*Kevin Halpin pictured with a photograph of his beloved late mother, Kathleen. Photograph: Joe Buckley

He’s been nicknamed Santa Claus’ bad brother and rumoured to be joining the cast of Vikings but on Saturday Kevin Halpin will bid farewell to his gigantic beard, all in the name of a good cause.

To raise funds for Dementia Ireland, a cause close to his heart, Kevin will be losing the beard in a tidy up fundraiser that has already amassed over €3000. Danni O’Brien of Sensory Cuts will be bringing out the razor and scissors to The Sports Bar in Newmarket-on-Fergus to ensure that the much-discussed new look of Hal’s becomes a thing of the past.

Since the death of his mother Kathleen last June, Kevin always wanted to do something to raise funds for dementia. “I was going to cut it off between Christmas and the New Year but I didn’t want to be cold, the best thing I said was to leave it. It’s Mum’s first birthday without her on the 12th of March this Saturday, I said I would leave it till then and shave it then. It was either September or October when everyone was giving me stick that I should tidy myself up but I said no, I dug my heels in and then I contacted Dementia Ireland”.

His look has been a talking point among the children, parents and staff of Scoil na Maighdine Mhúire where Kevin is the ‘lollipop man’. He was even dubbed as Santa Claus’ bad brother and joked with the primary school students that he had to take over Mr Claus who had taken ill with COVID-19. “It’s going to be funny because there is a whole section of kids that don’t know me without it, I’ve never really had a beard in my life, it will be fun when I go up on Monday morning, the parents at the school are great getting behind it”.

For individuals that haven’t seen Hal over the past year, a double-take is required to make out that it is indeed actually him. He recalled, “I had a moustache when I was a cool 17 and 18 year old in the 1980s, we all did back then, I had a beard when I was working on the building game during the boom in the winter, it was a very tidy and eight stone lighter Hal then, this is completely new, it is Ronnie Drew kind of stuff, I’m finding my dinner in it half the time”.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, the Newmarket-on-Fergus native outlined that Saturday would be a very poignant occasion, it will be his mother’s first birthday that she is longer with them. “I’ve been thinking about it and how to respond to it, there’s no point being down and sad about it because that wasn’t Mum, she was very practical, I know every Irish man says it that we love our mammies but we were really blessed to have Mum as our mother, she never chastised us about doing anything, she just encouraged, whatever our decision she just went on with it. It is a sad occasion in many ways, there’s no more hugs from Mum but it’s a celebration for her too, we will have the laughs and joke, the family are talking about it too, the cousins, nephews and nieces are ringing up to have a chat. Unfortunately in the last year, we’ve lost three Crimmins’, two of her brothers passed away since, it has brought a lot of the first cousins together, chatting about our loss and celebrating our lives, we do that more than being down about it.

“She always had a smile on her face, the village really looked after her so well, I’ve said that before, the village was fantastic, they say it takes a village to raise a child but we were lucky, with dementia there are families in cities and towns who can’t let their parent out the door because as soon as they wander, they are lost whereas Mum could go off wandering, then I’d get a text or phonecall or you could follow her around, once she went off her routes we’d know. We even had a GPS on her one time, that only lasted a week but we still can’t find it. She had the freedom of going out, she would pick flowers and hand them to somebody. It will be emotional but a quite emotional and a celebration of her birthday”.

While Kathleen would not have been a fan of the beard, Kevin revealed that it actually formed part of one of their special moments after she moved to Carrigoran. “She would kill me, she would sit on my chest and cut it off. I grew one before in the boom and she said ‘take that off you Kevin Halpin’. She would not be one bit happy. When Mum went into Carrigoran, they were fabulous to her, she went there in January 2020 and within a few weeks we had COVID, we were locked out and had window visits, I happened to get a rash on my face, it started growing, by the time we got back in, it was months later and unfortunately Mum had deteriorated so much in that time, she leaned over at one stage and touched the beard, she said ‘it’s so soft’ and I hadn’t heard her speak in about six visits, that was the first thing she had said to me in about six weeks, for a year before that I was no longer her son, I was her husband, her uncle, cousin, lots of things but that moment made me cry and broke my heart, I kept it then because she used to rub it”.

He acknowledged that it was fitting that the people of Newmarket helped him break the first two fundraising targets, given the watchful eye they kept over Kathleen. “My next door neighbour who is certainly not on social media in his nineties arrived up and handed me money, people are hearing about it and they’re saying ‘finally he is shaving that ugly thing off his face’. The support within the village and wider is phenomenal but unfortunately dementia is becoming more and more prevalent, we’re seeing it around more, it is scary, we just have to be kind, acknowledge people and talk to them, being involved with Mum for those eight years taught us a lot, how to be more patient and caring towards people”.

Throughout his life, Hal has had an active role with the Blues, serving as manager when they won the All-Ireland Féile camogie title in 2002, selector for the Clare SHC winning side of 2012 plus a stint in charge of the intermediate hurlers. He’s in little doubt how he will feel once the beard is gone, “Horrendous, it is freezing out there, the next battle will start then when I start seeing the double and triple chins, I’m hiding behind this. I’ll be glad to get rid of it, it’s not me but I’ve got used to it”.

To support the fundraiser, click on the link – Tidy up for Dementia Ireland

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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