WHEN THEY WERE KINGS The Renvyle Gaeic football team are pictured after winning the 1971 Cong ‘Sevens’ competition. Back, from left to right: Johnny Fitzpatrick, Johnny Sammon, Joe Mannion, Joe Mortimer and Mikey Kane. Front, from left: Chip Conneely, John Conneely (mascot), Paddy Fitzpatrick and Charlie O’Malley. Photo courtesy of Paul Gannon
LEGEND is sometimes an overused and oft abused pronouncing.
But in the case of the late Paddy Fitzpatrick from Renvyle the appendage is merited. Throughout his life Paddy had attained legendary status. He was known far and wide.
He was exiled for a time in America and England but Renvyle was always centre-stage. In his death notice on RIP.ie he’s described as “The Gaeilgeoir and Story Teller.”
The term footballer could have been included also. It too throbbed strong in Paddy Fitzpatrick’s beating pulse.
Paddy Fitzpatrick had a long and illustrious playing career. Age never withered him. His son Michael remembers his father playing in a West Board Junior Championship with Renvyle at 67 years of age. And Paddy wasn’t just making up the numbers either.
Along the borderlines of Galway and Mayo his name will ever have a resonance.
Back in an era when the world was young and impressionable this was seven-a-side football country. We were spoiled for choice with competitions held annually in Kilmaine, The Neale, Gortjordan, Glencorrib, and Shrule on Reek Sunday. Shrule stands as the mecca of them all.
Teams came from Mayo and Galway and sometimes far further afield. Renvyle were regular participants. Their appearance was eagerly anticipated. They togged strong but Paddy Fitzpatrick and his brother Johnny were the main attraction.
When Renvyle played a whiff of cordite permeated the air. They played through the medium of Irish. Only possessing a ‘Buntús Cainte’ knowledge of the language, if indeed that at all, some teams struggled to decipher their code.
But coping with Paddy and Johnny Fitzptrick proved a more challenging task entirely.
Paddy was a human composition of fire, brimstone and dynamite. And when Paddy exploded it triggered a similar reaction in Johnny.
Umpteen times in those humble arenas the world shook on its axis.
Like it did one ‘Ascension Thursday’ evening in Kilmaine. The homeside and Renvyle were locked in combat. Renvyle were awarded a free. As the ball was in flight Pete O’Brien, a young upcoming Kilmaine stalwart, detonated Paddy with a kick in the posterior.
It was almost a declaration of war as all hell broke loose. But as was his wont O’Brien stood his ground and gave a fair account of himself. Paddy Fitzpatrick would later remark that he enjoyed the bout of fisticuffs, especially from one so brave.
Tomás Burke remembers his Clonbur debut as a 15-year-old in 1983 and taking up his position at corner-forward. He was more than a little apprehensive on discovering an aging Paddy Fitzpatrick would be shepherding him.
“There won’t be much running done today young Búrca” was Paddy’s greeting. Tomás went a roaming and nailed a few scores on his evergreen marker. On shaking hands at the end of the game Paddy’s parting remark was, “If you did that to me ten years ago you’d never do it again.”
Paddy took to officiating in later years. Padraic O’Malley of Clare Island recalls a time Paddy was refereeing a game between Clare Island and Inishbofin in Renvyle. Some imprudent spectator questioned one of Paddy’s rulings. Paddy brought proceedings to a halt, warning the heckler any further utterings would earn him “a slap in the snotter.”
Paddy had a great grā for music, song and dance. He regularly attended sessions from Cleggan to Geesala and regaled all with a few ballads and great yarns. He was the subject of a TG4 documentary titled “Fear an Hata.” He was a natural performer when the camera rolled. There was an actor within.
He was waked in his ‘Eagle’s Nest’ Cashleen home. He had commissioned his friend, Johnny Sammon, to manufacture his cist. To his delight, Johnny fashioned a boat-coffin for him. In it he was ferried to his resting plot in Crocán an tEampaill.
His deeds will live forever in the telling. In life he earned a status to rival that of Cúchulainn.