Uncle Hugh was a powerful figure in my life and in my imagination.
He was the figure I saw standing on the street in Bangor when, as a child, I came on holiday from England. He stood there like Clint Eastwood, with his hat on the side of his head and welcomed us all home to Erris.
He was an older brother of my mother, born in 1909, the fourth of eight children. When his father died Hugh was just 11 years old, and with his brother, John, who was four years older than him, he became ‘the man of the house’ to help his widowed mother run the farm. It must have been hard to have responsibility thrown on you at such a young age, but from that moment the farm and the land became his responsibility and he was to spend his whole life there.
Was this a reason why he took no interest in sport, I wonder? His days were full of working the land. He married on that farm to a local girl and raised his family there. He had great talk on him, and I was royally entertained listening to the things he’d say.
In country places, of course, everybody knows everybody and knows their ways and it is a great skill to make your way in life among people who know you very well. Strengths and weaknesses are all marked and gentle humour likes to take a rise out of a neighbour.
Hugh has a son, John, who became a very good and a very famous Irish footballer, playing GAA for local clubs and for the county, Mayo. Hugh had no time nor interest in this development, and local people knew it.
John appeared at Croke Park, in Dublin, on many an occasion and when he did crowds would go up from Erris to watch the game, including members of John’s family. Hugh, his father always stayed at home. The locals knew the score and enjoyed the chance to take a rise out of Hugh.
I suppose he was in the West End Bar in Bangor, his usual place, and some locals said to him, ‘Hugh, big game tomorrow in Dublin. Will you be going up?’ Hugh knew the score well enough. ‘I will not,’ he answered. And just to make sure they got no rise out of him, he gave them the great answer.
‘I will not be going, no. But I sent representatives.’
17 May 2022