Local Faces: David Parkes
IT CAN be hard to quantify what a miracle is. It is defined as an event that is seemingly inexplicable by natural or scientific laws.
For David Parkes, he is of the belief that he would not be alive today had it not been for a miracle in Medjugorje that totally changed the course of his life.
Originally from St Mary’s Terrace on the Northside of Dublin, David was born into a family of five children with very creative parents.
His father Frank was a postman by day and trumpet player by night who also loved a game of badminton while his mother, Veronica was no stranger to a bit of Irish dance.
Growing up in a household full of music set David on a musical path but his first love, football, took precedent.
“I was crazy about football, we lived in a little cul-de-sac and during the summers the soccer game would start about nine in the morning and we could finish at 11.30pm that night,” David recalls.
“It was constant. The mams and dads would have the windows open looking out at us and many a pane of glass was broken because one goal was opposite two houses as such.
“The other goal was a gateway into a holding pen for cattle, because we were just down from the cattle market at that time.
“If we weren’t there, we would go up to the Phoenix park which would only be a three/four-minute run from the house – so we played the big games up there.”
At 11, David’s talents that were being developed on the streets really started to take shape after signing for Young Elms FC – where he won several trophies.
While he wasn’t aware that he was much better than other players on the pitch, David was lining out for the Young Elms minor team on Sunday afternoons after playing his Under-16 games in the morning.
“I was asked to go and join Bohemians, to play minor football,” David details.
“I was there for a season and then I was approached to go and play for St Patrick’s Athletic by Gerry Doyle, who was manager of St Patrick’s Athletic at the time.”
However, just as the season was starting, Gerry Doyle left to become the new director of Shelbourne and Jackie Hennessy took charge as caretaker manager.
In an A-team versus B-team game, David was whipped off at half-time and was absolutely fuming with Hennessy for doing so.
That was until he was notified that he was travelling with the first team to play Cork Celtic as the “12th man” and a week later, he got the big break, against Drumcondra.
Playing football as an amateur with St Pat’s, David worked as an apprentice stereotyper with Brown and Nolan – which saw him making printing plates for newspapers.
“The funny thing was, when I was serving the apprenticeship, every Monday morning there would be these headlines ‘Chelsea interested in Parkes’ and this, that, and the other,” the now 71-year-old recalls with a chuckle.
“I’d get called, first thing in the morning, up to the managers office in the printing business.
“To serve an apprenticeship at the time, was such a massive privilege.
“I’d be in there every second week for months trying to convince him I knew nothing about it and that I wasn’t going anywhere because it really was only all speculation.
“It would be Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, maybe the clubs were saying things in the background but I knew nothing about it.”
David’s time in Inchicore came to a bitter end, with the club struggling to formulate a consistent structure, he sought a move elsewhere.
At the end of a terrific season with Drogheda United, at 19-years-old, David penned his first professional contract and it was with non-other than Bohemian FC.
Despite following Shamrock Rovers as a child, he lived close enough to “hear the Dalymount roar” every Sunday growing up and the move proved to be a perfect match – he was home.
In 1969-70, the young left full-back helped Bohs to the FAI Cup after playing out two Final Replays with Sligo Rovers.
It was during his time at Dalymount Park that David got to really test himself against the best players in the world with teams from all around coming to play friendly games.
Sharing the pitch with George Best twice, Parkes tested his metal against Brian Kidd across a pair of games against Manchester United and later faced off against his boyhood club, Liverpool.
In a match against the ‘Pool, David had one of those special games.
“I started off against Ian Callaghan, then Thompson came over, and he was taken off then as well,” Parkes says.
“Then I was marking a guy called Alan Evans, he was the first ever £100,000 signing.
“I had one of those games where nothing got past, not even the wind, it was amazing.
“So much so that they had an interest in signing me. They came over twice to finalise it but fog in Dublin airport and fog in Liverpool stopped them – it just didn’t work out.”
It was a fabulous time at Bohemians and Parkes had another big test on his hands when Brazilian outfit Santos came to town in 1972.
Now, 50 years on, Parkes can still remember, with absolute clarity, all of the hubbub surrounding Pelé arriving in the capital to play at Dalymount.
“It was Bohemians/Drumcondra selection against Pelé at Santos, what an amazing, amazing experience,” David recalls with delight.
“Dalymount was crammed, they were sitting on the sidelines – they wouldn’t have played the match now.
“As well as the stands being full, they were sitting on the roof and everything.
“It was a really good game. Initially it was thought that they should be let play but for us, it was a day out, we were going to pit our talent against theirs.
“It was impossible for us to get up the laneway, we were playing the game but the crowds were right up the alley.
“They were asking for tickets and we’re there trying to explain that we’re playing and the guys like ‘oh right go on’.
“That’s the fever pitch.
“The only regret I’d have is they didn’t take a picture of the two teams together.
“Pelé made a prediction the day before the match that he was going to score direct from the kick-off. So RTÉ only had 16 seconds of footage from the game because it was our kick-off – it didn’t equate.
“It’s amazing for us really when you think about it because how many Irish men can say they played against Pelé? Even the full professionals.
“Pelé was very gracious, he came into our dressing room after the game, signed autographs for us and all.
“I’ve lived on having played against him having told the stories all over the world.”
The next season, Liam Tuohy brought David to Shamrock Rovers and using the signing-on fee, he was able to afford a deposit on a house in Balrothery – where he and his wife Anne have lived since 1973.
Following two seasons with the Hoops and not too long after signing for Waterford, Parkes’ career was cut short after being diagnoses with a life-altering illness at 27.
“During my last season with Waterford I was having difficulties with my bowel,” David says.
“When I eventually went to see what was wrong, and diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I had nearly lost six or seven-stone in weight – which was half my bodyweight.
“I had to give up the football, I wasn’t physically able for it anymore, it wasn’t something I wanted to do but I got very ill.
“I gave up the football and got into the music business, all while being very ill, in 1977.
“I then had 14-years of being very ill, 10 major surgeries and then told that I had two-weeks to live.”
Those 14-years were an incredibly difficult time for the family, with David and Anne having three-children and trying to help their son Ken, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis.
Over the years, David picked up work in the Burlington Hotel as the band lead and by 1989, his health had totally regressed.
“I went in to have surgery on Christmas Eve and didn’t have a good recovery as such,” he details.
“Two weeks after then, I went in for another surgery and after 11-hour surgery, they came and stood at the end of the bed and said ‘listen, there’s nothing more we can do for you, you only have weeks to live’.
“I cried for 24-hours, Anne was in with me and it’s difficult because she’s trying to help the kids.
“The next day then I just decided that the one thing I should be worrying about is not me, but Anne and the three kids.”
Having been out of work due to the illness, the band from the Burlington held a concert benefit night in aid of David’s family in the Green Isle Hotel in a bid to help out financially.
Two people showed up for the benefit night that ran pilgrimages, and they offered David and Anne a trip to a place called Medjugorje, in Bosnia.
“That’s where my whole life changed, an instant healing in Medugorje.”
David used a specific word to describe this period in his life. He says that he was “lingering”.
Three-months later, around Easter, Anne and David set-off on a full 165-seater plane.
“I had totally lost my faith. I was angry because of Ken’s illness and my own illness, I thought I wasn’t getting any favours.
“When they offered me this week’s pilgrimage, I fought against it. I had no interest in going. Part of why I went was because I felt like it was my last holiday with Anne.
“We went anyway with the group and spiritual director of the group was a priest from Chicago by the name, Fr Peter Mary Rookey.
“He had an amazing reputation for having the gift of healing. When I met him, I was totally turned off him because he was a typical brash American. All this ‘God loves you’, ‘hallelujah’.
“I caused havoc on the bus from the airport to Medjugorje. They’re all praying and I’m very sick on the bus with stomach pains and getting sick. This guy is there saying‘God love you, God bless you, we’ll do the rosary here and there’.
“By the time I got to Medjugorje, I just wanted to go home. For every reason I had to leave, Anne had a reason to stay a little longer.
“The next day, the priest is having this healing ceremony in a graveyard at the back of the church. They stood around for three-hours ridiculing him because when he would anoint people, put his hands on them, they would fall to the ground.
“It’s a phenomenon known as resting of the spirit and I just thought this was hysteria, so I’m making a big joke of it going away and coming back. Eventually, after people asking me, he came along and anointed me.
“I rested in the spirit for 20-minutes and I got up off the ground with no pain, no vomiting. Went off and ate a dirty burger and I didn’t notice it. It was only when Anne said it to me that I hadn’t been to the bathroom or vomited and was starting to stand up straight.”
When David arrived home, he had to go to the doctor straight away for more tests and when he arrived the doctor just said “keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working”.
10-weeks later, he got a call from the doctor to let him know that there was no sign of Crohn’s disease in his body.
Within the space of a few months, David went from being told he had weeks to live to making a full-recovery.
In 1993, David gave up the band business to start touring the world doing Christian concerts and telling the story of what happened to him.
Today, David brings his son Ken up to Tallaght hospital three times a week for dialysis and continues to produce music.
David is a strong singer and has gone on to release seven albums with his latest one called Remember Me.
“I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody or up there trying to convince these people to become a Catholic,” David says towards the end of our conversation.
“All I’m doing is stating what happened to me. You either take it or leave it. The facts are there really you know? It was a miracle. Miracles really do happen.”