When David and Denise King of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, visited Ireland for the first time in the spring of 2014, they took in many wondrous sights. However, the picturesque town of Killarney, nestled amongst its famous lakes, native woodlands, and high-stacked mountains, took the grand prize.

While there, the Kings hopped on a horse-drawn jaunting car that takes visitors through the National Park to Ross Castle.

Their jarvey (driver) was a charming elderly man who had them in stitches throughout their five-mile, 45-minute trip. They were so taken by his kindly ways that David, a skilled artist, took a photo of the amiable man with plans to paint his portrait on their return home.

The following year, David heard that I was leading a group to Ireland which included Killarney, and asked if I would try and locate the anonymous jarvey and, if successful, give him a print of his finished artwork. I gladly obliged.

That September, after our group had settled in at The Malton Hotel, four of us went searching the town for this unnamed horseman. We started at Hannigans Bar, where a scrum of jarveys had parked their horses and carts along the curbside.

Now I figured this tight fraternity would certainly know the jarvey in question, but I also knew they wouldn't let on without some fun and games. Holding up the framed print, we approached the pack tentatively.

"Excuse us, sirs, but would you know the man in this picture?"

"I've never seen that fella in me puff," replied one gangly jobber before his snickering cronies. "But I'm great pals with his horse there, Lightning. Find Lightning and I dare say you'll find your man."

After a few more bouts of malarkey, we finally hit the jackpot. "Why, that's my dad, Michael Tangney!" exclaimed his son Paul, a fellow jarvey in his 30s. When I explained our mission to him, Paul told us that Dad was currently out on a run, but promised to have him at our hotel by 6 o'clock, without spoiling our little surprise.

In The Malton bar that evening, our contingent of 40-strong let out a rousing cheer when an unsuspecting Michael Tangney entered the room, accompanied by his son, Paul. After I briefly explained the back story, we presented Michael with David King’s handsome portrait. He stared at it in fascination for a long moment, before blurting, "This painting will be hanging in my sitting room by night's end!"

With a frothy pint in hand, Michael gave us a sketch of his storied life. "My own dad, Thomas Tangney, was born in the Black Valley, tucked beneath the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. So remote a spot, it didn't have electricity until 1976. As a young man, he moved to this town and was hired as a gamekeeper at The Killarney House, a glorious estate of 8,000 wooded acres. Imagine, my father a gamekeeper," he chuckled, "and he the biggest poacher of them all!

"Growing up, I'd often run messages for Gloria DeHaven, the American actress who resided there. She always made a fuss of my curly red hair and surprised me with a roan pony named Harry on my 12th birthday. When school let out, I tacked up Harry to an old jaunting car and started taking visitors around the Lakes. And that's what I've been doing for these last 55 years."

 "Wow, 55 years!" our group collectively gasped. "How many miles do you think you've traveled during that time?"

 “I’ve averaged about 4,000 miles a year. Times that by 55 and we're talking over 200,000 miles."

 "Have you had any famous passengers?"

 "Oh, quite a few," answered the soft-spoken man. "But my favorite was Maureen O'Hara who, you may know, played alongside John Wayne in The Quiet Man. Never did I meet a woman so kind, so generous, so down to earth as herself. Over the years we became close friends, and she'd often invite my wife Beppie and I to her lovely home in Glengarriff, West Cork.”

  Paul shortly called our group to attention. "Now here’s a few things my father didn’t tell you about. For starters, he's been a great ambassador in keeping the tradition of jaunting cars alive here in Killarney. A tradition that goes back some 220 years. Dad also began his own successful jaunting car business; an enterprise that my brother Mike, sister Laura, and I will carry on proudly for years to come. 

"But here's the topper. It's remarkable how you folks happened to show up on this particular day with my dad's beautiful portrait, and then invite us here to this warm gathering. Now one might call it coincidence or serendipity, but I'm delighted to tell you that my dear father just retired one hour ago!"

Hearing that astonishing news, our troops let out a rollicking cheer, as Paul saluted his father with a heartfelt lift of a glass. A simple gesture that catapulted our evening into a splendid night of unbridled merriment.


Kevin O’Hara is a longtime columnist for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where this story first appeared on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019. Kevin is also the author of “Last of the Donkey Pilgrims,” which chronicles his 1,800-mile journey around the coast of Ireland with a donkey and cart in 1979. Visit his website at thedonkeyman.com  

*David King is a Pittsfield, MA native who has been painting for most of his life, inspired by the Berkshires Hills and the coastal shorelines of Maine. He enjoys working on landscapes, seascapes, and portraits in both oil and watercolor. David also does commission work and recently illustrated “A Christmas Journey” by noted author, Kevin O’Hara. Contact him at dwking0823@gmail.com or by mobile phone: (413) 281-6586.