Last Monday I attended the funeral in Carrigaline of my old tennis-playing friend, and regular doubles partner, Robin Gill. He was my next-door neighbor during my secondary school years when I lived in the Campfield in Cork. There were eight tennis courts across the road from our houses and we made good use of them. We played in all the junior tennis tournaments around Munster and even on one occasion graced the courts of the exclusive Fitzwilliam club in Dublin. Robin had a very good forehand and I had an equally accomplished backhand so we complemented each other nicely - unless of course our opponents started hitting the ball down the middle. We won a number of tournaments and were a fixture on the CBC tennis team that won the Munster Schools championship five out of my last six years in secondary school. The year we didn’t win we were disqualified for playing our team in the wrong order against Glenstal. (Our worst player ended up playing their best - their Alastair Conan against our Mick O’Neill if I remember correctly.)
Outside the tennis courts we were never the closest. He had a tight-knit family scene, sailing at weekends and spending quality time with his parents whereas I was inclined towards dubious companions and dissolute behavior far from my family’s eyes. We had the occasional physical fights and as we grew older he developed the nasty habit of making moves on girls I had initially met and nurtured. He was blonde and good-looking in a Lord Alfred Douglas way, whereas I was going more for the greaser look as popularized by Elvis. After school he got into HR and ended up managing a pharmaceutical company in Ringaskiddy, just outside Cork. I tended towards the Arts and a highly erratic career path that took me around the world. So we lost touch.
Time healed our teenage antipathy and when we met accidentally or at class reunions over the years we always got along well. I do remember however been invited over to his house one evening while I was in Cork and assuming it was for dinner (it was 7 pm) I brought along a bottle of wine. Alas, no dinner materialized as apparently they had eaten earlier and the bottle of wine proved a source of embarrassment all round. I last met him about seven years ago at a major class reunion. He was immaculately dressed in a smart tweed suit complete with waist-coat, tasteful shirt and tie, and a fine pair of brogues. However, he had contracted a virulent cancer of the oral cavity and a substantial portion of his tongue had been removed (he had been a habitual pipe smoker.). This badly affected his speech and made conversing very difficult. I felt it was brave of him to turn up at all and admired his courage in persisting with his social life despite his difficulty.
Despite his later misfortunes, Robin had apparently lived a full and active life in Carrigaline and was very involved with the local Catholic Church and with community activities. His abiding love of public speaking was only moderately curtailed by his recent handicap. It was somewhat of a surprise to hear he had remained a devout Catholic - alone amongst my friends from that time.
He was always a keen music buff. I remember his very enlightened father buying him a copy of the Beatle’s Rubber Soul for his birthday in the Sixties. He departed from the church to the stirring sound of the Chieftains.