Race.
As PRO of the race, Chubby and the committee left no stone unturned this year for the 41st race.
They reached out to everyone for support, with Chubby even writing personal letters to the President of Ireland and the Taoiseach, as well as TV and sports personalities.
By New Year’s Day, people from all over the world scrubbed down their wellies to take to the roads, race tracks, beaches and muddy fields, all in aid of Kilkenny charities.
The wellie race is normally a one-day festival in Castlecomer but this year it exceeded everyone’s expectations and became a worldwide six day event.
Here is a glimpse into Chubby’s world…
The Wellie Race had to go virtual this year, due to Covid. It surprised you all by being a massive success.
It was an incredible experience, as well as hard work from our chairman Michael ‘Macha’ Brennan, Enda Healy and Billy Moran. A few months ago, we didn’t think we’d have any race at all, but then we came up with the motto ‘the Powley Vale will prevail’. So we put on our thinking caps and decided to go virtual with the race.
We took to social media, with the help of my daughter Sarah, and reached out to not just the people of Castlecomer, but also to people in the wider world to get involved. We wanted more than anything to keep the spirit of the race alive.
It even caught the attention of Bondi Beach Rescue TV in Australia?
Seamus Walsh’s son Eoin (who emigrated to Australia earlier this year) came to the rescue and ran the wellie race on Bondi Beach. Eoin and fellow ’Comer native Ruth Brennan, plus some friends from Cork and the Isle of Man all dressed up in jerseys, wellies and wigs.
The Castlecomer crew being interviewed for television
To their amusement the film crew from the Bondi Beach Rescue TV Show arrived and interviewed them. They filmed the race and asked them all about Castlecomer, about the Wellie Race and the whole idea behind it.
It started from there and it exploded all around the world. Wellie races took place in New York, California, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Scotland and England. Anywhere you can imagine, a race happened. People from Castlecomer or those who have connections with Castlecomer all decided to help us in our venture this year.
This race is all about the willingness for people to get together for people in need. Next year we hope to call it the Castlecomer World Wellie Race.
You are one of Castlecomer’s biggest supporters. Tells us how a Cobh man ended in up becoming one of our own!
A lot of people think I am a Cork man, that all my relations are in Cork but my late father’s family are all from Clogh in Castlecomer. I moved back to Castlecomer back in 1979 and have been here since. I met Maggie and married, we have two great girls Sarah and Katie.
The one and only Chubby Brennan, one of the Wellie Race's greatest supporters
My love for Castlecomer comes from the love for my father. He died at a very young age, at 52. He was an incredible sports man and he loved his hurling. He played in the junior All-Ireland final in 1947 with the likes of Willie John Daly, Matty Tuohy and Batt Thornhill - names all of the older generation will remember.
Unfortunately my father had an accident quite young and things didn’t go well for him after that. He had his leg amputated, got depressed and suffered a stroke which killed him in 1970. He passed away way too young, leaving behind my mother Eileen with 14 children.
He left a fantastic legacy. He left me with the love of the GAA and every time I go to Cobh I visit the GAA Club to see a photograph of him on the wall.
You and your wife Maggie had built up a fantastic business in Castlecomer, The Lime Tree, but you had to close it during the last recession. Your heart must go out to all the hospitality businesses during this pandemic.
Of course - I know what they are going through. We ran a fantastic business in The Lime Tree until 2013. That’s when one of the hardest recessions hit and we had to close.
It broke our hearts and took a toll on our health - but we always say we did not fail, I think the system failed us. So what I would say to people is not to be afraid to ask for help.
If you are in trouble with bills, with late payments or tax, go look for help and don’t let it build up on you.
The more it builds up, the more you bottle it and the worse it gets. My heart does go out to people in business at the moment but we have to be positive as we enter the first weeks of a New Year.
I would say stick in there, look for help, and talk to people. Look after yourself first. I now work as a carer in a local hospital and one of the things we are taught, in order to care for somebody, is that you must care for yourself first.
It’s the same for a business. If you leave yourself get into bad health with worry then things will get on top of you. Sit down and get professional help. There are people out there who will help you for free. Use your friends, use your contacts and use your people.
You’ve said before everyone knows the happy Chubby, but behind that Chubby there once was a depressed man.
I am speaking from experience when I give the above advice. We let it get in on top of us.
I got to the stage where I used to run out in the morning to meet the postman to see what bills were there. I panicked, I didn’t sleep, I made myself feel unwell.
We were just so afraid and I wish it on no one to be in that situation, where you think no one can help you and the only way out is the bad way.
Every morning I used get down on my knees and ask the Lord to give me the money to save the Lime Tree. Now that I am out of that situation, I can see that the Lord did answer my prayer.
Maggie and I miss it, but now I am working in the hospital helping sick people. I love my job and I love getting up every day and making people smile. I love the people I work with and l love talking to the patient’s families.
My family is happy, the kids can see the strain and the burden that has been lifted off us. So the Lord did answer my prayers.
I asked for help and I wasn’t afraid to ask. Your friends will stand by you and that will sacrifice for you and they are the people you need in your life. Live the present of life.
Last question Chubby. You are 63 years old and have been called Chubby for the past 57 years. Why?
I come from a family of 14 and my youngest brother Ciaran couldn’t say my real name, which is Gerard. He used to call me ‘The Shrubby’ and it was upgraded to ‘The Chubby’ when I joined the scouts!
Since then it has never changed, even for work. If anyone rings looking for Ger Brennan they won’t find me. My mother, God Bless her soul, used to address my post as simply ‘Chubby, Castlecomer’ - not even our postman knew my real name! So Chubby I will remain!
If you would like to donate to the Castlecomer Wellie Race please go to www.wellierace.com