Frank Brandon’s Column

Loaves, fishes and good times: fond memories of ‘The Gunner’

It’s strange to think that it’s been almost a full year since Covid-19 arrived on our shores. Since then, it seems to me that for such a small place like Creggs, we have had to face an unusually large number of the new type of funerals, where we have said goodbye to friends and acquaintances while standing on the side of the road, conveying our sadness and respects from a safe distance.

On Friday last we said farewell to David Satchwell, one of the most well-respected and popular members of the local farming community, a great supporter of all things to do with Creggs, a long-time good employer in the parish, and a real gentleman as well.

David passed away unexpectedly on Monday week last and he will be greatly missed in Creggs and the surrounding areas.

To his wife Violet, his family, and his friends, I offer my sincere and heartfelt sympathy. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Then on Wednesday night of last week, we lost Jim O’Rourke – a friend whom I soldiered with for many a year as a young lad. He was someone that I’d had many a good night with, sowing our wild oats in places like John L. Garvey’s pub in Glenamaddy, before hitting for The Sound of Music to try our luck on the dance floor. We were regular visitors to The Wagon Wheel in Roscommon, and would occasionally head for the bright lights of Dublin city. On one unforgettable trip, he and I even made our way to the famous matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna (with limited success).

Back in 1974, when the rugby club in Creggs came into being, Jim was one of the founding members. He, Vincent Canny and I were the first club representatives at the Connacht Branch fixtures meeting in which the top brass finally decided that Creggs could be let into what was then a fairly closed group. We weren’t that successful on that particular night, but nearly 50 years later, we have become one of the most respected clubs in the country.

Due to his love of the outdoors and his passion for shooting and fishing, we nicknamed Jim ‘The Gunner’. A few of us used go fishing for bream – with our homemade fishing rods – down on the River Suck in Donamon. The Gunner would feed the fish with loaves of bread for days before we launched our night-time attacks, and we used to catch loads of the lazy, well fed fish, until Sarah (Jim’s mother) realised she didn’t have as many loaves to sell as she should have. She soon put a stop to Jim’s taking of the lovely, fresh bread. We’d heard, many years earlier, of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but back then we too had our own version of the miracle.

Then The Gunner left us, heading off to start a new chapter in his life by going to Templemore to join the Guards. He spent nearly thirty years as a highly respected member of the force, eventually ending up in the Special Branch, where he took part in many highly dangerous and important events. He retired on medical grounds after being viciously assaulted by a criminal gang while carrying out his Garda duties.

Jim then returned to Creggs, helping out in the family business, where he was a hugely popular member of staff. He and his beloved dog Joey were regular features in the village; Jim took the Red Setter for a walk at least twice daily. To some of us, it looked as if it was Joey who took Jim for the walks, as he seemed to drag The Gunner around the village at breakneck speed.

Jim also found time to look after his father Mick in his latter years. He brought him everywhere he needed to go, enabling Mick to have a happy and contented final few years. When Mick passed away, The Gunner hoped to fulfil another life’s dream: purchasing a camper van for Joey and himself, and heading for the sunshine hot-spots of Spain and Portugal. My brother (The Rasher) met him in the Spanish resort of Cabo Roig in November 2019, and told me that, as in Creggs, The Gunner and Joey were hugely popular with all the locals.

Sadly he was stricken down with illness, and when he came home before Christmas we all knew he hadn’t a lot of time left. He eventually succumbed to the illness on Wednesday of last week.

Once upon a time I headed off on the bus to Bandon to buy a car that, on ‘Buy and Sell’, looked absolutely immaculate, despite being for sale at £500. When I saw it, I couldn’t believe my eyes at the state of it, but immediately realised that I had to buy it as there was no bus going back my way until the Monday (this was Saturday, but no bus ran on Sunday). Anyway, when we eventually got my new purchase started, I hit off from Bandon, and (of course) the car broke down on the motorway somewhere near Cahir.

The only thing I could think of was to ring The Gunner, who was stationed in Cahir, and see if he could come to my assistance. Sadly he was on duty, but he said to sit tight, and that he would see what he could do. About ten minutes later, I saw a squad car, blue lights flashing, coming towards me at enormous speed. At first I wondered if someone had reported me for being parked on the hard shoulder, or if there had been a major incident further up the road. However, it was of course The Gunner, and to my surprise he had brought with him three more Gardaí, all in full uniform, complete with tow ropes, spanners, cans of petrol, and anything else that might be needed to get me on my way. Which of those things did the job, I can’t remember. In the end, my lovely new car and I got away again, and we managed to almost make it home (that’s a story for another time).

The true measure of anyone is how they react when someone is in bother, and there was truly no one better to turn to in a time of crisis. He was a larger than life character, great fun and great craic, but he was also a true gentleman who devoted his life to helping others, and who had a huge impact on so many people all over Ireland and beyond.

On a personal note, I am proud to have had Jim as a friend, and I will miss him greatly. To all the O’Rourkes, their families and their friends, I extend my sincerest sympathy on their great loss. May he rest in peace.


Please support our Tidy Towns’ drive

One of the biggest casualties of Covid-19 has been the fundraising sector. Every part of it has suffered greatly. Out in Creggs things are no different, and the good people on the Tidy Towns committee have put their heads together to come up with something to replace the funds that they usually generate through their annual dances and raffles.

As a result, over St. Patrick’s weekend you can take part in a Virtual 5k Walk by going on to the Creggs Tidy Towns Go Fund Me page, sign up, give any size of a contribution from €5 upwards (they have no upper limit), and help the volunteers continue the amazing work that they have carried out over the last few years.

Creggs is now one of the prettiest villages around, and it takes a good few bob to keep replacing and adding to the plants, flowers and shrubs, so dig out your trainers, sign up, give them a contribution, do the walk anywhere you like, (or only pretend to do it), but most importantly, help to keep your village in the lovely state it is now in. Creggs Tidy Towns Go Fund Me page is all you need!


And finally…

As we continue to play a waiting game for the Covid vaccine, seemingly falling behind everyone else in terms of delivery and rollout, once again I ask myself: What would we do without sport?

As a Manchester United supporter (I hate being called a fan), the weekend victory over neighbours Manchester City was as welcome as it was unexpected. While it doesn’t hide the fact that we are, in every way (including in terms of points on the board), a long way behind this top quality City team, it did at least provide all of us long-suffering United followers with one great day, and hopefully a glimpse into a more productive and fulfilling future.

We also had a wonderful, old-style rugby interpro between Connacht and Munster, which went the way of the southerners but could’ve just as easily gone the other way. It also whetted my appetite for next weekend, when the international rugby resumes. Hopefully Ireland can pull a big performance out of whatever bag they have, and put one over on the eternally over-confident Scots.

When all that is done, we will be another week closer to the vaccine, and (please God) a little closer to the resumption of a somewhat normal existence!