Friend of mine from school daze haze died last week. He was 47. I hadnt seen him in years (mid 90s). In those post-college, everyone-who-emigrated-is-coming-home, post-Thatcherite, post-Rave days, Niall and I made patchy contact but nothing substantial. Well, if truth be told, we were a bit of mess given the levels of everything everyone was on. He wasnt exceptional in that respect but he was an exceptional person and his death has left a hole in my heart.
Niall always stuck in my mind from school. He was a really lovely guy and even though I hadnt laid eyes on him in minimun 17 years, his death went in really deep, a sure sign that at some point in our hazy shared past, Niall meant a lot to me and who am I to contradict my own heart ? I feel as if part of my soul became dislodged and flew away with him to wherever hes gone.
I dont know how or why he died so young. In school, he played rugby with the rest of us, he was a massive hit with the girls during our teens. Niall had "it" down pat and I was always in awe of him in that respect. He was a smooth talker, witty , charming and always had a joke or a trick up his sleeve. He loved being centre of attention without being egotistical. He was always prepared to go deep into any thing you wanted to talk about, a trait I valued being a serious (==nervous) head myself. Niall was a life and soul character, he filled the gloomy,endless litany of school days with enough sunshine and edge for memories to stick and the heart to murmur.
My clearest memories are of him clacking around in his steel tipped brown brogues (widest in the class), slightly stooped, thick gold name tag bracelet on his wrist visible beneath the grey+blue cuffed jumper and grey shirt sleeves we all wore. Hands in pockets, surfing along beside someone either in conversation or if it was a teacher, taking the piss. He'd a mop of blonde hair which he always kept just above shoulder length – this was the 70s + v early 80s – and he was quick witted. He got into trouble with the authorities quite often and he wasnt afraid to speak his mind. He also liked to debate, I think he got involved in debating in school. Both attributes came to the fore in his later life in his work with Shell To Sea but even in school, he showed signs of targetted and thoughtful rebellion. I think Niall was a quasi-intellectual but for whatever reason, youth(?) continually played to the gallery , played the messer. But he was a sharp guy and quite tough to boot.
He lived up in Taney in Goatstown as a kid. I was born a little further up on the lower kilmacud road and as far as memory (+another friend from school) remembers, Niall went to the same kindergarten as myself and my brother. So Ive known him since I was 5. We then went on to the same school together and we cycled home or got the bus/a lift, hung out and he often came down to play with my brother and I after school.
The gangs in school were full on. Niall hung out with the heavies and used to go on the piss with the same mob, back to someones house up to the attic into the stash. I think he ended up in hospital a few times. The lads dumped him on the road outside a house having called an ambulance and fucked off. Nice one lads. So there was a troubled soul in there as well.
When we left school (did he go to UCD ? I dont know..I remember some problem around LC time), I lost touch with him but he used to call in to my m&ds house often to talk to them. He took on the appearance of a hippie, really long hair and always on a bicycle. I dont think I ever saw Niall driving a car.
He disappeared to Amsterdam for a while and I to the UK. He still came down to see my mum and dad. I remember Jesus figuring strongly in his life too for a while but as I said, the 90s were a crazy time and we all went a bit mental.
I will let the shell to sea community explain his work with them as I cant do it any justice – See http://www.shelltosea.com/content/dedicated-our-comrade-great-friend-niall-harnett
So long buddy, I wish Id got back in touch with you and caught up on news etc. I regret not seeing you over the last 15 years and hope the pain your passing has brought to your friends and family is diminished somewhat by the clarity and smile-inducing quality of the memories we hold from your short but eventful life.
Suaimhneas síoraí dá n-anamnacha