By Pauline Scott
There are some people that simply can’t be defined by words and Mick McCormack is certainly one of them. ‘Funny’ and ‘generous’ are the first two words that spring to mind, but then there are words like irreverent, enthusiastic, and loyal.
He’d love me to go all out here, ‘Throw the dictionary at me!’ he’d say, ‘effervescent, ubiquitous, self-deprecating’. But ‘Marmalade’ was his favourite three-syllable word.
For almost 30 years he travelled the highways and byways of this region, in search of his ‘snaps’, the characters, the lesser-spotted varieties of humans and animals, the oddball, the quirky and the downright funny.
Mick McCormack was part of the cast of characters in public life in County Roscommon, known to event organisers, PROs, members of the public young and old, sports stars, umpires, stewards, politicians and of course the many ‘characters’ he loved to photograph.
He’d arrive in a fluster at an event, park in what we’ll call an enterprising manner, and emerge from the car with shirt tails flapping, camera in hand and a ‘Howya Darlin’ for everyone in the audience.
I first encountered Mick on my first day in the Longford NEWS on Earl Street, Longford in the mid-90s. He had left the OPW, or Board of Works as he called it, and a permanent pensionable job to take up the position of staff photographer and opt for the life less ordinary. He was due to work with his long-time friend and colleague Joe Flaherty, with whom he had worked on the buildings in London, but Joe had moved to the Longford Leader and Mick had to make his own way in the world, which he was more than capable of doing!
And thus began a career in photography that was to last almost 30 years. He travelled the highways and byways of Longford in his trusty green Opel and photographed young and old, cajoling them into standing for a photograph while he got them to laugh by telling them some outrageous joke.
He had a great fondness for the ploughing fraternity in Longford, the loy diggers of Aughnacliffe, Eamon Egan and his tribe of ploughmen and women. He was a big fan of the Gowl Gob, the Mayo-style loy (must be the Mayo connection) and the ploughing launch nights with the committee behind the ‘God Speed the Plough’ banners. The celebration with the pike men and women in Ballinamuck to mark the bicentenary of 1798 was a particular highlight and he was known to all in Ballinamuck, if not north Longford, by the time it finished.
Agricultural shows, summer festivals, school openings, sports matches, Sheridan family gatherings, Queen of the Harp in Granard, he captured them all. He loved nothing more than going out and about in north Longford capturing hundreds of pictures, all of which he wanted published because there was a story behind each one.
He saved my bacon on more than one occasion. While waiting for the newspaper to be ‘put to bed’ so that we could adjourn further down the street, he was reading the Drumlish local notes when he delighted in discovering that a group of women from Drumlish were going on a ‘sex-day holiday’ and suggested that perhaps it was a typo, but then again maybe not!
After his stint in Longford, his focus returned to his native Roscommon and Mick returned to Ballaghaderreen (‘The savage loves its native shore!’ as Mick would say). And love Ballaghaderreen he did, with all its cast of characters. He would regale us regularly with stories of the citizenry of Ballaghaderreen past and present, and if you had to go to the town for an event, such as the Cabinet meeting held there in 2000, it was like going into the twilight zone – you were never sure when you would get out of it.
As a freelance photographer Mick was always on call. He captured the most important news stories, photographed visiting dignitaries and politicians, attended book launches, community events, St. Patrick’s Day parades and came up with many quirky photos.
In my experience, the more po-faced or self-important the dignitary, the more off-colour Mick’s jokes were, he was never going to feature in the regiments of the woke brigade. It’s a good job there were no royal visits is all I’ll say…
‘Forty years a cowboy and never rode a cow!’ he would roar at some unsuspecting line-up of committee members at the launch of the local festival and the picture would emerge with them either laughing or looking at him quizzically.
At matches, he would nervously flick back and forth through the pictures on the camera to see if he had secured the crucial split-second moment. He was thrilled to have captured Gerry Lohan’s goal as Roscommon played Mayo in 2001 and that was just one of a multitude of important scores that he captured perfectly during his career. I’m sure the fact that it was against Mayo also helped!
The late-night homecoming of the Roscommon minor team in September 2006 was another memorable night and Mick took hundreds of pictures and distributed as many of them as he could to proud mothers and grannies and uncles and aunts in the months that followed.
He never seemed to feel the cold. You’d see him roaming the sideline in the Hyde and elsewhere in the bucketing rain trying to get the best shot, oblivious to the rain and cold. He would always be in short sleeves, winter and summer. I remember Hugh Lynn tweeting in recent years that it must be very bad weather indeed because Mick was shielding the camera with an umbrella! He would always find faces in the crowd that he knew (especially Elphin people for some reason) and get a cheer from the Rossies in Croke Park.
Generosity was a hallmark of the man, generous with his time and his talents. He always stopped for hitchhikers and emerged into the office with their interesting life stories. Travelling with Mick was an adventure in itself. He once drove over my foot after stopping to pick up a hitchhiker on a bare stretch of road in north Longford!
He loved to laugh and had an abundance of wit. He delighted in the Roscommon-Mayo banter and often emerged on derby weekends to find his car ‘vandalised’ on Main Street – covered in red and green flags after a Mayo win!
Seeing the tributes to Mick on social media reminds us of the many lives he touched, how obliging he was to club members up and down the county, the GAA socials he turned up at, the agricultural shows that he photographed in the pouring rain, the proud parents he obliged by taking pictures of their children. He would always try and get back with a special photo after the death of someone in the local community. He had a multitude of friends, of all ages and backgrounds, and he loved being in the company of good friends.
Mick’s love for his family was apparent to all his friends, the stories about his father Pa and his love for the land and the bog, his mother Phyll and his brother John and sister Maria. He talked fondly and proudly of his nephew and nieces and we felt we knew them individually.
He has left behind a treasure trove of work, surely there is a cast of thousands since he began working in the Longford NEWS in the mid-90s. More important than any of his snaps are the many happy memories we all have of Mick. You can’t but smile when remembering Mick, the mad antics, the funny stories, the Mick-isms that we still use to this day.
To his sorrowing family we extend our deepest sympathy and our thanks for sharing Mick with us for so many years. Condolences to his mother Phyll, his brother John, his sister Marie, his nephew Rory, nieces Laura, Aoife, Michelle, Ciara, Niamh and Dearbhla, grand-nephews and nieces, in-laws, relatives, neighbours in Ballaghaderreen and many friends. On this occasion, it’s true to say, ‘Ní bheidh a leithead ann arís’. Ar dheis Dé to raibh a anam uasal.