Living Close to Greatness

History records great deeds. Usually, it is the famous personalities whose actions are written about to the detriment of others who were also involved. One of the reasons for this blog is to attempt to redress that and to record the great feats of the lesser players on history’s field… players who have shown greatness which has often been subsumed by the broader story and the bigger characters.

This blog is full of great or significant acts by the bit players of history. But what is greatness and how do we define historic significance.

My neighbour, Conor, whose house is just a few doors from my own, would enjoy getting his teeth into that question. Conor and I have a lot in common… both with journalism backgrounds, both with children of very similar age, both with a love of books and writing.

It was Conor who encouraged me to join a local writing group. I’ve since left it, but when we were there we critiqued each other’s work. His writing was dense and complex, full of allusion and nods to the research and study he undertook. Mine was much more slight and pacier. Our styles were very different. Nonetheless we helped each other hone our skills.

He has encouraged others, too, through his love of football…coaching young players in his spare time when he wasn’t trying to earn a living.

I’ve watched Conor change bit by bit over the years… his slightly crumpled look got that bit more crumpled, the stubble grew a little longer and a little greyer and there was a tiredness that hung about him. Journalism work was drying up and he was struggling to make ends meet.

Despite the hard times, though, he still retained his soft spoken ways and gentle manner. When times got really tough, he left his wife and children and went to Saudi Arabia to work as an English teacher so that he could send money home to the family that he worshiped.

I know that he worshiped them because he told me so on several occasions over pints in our local pub. His voice would take on an almost reverential tone as he spoke about the various qualities of his children. He was like every doting dad in that respect, I suppose – myself included – but it was nice to hear.

You might wonder what all this has to do with great deeds and history. Well, great deeds come in many forms, and the fact was that Conor absolutely detested Saudi Arabia. He hated the way women were treated there, hated the religious police, hated how less well-paid workers (particularly Filipinos) were treated by their bosses.

And yet, he went there for several years, far away from the family that he loved, in order to help pay for all that his children needed. There’s greatness in such sacrifice. Conor showed his greatness by doing that and by still managing to retain his gentle nature and warmth.

Conor died yesterday. He had a brain hemorrhage while his wife and children were out at school. He was lying in his house alone while I was a few feet away playing with my little girl on the path outside. He leaves behind a wife and three children (aged 13, nine and seven). In fact, it’s his little boy’s birthday next week.

Conor was a great guy, who did great things – he wrote stories, poems, very heavy science articles (see, he was a football coach, a photographer, a husband and a father. He was my neighbour, my friend… and he deserves his place in history.

Conor Caffrey, I salute you.


About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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15 Responses to Living Close to Greatness

  1. Lindy Moone says:

    Glad you wrote this. I’m very sorry for your loss, and for Conor’s family.

  2. Sorry, Aimee. I’m not with it today

  3. John L. Monk says:

    What a lovely tribute to your friend, David, my sympathies to you and his family.

  4. Thanks John. He was a nice guy

  5. A lovely tribute … makes me wish I knew him.

  6. P. C. Zick says:

    What a lovely tribute, David. My thoughts are with you and with his family. It’s true that great ones live among us.

  7. Thanks Patricia. I still can’t believe he’s gone. His poor family…

  8. Carol Ervin says:

    We’re blessed by relationships with great, ordinary people. I think the world is full of them. Thanks for this wonderful tribute.

  9. Yes, they outweigh the ones who usually get written about. Thanks, Carol.

  10. My sympathy to you and Conor’s family, David. You’ve written a beautiful tribute. Be certain his children each get a copy. They’ll appreciate it now and even more as they grow up.

  11. Bill Kasal says:

    So sorry for the loss of your friend, David. A very well-written tribute.

  12. Thanks Bill, nice of you to say so

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