Athleague has lost its iconic high king

Local councillors pictured with then-Mayor of Roscommon Martin Connaughton at the launch of the 2013 Brideswell Pattern Festival. Pic: www.hursonphotography.com

Martin Connaughton, who died suddenly while herding sheep in Fuerty on May 20th 2024, was an exceptional person who made a major impact on thousands of people over the course of an 80-year life in which every day was lived to the hilt.

The unique Athleague man was a master of all trades. A hugely busy sheep trader, proud father of five children and husband, popular Mayor of Roscommon, committed farmer, poll-topping politician, gas man, thoughtful GAA supporter, loving grandfather and masterful card-player.

And there was so much more. Exceptional storyteller. Record-breaking charity fundraiser. Much-loved socialiser. Popular cousin. Enthusiastic racehorse owner. Generous neighbour.

Martin Connaughton was hugely gifted. His understanding of human nature was truly, magnificently, exceptional, as was his gift for forging sincere and lasting friendships. He was immensely resilient, with a massive capacity for hard work and long hours. He had great courage and decisiveness. Like all people who are blessed with high intelligence, he was an excellent, retentive, listener. He had great charm, geniality and a unique command of language. He understood animals, weather and land. And he was a fair man, full of nature. Those gifts set him up for his decades of successes as a deal-maker and problem-solver in the farming, political and community arenas.

Friends of the family often note that Martin’s talents and characteristics live on in his five children. Each, in their own way, bring to the world aspects of their father’s approach. All have his sense of conviction, and are hugely generous and committed to their community and neighbours.

His work in sheep dealing began in his childhood, as eldest son to his father who was a significant buyer of stock in the Roscommon and East Galway area for much of the 20th century. Martin began purchasing stock in his own right at village fairs at the very end of the 1950s, and then was a major buyer of sheep at the livestock marts that emerged throughout the west of Ireland from the 1970s onwards.

Trading in sheep, as with all commodities, requires mathematical ability, knowledge, ability to absorb pressure, financial judgement, and skills in negotiation and decision-making. Roscommon, Mountbellew, Tuam, Headford, Ballinasloe and Portumna were frequent places of business for him, selling stock onwards to faraway factories, feed lots and exporters. And he purchased sheep privately too, from a massive network of farmers throughout Roscommon, Galway and elsewhere, who trusted him to make fair prices and prompt payment. The enduring nature of those relationships with farmers – repeat deals year after year for decades – speaks volumes about his reliability and fairness. Farmers liked and trusted Martin Connaughton; Martin liked and trusted the farmers just the same.

Martin Connaughton was a major success in politics. He entered that life in his mid-50s. He had several factors in his favour: the enthusiastic support of local members of the Fianna Fáil party; a very large family connection; and he was very well known. Yet it was a congested political scene: his competitors included several high profile and well-established political figures. Martin was elected in his first contest, attributing his success to support received from farmers throughout the district. He topped the poll comfortably in subsequent elections that he contested – always increasing his vote. On the local political scene, Martin Connaughton’s workrate, colourfulness and achievements set the agenda, tone and bar. He was a significant powerbroker in Roscommon and Fianna Fáil politics during his 15 years in the arena. He deserved his reputation for hard work and delivery.

Martin put his energy and talents into everything positive that happened in his locality in his lifetime. Sport, community, education, business and charity were constant features. Today his children do what their father did – in the GAA clubs, community groups and schools. His grandchildren are exceptional at Gaelic games, custodians of a family tradition that he emphasised.

Die with your boots on’ is a cowboy idiom that originates from frontier towns in 19th century America, a country in which Martin Connaughton represented County Roscommon as our Mayor, and where he liked to visit to spend time with cousins and old friends. On Monday 20th of May, he sat into his car outside his Athleague home, crossed the River Suck twice and continued on through Fuerty to Lissaneaville where he has farmed faithfully for so many years. The sloping ground on the Connaughton holding there is high upland, and from it there is visibility of farms, hills and villages where Martin Connaughton had dealings with hundreds of people through his decades. On that May afternoon, in fresh air and blazing sunshine, and in the comforting presence of his son and daughter-in-law, he died suddenly while attending to a bleating young lamb. Martin Connaughton died as he lived, with his wellingtons on.

The Connaughton family has lost a beloved father and grandfather. Athleague has lost its iconic high king.

May Martin Connaughton, reunited with his wife Josie, rest in peace.

 

Tribute from an admiring neighbour and friend