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Dublin: 16 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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'Bright, brilliant, educated young women from South County Dublin... don’t end up with a gypsy boxer from Limerick'

Read an extract from the acclaimed ‘Fighter’ by Andy Lee with Niall Kelly.

Andy Lee (file pic).
Andy Lee (file pic).
Image: Arthur Ellis/Press22

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from ‘Fighter’ by Andy Lee with Niall Kelly.

Maud gets sick, suddenly. She reassures me, but they fly her home from Paris and bring her straight into hospital in Dublin, so I’m right to be concerned. They keep her in for
weeks while they treat her.

My alarm goes early in the morning, and I get into the car and drive from Limerick to
Dublin to be with her. I visit her every day, spend all day sitting by the side of her bed.

It’s just the two of us and nobody else while the doctors and nurses buzz around us,
checking charts, pagers beeping. We get to know each other.

She tells me about her love of music, art, languages. She’s in a band. I meet her parents, her brother and her sister. I drive home to Limerick at night and come back up again the next morning.

I know we’re from different worlds, that this isn’t how it works. I know that bright, brilliant, educated young women from South County Dublin who have the world at their feet don’t end up with a gypsy boxer from Limerick via London who left school at 13.

She must know it too, but she doesn’t care. I tell her everything honestly, about my life, my heritage, my family, anything that she would want to know.

Nothing shocks her. She tells me that she doesn’t care about what I am or what I’ve done. She accepts me for me, and it makes me fall even more in love with her.

She plans our first proper date. A concert. Of sorts. She has two tickets to the National Concert Hall, a recital by Maxim Vengerov. He’s a violinist, she explains, and not just
any violinist, one of the best in the world.

I might think I know a little bit about culture because I’m not obsessed with cars and clothes and money like a lot of gypsy boys, because I read books and rent a few films with subtitles, but this is a whole new league.

We arrive at the National Concert Hall; all the men are dressed in tuxedos, dickie bows, the women in beautiful gowns. I wear what I always wear: a hoody, tracksuit bottoms
and trainers. I don’t belong here.

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But the performance starts and I’m completely blown away, transfixed by this man on stage, the way that he’s communicating with the violin, the energy he brings to the
performance. It’s not dull or boring. It’s incredible. There’s something very special about music which has existed for hundreds of years on a piece of paper, brought to life to exist
in a moment, and then it’s gone again.

He receives standing ovation after standing ovation. My hand is still bandaged up, so I can’t even clap to properly show my appreciation. Maud asks if I enjoyed it, and gets her
answer with a cheeky grin that betrays my fascination.

‘He’s not bad that fella, is he?’

She invites me in to be a part of that world, full of colour and art and creativity. We go to the theatre, but I don’t quite get it at first. I don’t know how to believe in it, how I’m supposed to see anything other than people standing on a stage pretending to be someone they’re not.

I fall asleep during a few plays at the start. I don’t really know how to say it to Maud, that I’m not really sure that this kind of thing is for me. She doesn’t go out of her way to force it on me either.

Her dad buys us tickets for a play, The Bull, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before in my life. It’s based on the old story of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, but it’s more than just a straightforward script with actors and dialogue. It’s a powerful, immersive experience that really draws me in, and there’s a lightbulb moment where I suddenly understand
where the art is in all of this. And I love it.

‘Fighter’ by Andy Lee with Niall Kelly is published by Gill Books. More info here.

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