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A man with a hat laughing with an upturned puppy in his arms.

Billy laughing in Kerry.

He was the most beautiful man, Billy Corr, also known as Mark Corr. He was born in Drogheda, Ireland, in 1947 and nursed to begin with by a gypsy woman who had lost her child, while his 16 year old mother recovered. When they got home to the small place by the Boyne his cot was the cupboard drawer.

This story pleased him when he heard of it because his favourite uncle, Henry, had married a gypsy and was always a generous and helpful man, like Billy himself when he was himself. He was very wild, and ran away to sea at 14, as soon as they took the metal caliper off his leg.

(There had been years in hospital from the age of 3, with bovine tuberculosis in the bone of his leg, and he saw many of his childhood friends, fellow patients, die during this time.)

He sailed around the world three times in seven years.

Then he worked in the North Sea, constructing platforms and drilling for oil. During his thirties he accidentally fell into painting and decorating during a break, and never quite managed to shake it off. Then The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel became a favourite book.

He was very fond of reading, and for a brief moment he fulfilled his dream of selling second-hand books from a little shop in Listowel, Ireland. That was until someone he was in business with hung a Tibetan flag out of the upstairs window just when President Clinton was due to stop in Listowel and shake hands with Fergal Keane's father. The flag was there to protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, but the president's wary entourage cancelled the stop in Listowel, and Clinton's cavalcade passed through, leaving the townspeople somewhat perplexed with the people at the new second-hand bookshop, which was doomed thereafter.

As a child, between leaving hospital and running away to sea, Billy had time to work as a messenger boy. He delivered groceries all around Drogheda on a big heavy bicycle which he rode with one leg in a caliper. A favourite memory of his was riding down the steep hill that led into the centre of Drogheda with the leg in its caliper resting up on the handle bars. He would ride thus at tremendous speed, with the wind in his teeth.

He was very partial to stormy weather, and drank his tea with acacia honey.

© Elizabeth Morag Emmerson 2007.
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