GREEN AND RED FOREVER The late Johnny Mulvey.
Johnny’s passing casts long shadow
The death of Johnny Mulvey has thrown a shadow over GAA activities in Mayo this week. For Johnny was a GAA legend. His passing has brought to an end a lifetime association with Gaelic sport in Mayo, a lifetime of selfless dedication unparalleled in the history of the organisation in this county.
From his earliest days as a footballer in Louisburgh, to his playing career at county minor and senior level, and later as administrator for the greater part of his life - Johnny Mulvey brought to each, in his quiet, unassuming, gentle way, an unflinching devotion.
His work became the model for those who would follow, a standard moulded in integrity and love. Age had not dimmed his interest or his lively intelligence. In the twilight of his life Johnny had published the GAA Diary of a Century. He was an ever present figure at Mayo GAA gatherings, there in the background, keeping vigil, always with the kindly word, the warm greeting, the nuggets of information about players and their backgrounds.
Johnny Mulvey was born in Newtownbutler, Co. Fermanagh, on January 21, 1921.
His father, Timothy, was a serving policeman stationed in the town. Johnny’s mother was Julia McNamara of Collacoon, Louisburgh. Later, the family retired to the ancestral McNamara home in Collacoon where Johnny was reared. He was the eldest of eight children, six of them brothers.
He was educated at St Jarlath’s college, Tuam, where he won Connacht senior medals with the college in 1938 and 1939. He was on the Mayo minor panel of 1939 and played senior football for the county in 1945-46. Records show that he scored a goal for Castlebar Mitchels in their defeat of Crossmolina in the county senior final of 1948.
Having completed his Leaving Certificate he studied for the priesthood at Mount Mellary in Waterford and carried many happy memories throughout his life of his years there. In Mount Mellary he was introduced to hurling and played championship hurling with Cappoquin during that time.
Johnny fell ill in the early forties and spent eleven months in hospital. After recovering, he resumed his studies, this time in St Peter’s College, Wexford, but fell ill again. When restored to full health he took up football again and was on the losing side to Galway in the 1945 Connacht senior final. Injury, however, forced him to quit inter-county football prematurely.
During his recovery from illness Johnny turned his attention to music and later he became involved in dance bands, eventually forming his own band which took him to places as far away as Dungarvan and Tralee. He also involved himself in amateur acting and remembered being in a production of “The Dawn of Freedom” in the early forties in Louisburgh, in which he played the character intended to be shot.
“I’ll never know how near I went to the real coup de grace, because the shotgun that was used actually produced a hole in the roof of the Parochial Hall,” he recalled in a commemorative booklet edited by Fr Leo Morahan and published by the Mayo Green and Red Trust Fund to mark a function in Johnny’s honour in 1994. From that publication much of the information for this article has been taken.
Johnny moved to Castlebar in the Mid-Forties and took up lodgings in the O’Loughlin home. He had been in residence there for close on sixty years becoming, virtually, a member of that family. He worked for Mayo County Council for a short while, had a hackney business, developed an extensive milk run and was engaged in mail collections.
One of his hackney runs involved driving some members of the Mayo team to Tralee for a league game, for which Johnny was called on to complete a depleted Mayo side. The performance of Mayo on that occasion stirred members of the team which included Sean Flanagan, Tom Langan and Eamon Mongey, to call on the County Board for something to be done ‘before football disappeared completely in Mayo’. The letter was the catalyst for their All-Ireland victories in 1950 and 1951.
As chauffeur and county official, Johnny continued to traverse the countryside with footballers and officials. And this writer had occasion to recall his driving skills when manoeuvring his Ford Consul through a mob of angry supporters of a defeated South Mayo minor team on the streets of Claremorris to rescue a Castlebar Mitchels’ footballer against whom they had a grievance.
Following a stint as secretary of West Mayo GAA Board he became a county board delegate. He served as assistant secretary of the Mayo Board from 1954/1956 and as county secretary from 1956 to 1978. He was appointed Connacht Council secretary in 1975 and remained in that voluntary position for twenty years. He was also Connacht and Central council delegate for years.
He was also a noted referee on the local and intercounty scene and officiated at the Connacht Senior final in 1958 between Galway and Leitrim and in the National League final of 1960 between Down and Cavan.
On one occasion in the Mid-Forties he was attracted to an athletics meeting in Westport, and won the 100 yards Open Race, having cycled from Louisburgh. Half an hour later he won the 800 metres of Mayo. “I can’t believe now that in 1945 ‘metres’ were in use, but that is what the medal says. It must have been easy to win because I never had any interest in athletics before or since,” he said.
The late Seamie Daly also recalled Johnny’s interest in the horses. “We went to races together a good bit in our younger days and he was one of the best men with horses I have known . . . very shrewd and a great man to pick winners.”
Christy Loftus, former secretary and chairman of Mayo GAA Board had this to say of his predecessor: “Without doubt the greatest single asset Johnny Mulvey brought to his various GAA roles was his wisdom . . a wisdom born of years of experience.
“When I took over from him as Mayo secretary, one of the best pieces of advice any man could ever get was received in his quiet, unassuming way from Johnny. His advice related to the importance of giving guidance to young players and board members. “’But”’ added Johnny, ‘more important that the guidance is to ensure that they take the guidance and do as they are told. “With Johnny around there could never be a crisis, he was coolness personified,” said Christy.
Former Mayo star Mick Ruane talked of receiving a letter while in England from Johnny asking if he would like to come home to play for Mayo. “I arrived in Castlebar with my suitcase, got digs in O’Loughlins, where Johnny also lived, and stayed there for several years.
“On my return from England, Johnny took me to special training for a match the following Sunday. He took me to MacHale Park three times a day. He had a long whistle and I remember to this day the pains that every whistle brought.
“Johnny always wanted to know if he could do something for you,” said Mick. “Once, while togging out in Longford, I found that a pair of boots he had just bought were too big. Johnny put his hand in his pocket and bought a new pair for me.”
In a tribute to Johnny taken from the commemoration booklet he edited, and abridged because of space restrictions, Fr Morahan wrote that he had admired
him over the years as a GAA man, as a Mayo man and as a Louisburgh man.
“As a member of Cumann Luthchleas Gael it would be difficult indeed to find one
more loyal to its ideals and demands or more accomplished and presentable an exemplar. . . As a Mayo man I am surely not alone in remembering him, above all, as the secretary par excellence. There was excellence in the integrity of his recorded minutes, in the caring way he dealt with players of all ages, in his efficiency in planning and executing arrangements and in his devoted keeping of records . . . and, of course I salute him as a fellow Louisburghman.
“I do so with all the loyalty and with what we in the West call the ‘nature’ of one who grew up under his gentle shadow. The best way we might find to express what we find difficult to describe is the Louisburgh saying, ‘There was always something about him’. . . Something about the way he had of easing himself gently into any discussion, resting like a butterfly on our conversations, but also ready with gentle wit which was so often laced with down-to-earth common sense . . . .”
Johnny died as he had lived . . . without fuss. His was a gentle passing in keeping with his gentle nature. They came from many parts of the country to pay their last respects, and guards of honour accompanied the cortege at the removal on Sunday evening and his burial in Castlebar on Monday.
His memory will be cherished by those who knew him, a potent symbol of a lifetime of voluntary service to an ideal. May the sod rest lightly over him.
Johnny is survived by his sister Mary, brothers Mick, Tim and Paddy; by the O’Loughlins, Denise, Deirdre, Irene and Raymond; by his nieces, nephews and many other relatives and close friends.