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I WILL NEVER LEAVE OLLIE; Widow Josephine's vow as she faces up to life without her hellraising husband.

OLLIE Reed's widow Josephine has spoken for the first time about life without her legendary hellraiser husband.

Josephine revealed that she makes Ollie a promise every time she visits his unkempt grave in the Irish village which is his final resting place.

"I will never leave him," she said. "This is where he loved to be and it is where I will stay.

"I still miss him very much, but I feel closest to him right here.

"It was where we shared our happiest moments.

"The animals he adored are still here. They seem to miss him too. They were part of his life.

"His friends here were the closest he ever made and they have become my friends too.

"Everything about him is here. I feel him in the wind that blows across the countryside and the rain that falls on it.

"I don't cry when I visit his grave because he isn't there.

"He is all around this place and always will be. And I will always be here with him."

Josephine, 35, was speaking as she worked in the cluttered farmyard of their rambling home in Churchtown, Co Cork.

She has turned down all requests for an interview, but was happy to have a neighbourly chat about how she has been coping since Ollie died last May in Malta.

Looking fit and well, despite a recent bout of 'flu, she is surrounded by their pets which include four dogs, among them a greyhound and an Irish wolfhound lookalike.

"They all had great fun with Ollie and our horses joined in," she said.

"There is quite a menagerie, but they are part of the family."

Josephine was busy in the back yard of the magnificent old Georgian home, Castle McCarthy, tending to her grey gelding hunter.

"I wanted to maintain my privacy and give myself a chance to recover," she said.

"I have had all sorts of requests from media people all over the world.

"There were another three or four letters this week, but I don't feel up to answering too many questions just yet."

Josephine was more at ease with her memories among the things she shared with Ollie.

The villagers who adored him have transferred their respect for privacy and their affection to his widow.

"They regarded him as one of their own and went out of their way to protect him from the glare of publicity," said Josephine.

"Now they are doing the same thing for me. They are very protective."

The house - formerly the parish priest's home - is set on 18 acres and is comfortable and cosy.

Letters lay opened on the kitchen table where gentle lighting created a soft glow in the dying winter sunshine.

Out in the yard, Josephine was getting feed together for her horse.

"I ride with the local hunt," she said. "But I don't go into the village much, apart from doing the shopping.

"Everyone there is so nice and attentive, but they know I need a lot of time to myself.

"I have relations living not too far away which is another reason I am here to stay.

"My mum and sister moved to Adare some years ago and I spent Christmas with them.

"It was my first without Ollie for many years so I needed some comfort."

Friends talk of how Josephine did what nobody else could - she proved to be a calming and loving influence on the famous hellraiser who was madly in love with her.

Their beautiful home, in the isolated, but very caring, part of North Cork, provided them with the haven of tranquillity they needed when escaping from the whirlwind of life in the fast lane.

Today, the vitality that Ollie brought to their home is absent, but his memory and his influence live on.

The front garden still contains the massive, lifelike model of a rhino- ceros which now appropriately wears a black tie on its horn in memory of its famous owner.

In Churchtown, where Ollie was buried in the ancient graveyard in accordance with his wishes, the people still talk in hushed tones about the gentle giant who came to live among them and put their small village on the map.

They still can't believe he's dead - he had become an integral and important part of their small, close-knit community.

His other side - that of the big-hearted and generous man - was very obvious here, and they will allow no-one to say a bad word about him.

He generously responded to all local fund-raising activities and treasured little Joanne Riordan, who was born without limbs, working hard to raise the money to provide her with a home adapted to her needs. That dream was realised just a few weeks ago.

Ollie lies in a specially constructed waterproof tomb which took several days to complete, but the state of his grave is causing some comment.

It is overgrown with weeds and littered with withered flowers and plants.

One of the artificial wreaths with faded flowers and a statue of the Sacred Heart in the middle stands at the top of the grave, which is showing signs of sinkage.

An old stone, which looks as if it has fallen from the wall that runs close to the grave, is stuck in the middle, standing like an impromptu monument.

A holly wreath sits near the stone, a seasonal gift left by a loved one.

Josephine said the grave is as Ollie would have wanted it.

"He would have liked it to grow wild and be part of the graveyard, but I suppose it is in need of some cleaning up, which I will do," she said.

Many people who have visited the ancient Bruhenny graveyard, which dates back to 1291, to see Ollie's grave have expressed amazement at its condition.

Jospehine admitted: "It does look a bit awful, I suppose.

"It's a bit of a shame, really, but that's how he would want it.

"He liked things to be a bit higgledy-piggledy and all over the place. He never had much respect for formality.

"The bulbs which were planted on it should be coming up and flowering soon and that will make a difference."

She said she would be putting up a headstone to Ollie's memory.

In accordance with local tradition, this will go up on the first anniversary of his death and it is rumoured locally that there will be a gathering of his friends and family for a remembrance ceremony that will be a true tribute to him.

Ollie would be happy, too, with the location of the grave - under his favourite tall tree.

He has a 'view' of the village's only pub and many a night he would come out with his pint in hand and look at the crows building their nests in that particular tree.

Josephine said: "All this was part of him and now it's part of me and the reason I will always stay here."
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Author:Mooney, Ann
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 28, 2000
Words:1159
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