FOND MEMORIES The late Paddy Connor and his wife Breege at the reunion of the former Dr Croke’s (Hertfordshire) GAA Club which was held in October 2015 in Westport. Pic: Frank Dolan
The throngs who couldn’t get in stood on the hillock outside the church. Men, women and children; old, young and in-between; some in suits and ties, some less formal and some in the famous jerseys of Lacken Sarsfields GAA.
The only sound was the soft gentle breeze blowing up from the Atlantic and the murmur of quiet conversation as the mourners awaited the arrival of Paddy Connor’s funeral cortege. The church of Saint Patrick and Saint Cuimin has hosted many celebrations of life over the generations, and on Tuesday last it was the turn of the people to bid farewell to a man who touched the hearts and souls of more than he ever realised.
The previous evening, streams of mourners had come to pay their respects as Paddy lay in repose down the road in Killala and when dawn broke over the ocean on Tuesday morning there were hundreds more preparing for a trip to Lacken to bid the big man farewell.
The came from far and near, from all across Ireland and beyond. Paddy Connor had indeed touched the hearts and souls of more than he ever realised.
On Tuesday morning, many who knew Paddy and his wife Breege during their life in London gathered outside the church as the funeral cortege slowly wound its way along the well-travelled country roads over the ocean.
Big men from Ballycroy recalled Paddy’s generosity on the door of The Galtymore when he often let them slip past when money was tight; women from Geesala spoke about the fun they had with Paddy and Breege on sparkling nights in London and a man from Swinford told of days he watched Paddy play football with Dr Crokes in Harrow. They, and many more, had flown in to pay respects to their friend.
Nearby the men and women of the Sarsfields and St Brigid’s Ladies clubs gathered in the church carpark. Some had sat beside him that night back in 1969 when they decided to reform the famous club; some had played alongside him in the green, white and gold; some had been there on St Stephen’s Day in 1976 when he returned from England with a trophy and medals to play for on the sacred sod; some of the youngsters had worn the Naomh Padraig or St Brigid’s jerseys as Paddy watched with great pride and some had been beside him a few months ago when he told the world that the Sarsfields were refusing to die.
That was the type of man Paddy Connor was – he knew what mattered, he knew what was right. Family, friends and love of place drove him. He strove for what was good and what was right for his people and his community.
In the churchyard, the London crew were explaining how Paddy might have been in their midst for 37 years, but he was always coming home to Carrowcullen to farm the land and live happily there with family, friends and happiness all around him. Paddy and Breege did just that in 2009 and began a new phase of life among their own.
On Tuesday morning Carrowcullen sparkled in the sunshine as the big man made his last journey out the road through the boreens and roads he loved so well. He was accompanied by Breege, their sons Declan and Seán, his brothers Frank, Michael, Gerry, Brendan and Brian, sister Martina and a battalion of heartbroken relatives and friends.
Then, as the sun danced in the sky the murmuring among the mourners halted as the cortege slipped up along the coast and approached the crowds waiting at the church. Alongside the hearse two lines of footballers marched sadly beside their leader. Near the front of the lines were many of the men who had worn the Lacken jersey when they were at the pinnacle of football in the county. Leading them out were two of the proudest of all, Charlie Collins and his cousin, Mícheál.
There was deep sorrow on their faces, profound sadness for their friend, neighbour and clubman. Paddy’s passing had hit hard and there was no disguising the anguish. He had been at the centre of club life, immersed in everything in the community and always dreamt of better days.
He had been present at the reformation of the club in 1969, played until 1972 when he and Breege headed for London. He had played with the famous Dr Crokes in Harrow alongside mighty men from Mayo and many other counties. They had great success on the playing fields, winning three Hertfordshire senior championships and were narrowly defeated by London champions, Parnells in the 1991 All-Britain final.
Paddy loved those days and had great fun with his friends, but his heart was forever in Lacken and everyone knew it.
On Tuesday last as the big man’s life was celebrated and gifts were brought to the altar we learned even more about the gentle giant. A toy sheep was among the family and football offerings, and we were informed that Paddy couldn’t resist a pet lamb. That told us all we needed to know about the man whose life we were celebrating. He was huge in stature with hands of granite and a heart as soft as silk – particularly where his adored grandchildren Margot and Arlo were concerned.
Later, Michael Callaghan spoke on behalf of Lacken Sarsfields and put words on the void left by their leader’s passing. Paddy had stood tall when many thought the Sarsfields would fold last season and now the next generation would honour Paddy by continuing the rebuild.
Finally, Paddy’s son Seán stood on the altar and touched the hearts of all within earshot. He explained the love, laugher friendship and fun experienced in his dad’s presence and both began and ended the eulogy with the simple, but perfect statement – “Patrick Joseph Connor, what a man!”