“WE had it all,” says Lucy Dineen. “We were there on the side of a mountain with a thriving little business, a beautiful home, we had a family - we wanted for nothing.”
Despite their remote location between Cúil Aodha and the Top of Coom, they had a constant stream of visitors, a queue of cars often lining the steep drive approaching their house, as motorists from across the rural hinterland of the Cork-Kerry border sought out her husband Damian’s skills as a mechanic.
With three children aged under 14, the couple’s happiness was shattered when Damian was diagnosed with cancer.
He approached the challenges of the disease and its treatment with the same positivity that characterised his work as a mechanic. Sadly, he died in December, 2020.
Now ‘A Day for Damian’ is being held this Sunday, September 18, which will be a celebration of his life and a fundraiser for a cancer charity.
Damian will have been well known by many for his skills as a mechanic.
Having learned his trade from his late father Diarmuid and at Randles garage in Killarney, he set up his own business whose success, according to Lucy, “was all thanks to his customers, to the local community, and to our neighbours and friends”.
“He used to be so honoured that they would come and he was truly appreciative of his customers.”
Lucy says of his approach to his illness: “He always had this optimism that even if we were down to a 1% chance, he’d say ‘I could be the 1%’.
“It was amazing, I don’t know where he got the strength from,” says Lucy.
“He adored life. He loved every minute of it. He never let the cancer take full control of him - he was always a ‘glass half-full’ person.
“He was contented, I never saw him out of form. Even when he was very, very sick he always had a smile for you,” she added.
“When we were told they couldn’t fix it, he said ‘we won’t worry about it until we have to’.”
After an initial period of treatment, Damian had been able to resume work and customers were soon arriving at his doorstep again with the mechanical challenges he delighted in solving.
“It was like he won the Lotto. He couldn’t believe that the customers waited for him,” said Lucy.
“People had great patience because poor Damian was on his own and he’d work late at night to get your car ready. He adored his garage - it was never a job - he’d go out there Christmas Day.”
Indeed, it was Damian’s work as a mechanic that had brought the couple together.
“The first night I met him he was repairing a car for my parents,” said Lucy.
“I was 21 when I met Damian. I met him coming down from Mullaghanish. I was coming home and we met on the road and spent two hours talking.
“I knew that day I was going to marry him - he had no choice in the matter!
“We spent 21 years together and they were the best 21 years. I thank God for every year. He gave me three beautiful children, a beautiful home, and love and respect.”
When doctors advised that the cancer required a second round of treatment, Damian “didn’t want to take it at first because he said, ‘I don’t want to get too sick in front of the young lads and it’s not going to cure me, so I’d rather take my chances’,” recalled Lucy.
Ultimately, however, “he took the treatment, because he’d do anything in his power to stay with the children”, and throughout gruelling rounds of radiation and chemotherapy he focused on two targets: “He wanted to hear the cuckoo again and he didn’t want to die at Christmas.”
Damian, who owned a Honda 50 and had taken part in charity runs on the motorbike with friends from his local pub, the Top of Coom, also held a long-cherished wish to celebrate a milestone birthday at the hostelry, the highest pub in Ireland.
His hopes of celebrating his 40th birthday there had been dashed when the pub burned down in 2012, and when Damian passed away, aged 47, during the Covid pandemic, in December, 2020, his wish remained unfulfilled.
However, family, friends, and neighbours who, said Lucy, “have never left my side from the minute Damian was diagnosed”, and have now come together with pub owners Tim and Eileen Creedon to ensure his 50th birthday will after all be marked at the rebuilt Top of Coom.
‘A Day for Damian’ on Sunday, September 18, will be a celebration of his life and a fundraiser for the Kerry Cancer Support Group bus, with musical entertainment, and a tractor, car, and Honda 50 run, starting from the pub at 1pm and passing Damian’s home in Doire an Chuillin. For Lucy and their children, Liadh, Eoghan, and Liam “it’s going to be a very hard day, but it’s for Damian,” said Lucy. “We’re going to give Daddy his birthday party and we’re going to fill the Top of Coom for him.”
For early registration (€25) or online donations contact 087 224 30832.