I took this photo a few days ago when I was driving back to my home-town of Ballina in Co. Mayo to attend the funeral of my Uncle Tommy who tragically drown in the River Moy while searching for the son of one of his close friends who had fallen into the river days before and had not been found.
My Uncle was an unassuming man, easy going and a very popular Ballina man. Like tens of thousands of his generation in the recession that constituted the 1970's, he left home to work abroad but returned some ten year ago to settle back in Ballina. One of my earliest memories of Tommy goes back to my being pulled from the River Moy as a child and being brought back to my Grandmother's house where I was stood, naked, on a chair to be dried-off. I remember nothing of the incident except my Uncle, then in his teens, talking to me sympathetically to help me get over the shock. Some time later, I remember him coming home from abroad and giving me the full Republic of Ireland kit, socks and all, when such things were rare in Ballina. I think I wore that jersey until the threads that held it together burst.
Tommy was a gifted footballer in his youth, his friends would often tell me 'he was as good as George Best' if it wasn't for his carefree nature and fondness for a few pints. I knew little of his life since he came back home to Ballina. He lived in Barrett St. the home of his birth, worked locally as a barman and maintained a passion for sport ... horses, GAA and soccer, he was a dedicated Arsenal fan and there was no length he wouldn't go to to attend Republic of Ireland games, at home and abroad.
I never realised the impression and influence Tommy had on so many people's lives until I witnessed the file of friends that came to pay their last respects ... a fitting testament to his generosity of spirit and kindness. I know he brought great joy to the lives of others and placed great value in friendship more than anything else. I hope that where ever Tommy now resides that they have cable TV and a well stocked bar to tend. Farewell T, you are missed by more people that you realised.