Memories of Luke

(by Gerry Moss, from IMC Newsletter Spring 2010)
"In an increasingly competitive and performance-focused climbing scene, Luke Brady was a breath of fresh air, bringing a little bit of colour into our lives."

Luke Brady died on the morning of 16th November, 2009, following an illness borne with typical quiet fortitude. An engineer in the Board of Works, in his spare time Luke was was an F.C.A. officer, a keen player of the tin whistle, a member of the local drama group and sacristan of his parish church, in addition to being a member of the IMC. A good all-rounder, he embraced hillwalking, rockclimbing, winter mountaineering and alpinism with equal enthusiasm.

In an increasingly competitive and performance-focused climbing scene, Luke was a breath of fresh air, bringing a little bit of colour into our lives. Indeed, following the death of Ronnie Wathen in 1993, he was probably the last real character on the Irish climbing scene. Endearingly eccentric, completely unworldly, laid-back, generous to a fault and a genuine one-off, life with Luke was never dull.

Sometime back in the seventies he joined Lily and myself on the Maamturks Walk. It was his first time to do the walk and he found the final, steep descent to the road particularly trying. The walk organisers had laid on tea and sandwiches in the bar of the Leenane Hotel and the place was jammers. Too tired to stand, Luke just stretched himself out on the floor in front of the bar, with a cup of tea and a plate of ham sandwiches by his head, and there, propped up on one elbow, he dined in the style of the ancient Romans, oblivious of the crowds milling and jostling around him, as he carefully removed the little bits of fat from the ham and deposited them on the floor beside him.

Driving up to the Lake District meet on a bitterly cold March day of gales and snow flurries, Luke was concerned that the strong winds might blow his car off the motorway. So he hit upon the ruse of driving with all the windows fully open, thus allowing the wind unimpeded access and egress. Clad, as always, in full foul-weather gear, Luke regarded the cold winds as a bonus, as they lessened the likelihood of him nodding off at the wheel, a not unheard of occurrence. But by the time they arrived at the hut his solitary passenger was literally blue with the cold, with teeth chattering and uncontrollable shivering. The poor chap spent much of the weekend huddled over the fire and had just about recovered when the time came for the return journey.

On a fine, balmy Sunday morning in early spring, Lily and I were attending Mass in Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands. I felt a tap on my shoulder and, on turning, discovered to my surprise that Luke was sitting in the seat behind us. He was clad, as was his wont, in bright red rain jacket and overtrousers, but on this occasion he was also wearing his climbing harness. Thus alerted, I began to examine my surroundings with renewed interest, and yes, I could see that there were some interesting possibilities up the elaborate pillars behind the altar …

On the same trip to Scotland, while motoring up alone, he was pulled over for driving through a set of red lights. With much stammering and twitching of eyebrows, Luke played the innocent abroad, explaining to the bobbies that it was his first time on that side of the pond, and he was finding the whole experience somewhat daunting. Unconvinced, and curious about the large amount of stuff in the back of the car, they requested him to unload it for inspection. A big mistake: for the back of Luke’s car was like Mrs. McGinty’s trousseau – it had two of everything. Half-an-hour later, with less than half of the cargo revealed, they were eyeing in disbelief the assorted shovels, spades, buckets, lump hammers, watering cans, tin cans, wellington boots, hats, jackets, trousers, ropes and axes laid out on the pavement. With some concern they queried if he really knew where he was going and what he intended to do when he got there. Then, earnestly advising him to take care, they fled the scene.

Luke was always a little slow to get going in the mornings, with the result that he often got left left behind when matters called for an early start. Thus it was on his first trip to the Alps. Undismayed, he decided to tackle Mont Blanc alone. When he got as far as the infamous Grand Couloir, knowing of its reputation for lethal stonefall, he hesitated on the bank, not just for minutes or hours, but for two whole days. Having eventually crossed it, narrowly avoiding being creamed by a large boulder in the process, he continued to the Gouter hut and successfully summitted the following morning. A fine achievement for a novice alpinist. On his return to the hut he dropped in for a bowl of soup, as you do. In those days the huts tended to be dim, poorly-lit buildings. Luke, still on a high, had forgotten to remove his snow goggles and on finding himself groping around in darkness, announced, in stricken tones, that he was suffering from snowblindness. He was immediately surrounded by concerned and sympathetic alpinists, and the possibility of organising a helicopter was suggested. Fortunately, there was a doctor in the audience and Luke was put sitting down and his eyes thoroughly examined, sans snow goggles. A bowl of soup and a short rest were prescribed and Luke was given the all-clear. But, just to be on the safe side, he loitered in the hut for another two days, before safely descending.

While part of an organised, pay-for-play trekking group in the Andes, Luke became alarmed at the skimpiness and quality of the food on offer. So he cornered a local shepherd and paid him to kill one of his sheep and roast it over a fire. Then Luke, with typical generosity, invited all the group to the barbecue and treated them to their first square meal in a week.

At the end of the same trip the group spent a few days recuperating in a small hotel. The lad Luke was sharing a twin room with had developed a bad cough, probably brought on by the dry mountain air. But Luke was convinced it was the early stages of TB, so, just to be on the safe side, he spent the four nights sleeping out on the balcony.

A small group of us were gathered on a club meet below the seacliffs at Bray, when Luke appeared on top and announced that he was going to ab down to join us. What he didn’t tell us was that he had a dog with him and was going to bring it down too. Luke always had an aversion to carrying a rucksack and on this occasion he was sporting a small shoulder bag, into which he endeavoured, with limited success, to stuff the dog. So he started down, with the dog, an obviously unwilling participant in affairs, half in, half out, of the bag. To complicate matters further, Luke was carrying a large, ornate walking stick. This regularly got caught between his legs, sending him lunging wildly in one direction, with the bag swinging, equally wildly, in the other, and the poor mutt slipping further and further out, to yelps of terror and frantic scrabbling. Halfway down, the walking stick managed to escape his grasp and come clattering down, while we watched, with bated breath, to see if the dog would do likewise. When they reached the bottom Luke was his usual serene, unruffled self, but the poor dog’s eyes were as large as saucers and its little tail had disappeared permanently up its little backside. Never mind. We had a good day’s climbing, and when it came time to call a halt, I stuffed the dog down the front of my jumper, and Luke hauled us up the line of Cricklewood. My ensuing struggle up this route confirmed something I had long suspected – large pot-bellies and climbing are incompatible.

On my first visit to him in Blackrock Clinic, before he became too weak to converse, we chatted about those bygone times and, in particular, the pleasant days we spent together, putting up new routes on the seacliffs beneath Bray Head. Climbs that were of no importance to anyone but ourselves, yet they were a source of great satisfaction to Luke, and remembering them brought a little colour to his cheeks and a twinkle to his eyes. These, he declared, would be his legacy to the Irish climbing scene.

But, in truth, his legacy is much, much richer than that. For nearly thirty years Luke has been something of a father figure to young climbers in Dalkey quarry, putting his wide knowledge of the climbs there to good use, acting patiently as mentor and friend to several generations of climbers making their first tentative moves on rock.

Which of us has not seen that familiar figure, clad in trademark red jacket, hands clasped behind the back, head inclined forward, studying the ground carefully as he made his way slowly through the quarry, checking on the progress of each group. Praising the achievers, encouraging the strivers, coaxing the ditherers. Pointing would-be leaders towards the best climbs; checking to see that the tyros were properly tied on; that climbers were using the correct pro and that the belayers had set up safe anchors.

Whenever we older climbers come together the talk invariably turns to times past and the climbers that have passed on. Some are recalled with sadness and some with awe, but I’ll warrant Luke will always be recalled with fondness, and any account of his exploits will be accompanied by warm smiles and deep chuckles. What a lovely way to be remembered!

He was a gentle, generous soul: a man who befriended many and offended no-one. What finer epitaph could anyone ask for?

The Dublin climbing community will be all the poorer for his passing and Dalkey quarry a less colourful place from now on.

Leaba i measc na naomh go raibh aige.