Farewell Shea­mus, a val­ued friend for close on 30 years

Enniscorthy Guardian - - SPORT - With Alan Ah­erne

SATUR­DAY BROUGHT some very sad news in the G.A.A. world and, although it was un­for­tu­nately des­tined to ar­rive sooner rather than later, it still left me reel­ing. I was in­formed that Shea­mus Howlin was in his fi­nal hours when I en­tered St. Patrick’s Park, En­nis­cor­thy, to watch his beloved St. Martin’s tak­ing on HWH-Bun­clody in the Un­der-20 foot­ball cham­pi­onship fi­nal.

Later that evening, I was vis­it­ing a close fam­ily mem­ber in hos­pi­tal in Water­ford when a text that I didn’t want to re­ceive ar­rived, con­fir­ma­tion that a good friend I had known for al­most 30 years had passed to his eter­nal re­ward all too soon.

My lo­ca­tion at the time height­ened the re­al­ity that - cliché or not - one’s health truly is one’s wealth, and it should never be taken for granted.

Fate dealt Shea­mus a par­tic­u­larly cruel hand in that as­pect of his life, with his ill­ness ar­riv­ing at a stage when he should have been look­ing for­ward to a long re­tire­ment sur­rounded by his lov­ing fam­ily.

In­stead he was given the dev­as­tat­ing news that he was on bor­rowed time, but I was full of ad­mi­ra­tion for the man­ner in which he fought un­til the bit­ter end, keep­ing a pos­i­tive out­look and never los­ing that friendly, per­son­able way of his that en­deared him to so many.

He has been in my thoughts con­stantly since Satur­day, and the mem­ory of our first in­ter-ac­tion re­mains par­tic­u­larly clear.

The year was 1989, and the spe­cific lo­ca­tion was the din­ing room ta­ble in Pat Mur­phy’s house in the town­land of Cool­gar­row, on the main En­nis­cor­thy to Ou­lart road.

Pat was in his first year as county P.R.O., and I was a young­ster with a com­bined pas­sion for writ­ing and the G.A.A., a few days shy of my 17th birth­day and get­ting ready to start my jour­nal­ism stud­ies in Rath­mines.

Shea­mus was Chair­man of the County Board’s spon­sor­ship com­mit­tee at the time, and we had gath­ered to put some shape on the match pro­gramme for the forth­com­ing Se­nior hurl­ing fi­nal be­tween Buf­fers Al­ley and Ou­lart-The Bal­lagh.

It was the first big project that I was in­volved in, and bear in mind that in those pre-in­ter­net and e-mail days it in­volved a con­sid­er­able amount of don­key work, re­ceiv­ing hand­writ­ten bits and pieces from var­i­ous sources and us­ing an old man­ual type­writer to make it man­age­able for the prin­ter.

Shea­mus had iden­ti­fied that I had some­thing to of­fer to the process, and I will al­ways be grate­ful to him for help­ing me take the first steps on a lad­der of in­volve­ment in the G.A.A. that brought us on a deeply sat­is­fy­ing shared jour­ney over many years.

We served as col­leagues for a long time on the County Board man­age­ment com­mit­tee, and I will never for­get a phrase he used so of­ten to dif­fuse any ten­sion: ‘re­mem­ber, we’re all in this to­gether’.

He was of­ten slagged in a good-na­tured man­ner af­ter meet­ings for ut­ter­ing those words, but how right he was and deep down ev­ery­one in­volved knew that too.

Our paths didn’t cross as fre­quently af­ter 2006 be­cause I ended my in­volve­ment in G.A.A. ad­min­is­tra­tion. And it was to the im­mense credit of Shea­mus that, af­ter a mere two years as Co. Chair­man when he would have liked a longer spell at the helm, he rose to the next chal­lenge and went on to rep­re­sent his club and county with pride as leader of the Le­in­ster Coun­cil, and on var­i­ous high-pow­ered Croke Park com­mit­tees. He also stood for the pres­i­dency in 2014.

His ill­ness meant that I saw a lot more of him this year in par­tic­u­lar, as he watched a lot of matches from the press box in Wex­ford Park and we had sev­eral long chats that I will cher­ish even more now.

A great ser­vant of Wex­ford, Le­in­ster and, in­deed, Ire­land when he chaired the G.A.A’s over­seas com­mit­tee, above all else Shea­mus was a pas­sion­ate St. Martin’s club­man, and one of its lead­ing lights with­out a shadow of a doubt although he would be loathe to take such praise on board. And wasn’t it some­how fit­ting that, in the hours pre­ced­ing his demise, the club that meant such a great deal to him brought home two more Premier cham­pi­onship ti­tles?

My deep­est sym­pa­thy to Vera, Gavin, Donal, Derek, Eileen and the ex­tended Howlin fam­ily. Farewell Shea­mus, and thanks for your friend­ship and kind­ness that al­ways meant so much to me.

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