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Peter McCormack

PETER McCormack, Rathduff, Balla and Ballyhaunis Road, Claremorris, who died on December 16, at the D’Alton Community Nursing Home, Claremorris, was one of Mayo’s best known handballers in former times. Back in 1951 when Mayo were winning their second in a row senior All Ireland football title, Peter and his brother Tom brought further glory to the county when they captured the All Ireland Junior Softball doubles title, an achievement which was celebrated with much enthusiasm and local pride at the time.
Peter, who was born in 1923, was predeceased by his wife, Mary, who died on the December 3, 2006; brothers, Mike (Rathduff, Balla), Pat (Islandeady, Castlebar), Tommie (Manchester); sisters, Bridget (Dunne, Moonard, Mayo Abbey), Christina (Corcorcan, Westport), Mary (Nelthorpe, Manchester), Anne (Canavan, Belcarra) and Noreen (Dublin).
Growing up in Rathduff in the 1930s, like so many villages in rural Ireland, large families, very little money and scarce employment prospects, many had no option but to emigrate.
However, Peter commenced an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Cunnane’s Garage in Claremorris, and family members were reminded during the days of the funeral, of Peter cycling from Rathduff to Claremorris during those early years of his apprenticeship. He continued to be employed in Cunnane’s Garage until his retirement in the early 1980s.
Rathduff in those years had many sons who were active on the sports scene. Football was all-embracing for the parish, and while club records appear rather sketchy, Peter played a very active part in the club and was a member of the Balla team that reached the County Junior final in 1952. He later transferred to Claremorris and played at full-forward and other positions during the 1950s, and is still well remembered for his exploits on the field.
It was, however, for the game of handball, that Peter was best known and will continue to be remembered for many years to come in the Balla area and within the handball fraternity in the province. The McCormack brothers, Peter and Tom, won the All Ireland Junior Softball doubles title in 1951, beating an odds-on favourite pairing from Kilkenny, in three straight sets.
It was a huge achievement back in those times when community spirit was strong and any source of national recognition was also shared by the people of the district. Bonfires to commemorate that fine victory were lit throughout the region on the homecoming of the victors.
Indeed, the McCormack brothers, together with brothers from a number of other families around the area, ensured a very high profile for the Rathduff club in those times. The alley, which was built in 1931, became synonymous with Rathduff and the fame of its handball spread around the county and further afield. It was also a great meeting place for people who came Sunday after Sunday to Rathduff. They alley was ‘flat out’ in those years with young lads waiting their turn to get a game. The Rathduff Handball Club continued to thrive for many years and won many county honours.
Although living in Claremorris, Peter’s fondness for his home in Rathduff never waned. His weekly visits were looked forward to, where he would wander into the kitchen, park himself in a chair, as if he had never left. In Summer especially, he was a welcome sight, arriving in a big hayfield, with a rake and fork, where tractors and machinery were seldom in evidence.
In the late 1960s, Peter joined the Claremorris Fire Brigade. In 1993, he was presented with a long service medal by Michael Smith, Minister for the Environment. A Guard of Honour at his removal, led by Mayo Chief Fire Officer, Seamus Murphy, was both welcomed and appreciated by his family.
In these latter years, because of failing health, it was necessary that Peter have full time care, and so he entered his last home, the D’Alton Community Nursing Home in Claremorris some years ago. He got along marvellously with both patients and staff. His care, under the watchful eye of Mary Cotter, Director of Nursing, and her wonderful staff, ensured that Peter saw out his last days in peace and contentment.
Peter’s neighbours and friends on the Ballyhaunis Road, Claremorris, were very important to both Peter and Mary over the years. This was evidenced by the enquiries made on a continual basis from that area. Fr Peter Gannon attended Peter’s spiritual needs over the past few years, and for this, Peter’s family are very grateful. Peter’s requiem Mass in St. Coleman’s Church, Claremorris, was followed by internment in St Cronan’s cemetery, Balla.
He is survived by his brother, Johnny (Balla); sisters, Eileen Morrison (Rushill, Balla) and Margaret Nally (Ballinlough, Claremorris); nephews and nieces; in-laws; relatives and friends.