Remembering is a sacred duty whereby we call to mind in a very real and mystical way and make present in our midst, for a few short intense moments, those who for many years have been our closest and dearest friends.
Many of the thousands who had befriended Willie through family, work, community or leisure connections were present at his funeral Mass in Littleton on Sunday, 28th August last and his subsequent burial at Ballymoreen graveyard. Taken suddenly and tragically from family and friends, this huge collective act of remembrance in prayer, song and music was a sincere outpouring of sorrow and gratitude and a genuine “God be with you forever”.
From his birthplace in Rahinch to his family home and businesses in Littleton, Willie’s life was based within the confines of the village and its surrounding townslands. Coming from a farming background, he began his working life as an agricultural contractor and then started his lawnmower business. It was known that Willie could fix anything and always had a spanner close by; he was capable of taking a combine-harvester apart and putting it together again. Gifted with his hands he learned the art and craft of machine and engine mechanics and could fix tractor, trailer, lawnmower or chainsaw on the spot. Later on this knowledge helped him turn his love of water-sports and boats into a successful business. It was always a source of amazement to passers-by, that with no nearby river or lake a boating business could flourish. A friend remarked that anyone who could service and sell boats in Littleton could sell anything anywhere. He became a self-made, enterprising local business man ready to try anything new in order to “turn a shilling”. As a child, rearing a pig or calf on the farm to build a nest-egg would have taught him the basis of economics. His business contacts took him all over Ireland and Europe.
Willie also brought his high energy and up and go spirit to the litany of community activities that he took part in. He was a member of the Sean Treacy Pipe Band from around 1964 to 1969. He was staff man or drum major and served as secretary for three years. Phil Cooney remembers Willie driving up to Tyrone to collect various accessories for pipes and drums and having to conceal same in the upholstery of the car to avoid paying excise duty imposed on such imports at the border in those days. Between 2000 and 2002 he was chairperson of FAS where he interviewed new workers, organised the work-rota for Littleton and was always willing to help, support, advise or lend his machinery to any job on hand.
With an original membership of over 40, his almost decade long chairing of Littleton Residents and Tidy Towns Association brought many changes. His time, energy and equipment were always available for the work evenings where trees flower beds and shrubs were planted; hanging flower baskets, An Baile Beag seats, refuse bins in collaboration with local businesses, Christmas lighting, raffle and social nights in Bennys or the Turf Club, the bottle bank, the cross in Littleton cemetery, 205 out of 300 points in the 2004 National Tidy Towns Competition were many other achievements.
It wasn’t all work and a full bus-load of volunteers visited Kinsale and Clonakilty in 1997 to learn from the West Cork workers, who entertained us with the best of food, drink, dance and song; the Wren Days with burning torches from Kerry, brought local musicians, singers and dancers to all the nursing homes and parochial pubs with proceeds donated to charity. The Children’s Halloween parties, the reorganising of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the preparation of a committee float were other happy hours. The September Threshing Days where his father Dan and brothers prepared the old threshing mill recalled fond memories of bygone days.
In September 2005 following a public meeting with North Tipperary County Council, Willie was elected as the first chairperson of Littleton Development Association. He took to the job like a “captain to the helm” and oversaw the running of meetings in an orderly and sincerely welcoming fashion. As spokesperson, he represented Littleton to the outside world. He put in place the groundwork for the Parish Sports Complex and we know he would delight in its ongoing success. Between 2000 and 2007 he served as community representative on the Board of management of Littleton National School.
So much time given freely, in doing so many day to day things that do not make the news but somehow make a community. “Two heads are better than one, even a pig’s head”, is one of his remembered sayings. In times of rapid change in farming, village and rural communities, with an aging population and the flight of our youth we are all challenged to work together and be daring, ambitious and resolute in search of solutions. Darwinian wisdom suggests that it’s not always the strongest or most intelligent that survive, but those willing to change. A genuine tribute to Willie would be to keep alight the light of hope that he lit in so many ways. Our sincere sympathy to his family and friends for whom he will be sadly missed. Peace be to his soul. Thanks to the many who contributed memories for this appreciation.