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The man at the Gable end

Ciarán Burke
Ciarán Burke is pictured in Clonbur, with Mount Gable in the background, last week.

The man at the Gable end

Ciarán Burke from Clonbur has lived in interesting times

Willie McHugh

THIS is Joyce Country where people come to fish the waters of Loughs Corrib and Mask or enjoy the enchanting views of those and Lough Coolin, Lough Nafooey and Lough Carra from the high veranda of Mount Gable.
It’s here in Clonbur village under the shadows of the mountain that Ciarán Burke spent his working life as a shopkeeper, publican and undertaker. His late father J.J. came from Borrisleigh and purchased Walter McNally’s premises in 1922. He married Annie Moane and they reared six children.
Having served his three year apprenticeship in O’Malley Brothers of Tuam, Ciarán joined the family business in 1953. A raconteur with a lovely lilting tone Ciarán talks of the era.
“Times were hard and suitcases were the big seller with so many people emigrating. In 1955 I started a travelling shop. Tuesday I went back Kilbride and Glantrague. Thursday was the big day from Finney, around Lough Nafooey to Shanafaraghaun and Tawnaleen. While it may not have been a money-spinner, it was an invaluable education. It gave me a wonderful insight to the area and I got to know families and the different connections and the knowledge I gained is of benefit to me to this day.
“I also did a bit of wheeling and dealing too by buying cattle from farmers and selling them on at the Clonbur Fair on the first Friday every month. It was a big day with stock out the Cornamona and Finney roads towards the football pitch and down beyond the church. October and November were sheep sales.
“A few customers suggested I should go into the undertaking business, a notion I dismissed out of hand initially, but as time went on I thought about it. John Joyce was the undertaker and John Luskin of Cong owned the hearse. John Joyce was retiring and, after discussing it with him and getting his and John Luskin’s blessing, if you like, I started the business in 1973.
“My first funeral was Michael Joyce from Kilbride. I remember the wonderful assistance I got from Jimmy Jennings, Miko Walsh, Patrick and Liam Joyce and other neighbours who have since passed on. The priest was on holidays so I had the honour of receiving the remains into Finney Church at two o’clock in the morning.”
Other sad days too. The tragic death of Seamus Kyne still plucks an emotional chord.
“I remember it so clearly. February 10, 1975. Seamus and I were great friends having grown up together. He did wonderful work in this area getting Petersborough Estate for the community and it’s a pity he never lived to see the amenity we have now. He was also a part of a deputation who went to Archbishop Cunnane and they got the Mercy Convent and now it’s a health centre with lots of services. He won an All-Ireland minor medal with Galway in 1952.
“Then my own brother Ignatius died suddenly last October and that was an awful shock to me. We went so many places together and only last week I was in Tipperary for a funeral and he’d have been with me. His sad loss leaves a huge void in my life always.”   
He bears witness to a plethora of changes in the narrow, winding village. Ciarán’s mind ambles on a quick memory stroll around the Clonbur of his childhood.
“Kyne’s next door to me, where Seamus was born, had a grocery, drapery, footwear and they also supplied animal feeds. Sarsfield’s grocery was on the other side and he sold leather. He repaired shoes and the Egan family of Kilbride were shoemakers. Michael Gibbons in The Post Office had grocery and he was a carpenter who made the seats for Clonbur, Finney and other churches.
“Mrs Gill had grocery and drapery. Pat Burke’s mother had a shop and they also did bicycle repairs. My aunt Agnes Walsh was next, and where the hairdressers and Helen Cassidy are now, was a grocery and footwear shop. There was a Tommy Conroy there too.
“Next you had Mrs Shanley’s wonderful toy shop and this was where Santa distributed to the children of Clonbur. Jimmy Gibbon’s workshop was next. His son Johnny worked with him and every implement was available there. Jimmy was also a postman.
“Joe Flynn, father of the singer Johnny Flynn, ran the local dance hall that was later taken over by John O’Meara and his son Jackie. Joe carries on a hackney service there now. Across the road Mrs Finn served tea on fair days.
“Lynch’s Centra and bar, where Brendan is now, did grocery and hardware. John Holleran had a grocery too and Jimmy O’Donnell when he married in there ran a wonderful shop where you could get anything from a needle to an anchor. It closed over a decade ago and was a huge loss to Clonbur.”
He rhymes off other past traders and names on the street where he lives.
“Mrs Brehony was the District Nurse. Pat Loftus’s father killed lamb and sheep supplying the area with fresh meat. The Crane in the Square was busy all summer weighing wool. Miss Kearney was there too and Mrs Feerick’s pub, a popular spot for visitors because of its unique charm. Edward Lynch’s Fairhill Guest House is where Joe Kyne ran a business previously. Robert Joyce had a bakery and Francis Blowick had a chemist shop.”
He recalls an April day in 1940 and two buses bringing seventeen families from the locality moving to new holdings in Meath.
“That was a big loss to the area and, in particular, to village trade. While we were too young to realise the full extent of it, we heard our parents speak about it.“
He points to a photo on the wall of his premises, a permanent reminder of the move.
“The small holdings they left behind were divided among other farmers giving them a slightly bigger farm and that improved their quality of life somewhat. Other families from back Kilbride direction moved over to Dalgan outside Shrule. Families still come back from Meath. Maggie Mulroe was down here a month ago with her son and it’s lovely to see them returning to visit.”

THE pub trade has changed too and Tí Bhurca has branched out into the food catering business. It was here in Burke’s, while overhearing a group of young musicians play, Leo Moran and Pearse Doherty of The Sawdoctors penned the verses of their big hit The Joyce Country Celi Band.
“We do do’s and functions, weddings and wakes,
Meats and salads, buns and cakes”.
Ciarán recalls bygone nights of the singing lounge and dancing when people arrived at 7.30pm in order to get a seat.
“But the biggest change I saw was the smoking ban and if I met Micheál Martin I’d carry him shoulder high for introducing it. A pub is a cleaner and healthier environment. I never thought that would happen.
“Smokers wouldn’t revert back to the old days either. They go outside now and they end up conversing with other people that they might not have interacted with inside. It was the best change in all of my time in the business. I wish now they’d introduce earlier closing hours because late serving benefits nobody, especially in family-run establishments.”
Football is the common denominator. The area is interlocked in the borderlines of Galway and Mayo and the rivalry that goes with the territory. His first All-Ireland was 1951.
“I got the train from Tuam to see Mayo beat Meath. Mayo and Galway bring out the best in each other. It’s the real Connacht Final. Seán Purcell was the greatest footballer I ever saw. He could play anywhere. The All-Ireland wins of 1998 and 2001 were great days too.”
But one day stands out.
“Clonbur winning an All-Ireland last February and the homecoming tops them all. They were our own local lads, born and bred in the area, and it was a brilliant achievement for a small rural club. We only ever played seven-a-side in my time and we had a good team playing in places like Renvyle and Shrule. We have fabulous playing facilities now. Athletics was my sport and I often won the mile race at flapper meetings in Cong, Finney and other meets.”
Married to Charlotte Joyce from Leenane they have a family of six: Adrienne, Eoin, Tomás, Gearóid, Anne Marie and Colm are the next generation.
“Tomás and Eoin have the mantle now I take more of a backseat role. I still have an interest though and whenever possible I still attend every funeral. I like to come down and open up in the morning and do what I can to help them out. I’ve met some great characters in my time too.”    
Clonbur still evolves. While times are tough again they don’t compare with the war years and rationing. There’s some employment around now thanks to places like McGrath’s Quarries and CDS in Cornamona and others.
Through mechanical and technological advances, Ciarán has witnessed the major evolution of Joyce Country during his watch. He traded at the counter of many changes but always valued and appreciated every customer on his premises.
No wonder then the people of Joyce Country chose him as their undertaker. That’s because they first came to know him as their caretaker. He minds them all the way to Rosshill.