Farewell Sheamus, a valued friend for close on 30 years
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.