Sitting this morning in a chapel only a few miles from where I live yet I've never been in it before. I got there early. They were bringing the remains from Randalstown to Portglenone for the service then afterwards back to Randalstown for the burial. The chapel was packed, standing room only. There were at least six priests on the altar, maybe more. That's a lot. My Uncle John was very well known, a big family, six children, eighteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A dynasty. Through his own efforts and those of his children and grandchildren he was connected to a lot of GAA clubs, he played for Roger Casement's in Portglenone, met my Aunt Clare at a match at Kickham's in Creggan and after their subsequent marriage and settling in Randalstown he became a well-respected supporter of Tír na nÓg, where many of his grandchildren played. Then there were the Derry clubs he supported for all of his three daughters had crossed the River Bann to marry Derry men and their children played for a rival county. Not that Uncle John cared where they played as long as they played hard and well.
But, oh, he was a good and tolerant man too. He still had a lot of time for those who didn't play football, camogie or hurling. John was supportive and kind to me when life was hard and problematic. He never judged, he always cared. It was for this reason that I asked him to be godfather to my eldest child, who I raised, for the first five years of her life, as a single parent.
Now, as I've said, John was A GAA man to his core. An Irishman, a Gael, a Catholic. That's who he was. But there was not an iota of bigotry or sectarianism in the man. Reared in an area that was predominantly Protestant and Presbyterian he respected well and was in turn very well thought of by his neighbours. As it turned out I have come to live in a place only a couple of miles from where John's family lived and when I'd tell folk that I was connected to him I could feel myself rising in their estimation.
So, there you go, the end of an era. Another good man departed this earth. He'll not be forgotten. Kindness is never forgotten. Thank you, Uncle John.
John on the London Eye sitting between two sisters. On his right his wife, Clare and on his left our mother, Martha.