On March 3rd last, in the dying days of what will come to be known as our BC (Before Corona), or maybe the first days of our new AD (Avoid, Delay), Seán Murphy climbed the stairs of the Páirc Uí Chinnéide complex and took his place at the monthly meeting of Killeagh GAA Club. The meeting had commenced at the usual time (i.e. no set time, but ‘after the Lotto’) but Seán had not been present at the meeting’s commencement. Most unusual, those who knew Seán would say, for him to be late for a meeting! There must have been some good reason, as this was the one place you were sure to find Seán on a Tuesday night, at the GAA club, overseeing the Lotto with his main sidekick, (he had a few!) that other great character known only by the one name, Junior (known by almost nobody as David Scully!). We’ve a bit of a habit of the over-use of the ‘mononym’ (usually male) in these parts, certainly in GAA terms, where everyone knows Killeagh as the home of Deano, Roch, (yes there are two, but we know intuitively which one you’re talking about), Markín, Dip, Dooce, Jimín, Pats and many others! I digress!
Anyway, Seán’s late arrival at this particular meeting was easily explained! The GAA club, in holding its previous two monthly meetings in January and February, had, in oversight, clashed (inadvertently) with the Killeagh Hall Committee’s monthly meeting on the first Tuesday of the month! This was subsequently pointed out to the officers of Killeagh GAA (myself included) on the last Tuesday of February by Seán, who wondered, as he pulled us aside for one of those many “.... I have something to say to you now that you might consider…..” quiet moments of reflection at the side-lines of the Lotto Draw. “No bother, Seán”said I, for once thinking of a solution in time to avoid the inevitable questioning from the same quarter at the next meeting. As it happened, the calendar was in our favour! There was an easy resolution – with five Tuesdays in March, the next GAA meeting could be held four weeks later, on March 31st, and at subsequent four-week intervals, thereby avoiding any future clash with the Hall Committee meetings on the first Tuesday of each month! As Seán took his place at that March 3rd GAA meeting, having procured one of his local ‘chauffeurs’ (he had many, of whom David O’Keeffe was the first, in his Ford Popular UIF 527!) Phyl Kearney to transport him from the Hall to the clubhouse, we were around an hour into proceedings, about five lines from the bottom of the agenda, and some were thinking of the cuppa at home or the quick visit to a local hostelry. There was some surprise on the faces of those sitting around the meeting on hearing and seeing Seán climb the steps and enter the room to take his usual place to the right of the top table. We were all very pleased on the one hand to see that Seán had managed to make it to the meeting, and, yet, all present knew that a ‘fast Mass’ of a meeting was now ‘off the agenda’, so to speak, given that Seán would have a few matters to raise before we could all return down that stairs once more. To be fair to him, there weren’t too many “Mr. Chairman…” interjections, and they were dealt with courteously by all present, even those matters already discussed in the previous hour, and when it came to the final matter of the night, the announcement of the date of the next meeting, it gave our always-efficient secretary Mary Fitzgibbon (another of Seán’s long-serving comrades) and me great pleasure to announce that our ‘master plan’ had resulted in an avoidance of any future ‘double booking’ between Hall Committee and GAA meetings, and that we would next convene on Tuesday March 31st. Seán’s main agenda item, the resolution of this fixture clash, had been dealt with to his satisfaction, and he, along with the rest of us, headed for home (with or without a stop-off!), oblivious to what lay ahead in the intervening four weeks.
As I mentioned above, BC merged into AD and subsequently into SH (Stay Home!) as we in Ireland and all around the world battled the havoc that the deadly Covid-19 virus has wreaked on all of us, in one way or another. How ironic, then, as March 31st rolled around, that nobody had to ask or be reminded about the postponement of the fourth Killeagh GAA meeting of 2020 and yet, we will remember this date in Killeagh for years to come now for another reason. On the morning of March 31st, Seán slipped peacefully to his eternal reward at his home in Knocknagree House, a landmark known by many on the eastern outskirts of Killeagh village, named in honour of the birthplace of Seán’s father, a place of which he was rightly proud! His passing saddened the whole of the Killeagh & Inch community and as news of his passing rippled throughout GAA, political and community group circles, that sadness extended and yet, as we reminisced on a life well lived, everyone felt enriched by having had the privilege of knowing the ultimate Killeagh mononym, Murph.
Seán Murphy, as another of his close friends Finbarr Motherway, relayed so well on his CRY104FM tribute to Seán on the day after his passing, was heavily involved in every committee that was ever formed in Killeagh parish, with perhaps a couple of exceptions – the ICA and the Parent’s Council! Besides those, there was little else that happened in our parish that he was not centrally involved in or deeply knowledgeable about – Macra na Feirme, particularly in his younger days (to which he gave credit for his personal, social and academic development), Glenbower Theatre, Killeagh Tops of the Communities back in all its pomp in the early 1980s, Killeagh Point-to-Point Race Committee, Killeagh Hall Committee, the local and national Fine Gael party, the Monday Club, Killeagh-Inch Community Council and of course Killeagh GAA Club. He extended his remit beyond Killeagh in many directions, particularly with Muintir na Tíre (he was previously Chairman and currently President of Cork County Federation of Muintir), and others have written and will be writing, no doubt, extensively about his role in these organisations. As a Killeagh GAA member, he devoted thousands of hours to the cause, and always sought to better the lot of the club and community.
Seán served as Killeagh GAA Chairman in the early 1970s, a period which saw substantial success on the pitch for the club with an East Cork Junior A Hurling “Jamesy Kelleher” double achieved in 1970 and 1971. His administrative skills were evident from a young age, and his knowledge of rules and regulations was used on many an occasion, in our own club and at the East Cork Board, where Seán served as Killeagh’s delegate for a remarkable 57-year unbroken period. Indeed, Seán’s last public meeting was, fittingly, the East Cork Board meeting of March 11th, and, as Ray Rochford remarked, the mood was sombre returning home to Killeagh that evening as the triumvirate in the car – Ray, Junior and Seán – surmised that it could be their last meeting for some time, given the impending shut down of normal activities due to the onslaught of the virus. Little did they know then that it would be the last time they travelled together, although reflecting this week on that journey prompted Ray to recall that the same triumvirate had had an eventful evening together (and not!) at one point about two years earlier. On that particular evening, Junior had the wheel, Ray was riding shotgun, with Seán in the back seat. Nothing unusual arose on the journey in to Midleton, or at the meeting itself, and the conversation, as it always did on the return journey home, began with a review of the meeting’s events and the list of matches to be arranged in the coming weeks.
A few minutes into the journey home, on the N25 approaching Loughaderra, Junior launched a verbal attack on the carry-on of a delegate from another club. Junior let fly (those in the know, and he himself will admit that he is prone, on rare occasions, to use the odd expletive), and Ray, wisely, given that he had to get home, concurred. “What do you think, Murph?”, shouted Junior to his backseat companion. When no response was forthcoming, Junior repeated the question, just a little louder, in case either party’s hearing aid was turned off! With no response coming from behind, Junior tried once more “will you not answer me Murph”, before Ray turned around in the passenger seat to make the dramatic discovery that the back seat was empty, with no sign of Seán! With the quickest U-turn ever made on the N25, Junior sped back to Midleton where both men went to collect their distressed, abandoned colleague. Except they couldn’t ascertain whether Seán was either distressed or abandoned, as he was nowhere to be seen. Nobody on the premises could account for him either, so the pair had no choice but to return to Killeagh as two legs of the stool. Junior was not impressed, and, perhaps in defence of his own position, said in exasperation to Ray “didn’t the ….. (fill in the blanks) know we’d come back for him?” On their return to Killeagh, just before they went to report a missing person to the Gardai, the pair decided to interview some potential witnesses in their favoured hostelry, when, on opening the door to same hostelry, the first person in view, sitting at the counter sipping his drink of choice (Club Lemon) was the missing delegate! Bemused and confused, the pair could only listen dumbfounded as Seán relayed to them and the others present that he had been rescued by ‘the auld enemy’ (the Youghal delegation) when his own had abandoned him! Relief all round, and a story that has done the rounds many times since, especially in the past week!
Another triumvirate which included Seán was known by many as “The Three Musketeers”, namely Seán and his two great friends Jerry Coleman, RIP and William Kelly, RIP. Sadly, William has also just gone to his eternal reward, five days after his great friend Seán. William was another staunch lifelong Killeagh GAA supporter and former committee member, and we send our sincere condolences to his wife Noreen and children Fionnuala and Tom and their families on their sad loss at this time. Jerry and Seán travelled the world together by cruise ship and aeroplane at other stages, but as a trio they were renowned for their trips to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Semple Stadium and many other GAA grounds in Munster and beyond, even venturing to Croke Park when the need arose, supporting their beloved Cork.
While Seán’s sight impairment hindered him in some ways throughout his life, travelling with William and Jerry was one occasion when it was a distinct advantage to have less than 20:20 vision, as neither of the other men were gifted with perfect driving skills! On more than one occasion, each of the pair, as passenger, observed to someone (sometimes the same person!) that the other’s driving was not quite up to scratch, while Seán, always passenger, but also always oblivious to any hair-raising close shaves, had no complaints about either! They had a regular routine for the matches, taking a leaf out of D’Unbelievables book by having the dinner at 8:30am in the morning and striking off so early for the match that they would be in Thurles not only ahead of the teams, but ahead of the stewards and the Traffic Corps also! In those pre-Healthy Clubs Project days, lunch consisted of a stash of Mars Bars and Crunchies and, like the previously mentioned triumvirate, with these three great conversationalists, silence was rare!
When Seán’s failing sight restricted his attendance at matches in recent years, he got great satisfaction from listening to matches on the radio, from Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and his successors on RTE Radio, to local commentators like John Cashman on C103 and Seán’s fellow clubman Patrick Mulcahy on CRY104FM or on C103. Indeed, Seán was extremely proud when Patrick was recently elected an officer of the East Cork Board, following in the footsteps of Tracey Kennedy, who this week credited Seán with starting her on her journey to the highest GAA office in the county.
Seán was well known and respected for his unscrupulous honesty and his insistence on justice and fair play at all times, and if he felt that his team or club were ever wronged on or off the pitch, he would take umbrage. Not so long ago, a referee from the northern end of the division incurred the wrath of Junior and Seán with some ‘questionable’ decisions in a Junior Football match. On meeting this referee’s club delegate at a subsequent East Cork Board meeting, Seán took him to one side for another of those ‘let me tell you..’ chats, where he told the delegate in no uncertain terms that the referee was not welcome around Killeagh for any business or professional reasons. Inquiring as to why this was the case, the delegate was informed about the referee’s perceived slight against Killeagh in the football match. “Ok” said the delegate, taking the full brunt of Seán’s ire in good faith, “and by how much did ye lose the match, Seán, by the way?” Murph harrumphed indignantly, replying witheringly “what are you on about, sure we won the match!” Another opponent left speechless!
Another of Seán’s loves was the GAA’s cultural competition, Scór. Indeed, in Scór’s heyday in the 1980s, Seán was ‘Fear an Tí’ on many occasions in Killeagh Hall when East Cork semi-finals and finals would see the venue, like others throughout the barony, packed to the rafters. In later years, Seán formed a quartet of ever-present Scór supporters for wherever Killeagh entries were performing, along with our Cultural Officer, the aforementioned Junior Scully, his wife Lucinda and their good friend Carmel Barry. The ‘cuppa’ proffered at many of these events was a welcome highlight, and they enjoyed many successful evenings following the Killeagh club throughout the 80s and 90s right up to the present day, although Scór’s popularity has declined dramatically in that time. On one occasion however, about 20 years ago, Seán was left unimpressed by a Killeagh “Tráth na gCeist” team, in which I was unfortunately involved. We had managed to win the divisional quiz, thereby qualifying for the County Semi-Final in Aghabullogue. In the East Cork competitions, the quiz was always at the end of the evening, and we assumed that this would be the case also on this particular night. Taking our time on our journey, (nowadays, the ubiquity of mobile phones would likely prevent such an occurrence) we got there just in time to see to our horror… the quiz finishing up on the stage! We sheepishly had to make our apologies to the travelling supporters for letting them down – non-runners far from home! The following day, still feeling very guilty (for it was I who was responsible for the whole team being late), I rang Junior and Seán in turn to offer a heartfelt apology for letting the club down so badly! Seán was most gracious in accepting my apology, telling me not to worry too much about it, and concluding with the painful truth – “sure ye weren’t ever going to beat that crowd anyway”! That crowd, Millstreet, were champions then and are champions still, undefeated in 24 years in County Cork. Jerry Doody, the lynchpin of that great Millstreet team and a good friend of Seán’s through GAA and community links, was one of the first to pay tribute to Seán in the past week, describing him as a “tírgráthóir (patriot) in the truest sense of the word”. Indeed he was.
On Seán’s final journey on the N25, a road much travelled by him, towards the Island Crematorium last Thursday, his coffin was draped in the green and white flag of his beloved Killeagh. It was a fitting gesture for a man who carried Killeagh’s flag, in many guises, throughout his long lifetime of dedicated service. Seán has been fondly remembered in these past few days by his community, where he had literally hundreds of friends – from the houses where he called regularly, including the O’Keeffe, Fogarty, Clifford, Holland, Kennedy and Lynch households, to the many drivers he could call upon to bring him to another meeting, match or event at the other end of the village or the other end of the county.
To his sisters Maura (Dublin) and Sheila (Canberra, Australia) and their families, we offer our sincere condolences on their loss. To Seán’s wider ‘family’ in Killeagh, in particular to his devoted carer and friend Nellie Greene, his aforementioned ‘GAA soulmate’ Junior Scully and the countless others who knew him so well, we give thanks for a life well lived, and a role model, in a most unassuming way, for all of us to follow.
Slán, a chara, táimíd go léir i bhfad níos saibhre as aithne a chur ort!
Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Cilliath