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‘St Patrick’ leaves lasting memories

Sport

A MOMENT IN TIME The late John Durcan (aka St Patrick) gives his blessing to supporters before the Connacht SFC game between Mayo and New York in Gaelic Park back in 2009. Pic: Sportsfile

NEXT month marks the tenth anniversary of the visit of the ‘Mayo St Patrick’ to New York. And all of us who were there at the time will never forget it.
The memories of that long weekend in 2009 in America came flooding back last Friday when we heard of the passing of the one and only John Durcan — aka ‘Mayo St Patrick’.
A man whose myth will go down in local GAA legend.
John was a constant presence in the days before and after Mayo played New York on that beautiful, bright Sunday in May 10 years ago — and he more or less took Gaelic Park over on match day!
‘St Patrick’ walked laps of the ground for hours that day, ‘blessing’ Mayo supporters, encouraging the Mayo team, posing for photographs, shaking hands, kissing babies, and leaving his own unique mark on the occasion.
And when the game was over, he must have met and congratulated every single Mayo player — all of whom he knew by their first name, if not their nickname.
They knew him too. Sure, everybody knew ‘St Patrick’.
They knew as well that he meant every single word of what he said to them — for better or worse — because Mayo and this remarkable football team meant everything to him.
That’s why he travelled across the Atlantic Ocean that weekend to support them.
We can remember him posing for pictures with ‘The Naked Cowboy’ in Times Square too the day before the game, and he held court in Eugene Rooney’s bars on many occasions.
‘How do you keep going?’ we asked him at one stage.
He just threw his hands (which were inside those sparkling white gloves of his) into the air, blessed us, and laughed.
John told The Mayo News back in 2008 how the idea for ‘St Patrick’ had been born four years earlier, and had just snowballed from there.
The signs, slogans, and messages on his famous costume became part of his character and he popped up in grounds from Castlebar to Clones to Croke Park when Mayo were in action.
Not that it was all plain sailing either; there was ‘wooden spoon gate’ in 2008 when John’s wooden spoon — which he had been using to beat his trusty bodhrán — ended up flying in Kieran Donaghy’s direction after Mayo played Kerry in Castlebar.
It later transpired that someone had borrowed the spoon and bodhrán at the game, but only returned the latter!
And not everybody in GAA officialdom always appreciated ‘St Patrick’s’ colourful and boisterous approach — there were days when he had to do some straight talking outside pitches to gain access. Inevitably though, JD pulled it off!
Most people saw ‘St Patrick’ for what he was: a mascot for the Mayo team who was a proud and passionate Mayo man, and who wasn’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops.
He raised money for charity, was beamed all over the world by TV cameras at big games, and appeared on the front and back pages of local and national newspapers many times.
He also threw his weight behind Westport Utd on many occasions for big games, and even brought along a new frying pan instead of a bodhrán to make some noice!
It’s hard to believe that both John Durcan and Neill O’Neill, who sat down together for an interview with this newspaper 11 years ago, are now no longer with us.
Like Neill, John lived life to the full, and leaves his family and friends with so many special memories to treasure.
One of ours again relates to that trip to America in 2009 when an airport security official discovered a bottle of holy water in ‘St Patrick’s’ carry-on luggage.
Before the official could say a thing, ‘St Patrick’ grabbed the bottle and drank the holy water, before blessing anyone within 10 yards of him while the gob-smacked American looked on from across the security desk!
There is no doubt that so many Mayo matches and sporting occasions would have been duller without him, and he was always fascinating and genuinely entertaining company.
We extend our sympathies to John’s loving wife Agatha nee Kirby; sons Neil (Castlebar), Shane (Montpellier, France), Franky (Kilmeena), Bobby and Paul (Cogaula), daughter Cepta Oldfield (Cogaula), son-in-law Ross, daughters-in-law Isabelle, Michelle and Fidelma, grandchildren Fabien, Sophie, Amy, Emily, Max, Adam, Jesse-Lee & Niamh, brother Tony (Dublin), sister-in-law Connie Napier, Aunt Peg Loftus (Sligo), relatives, neighbours and friends.
May he rest in peace.

Mike Finnerty