Patsy Carroll (1992-96)
Oration at his graveside, June 2, 1996
Members of the family, ladies and gentlemen.
I was privileged to be asked to say a few words at the burial of Patsy Carroll. He was a man I always held in the highest respect, having distinguished himself in the field of athletics and brought name and fame to the parish of Lorrha and Dorrha. In his day his achievements set him apart from his fellow men and his ability enabled him to run shoulder to shoulder with the best athletes in the land during the late forties and early fifties.
My earliest memory of Patsy was on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Rathcabbin sports in Mr. Bracken's field, lying on the grass and watching the three mile race. There were only two contestants, Mick Cleary of Moneygall and our local hero, Patsy. Cleary was in the lead from an early stage by about ten yards. Occasionally Patsy would make a burst to catch up but when he did so, Cleary accelerated. I was disappointed when the Moneygall man crossed the finishing line in front, not knowing then that Patsy had competed in and won the three mile championship of Ireland at Ballinree, Co. Carlow a few days earlier and hadn't yet recovered from the ordeal.
My last meeting with him was in August 1992. As we drank tea at the kitchen table he recounted the high and low points of his life. Then, suddenly he was under starting orders again. This time it was no starting gun but the call of commitment to travel to Tullamore for a training session with the Offaly under-21 hurling team. Since 1983 he had been the official masseur with the Offaly senior team and was then with the under-21 side. Nothing unusual about that until one realised that Patsy was then seventy years of age, having been born on February 18,1922.
These two activities, running and rubbing, occupied most of Patsy's life. I always think of him when I get the whiff of wintergreen. Many of you will recall the many legs of Lorrha players he prepared to go on to playing fields over north Tipperary and beyond. Do you remember the upstairs room in Foley's in Borrisokane where we used to tog out and the aroma of wintergreen filling the air? And, there in the midst of us all, his coat off and the sweat pouring down his face was Patsy, ironing out aches and pains, some real others imaginary, and sending us on to the field with no excuse for not playing well.
However, it's for his running achievements that Patsy will be remembered. When many of the legs that he rubbed have passed on, he will be remembered in the record books for his successes in the field of athletics. And these successes were impressive by any standards. The high period of this achievement was between 1945 and 1951. In these seven years Patsy won seven senior cross-country national championships with the county, running under N.A.C.A. rules. During that glorious period he was never outside the first twelve on All-Ireland day and was always in the scoring six, the only athlete to achieve that high level of consistency.
With no athletic ancestry, Patsy first became interested in running when he joined the L.D.F. in the early forties and began to run in their races. They were later to become F.C.A. races. Cross country running was taking off in a big way at the time and 250 people took part in the first cross-country race in Lorrha in January 1943. Mick Donoghue of Ballinderry won and Patsy came second. The race was out of Lorrha, up the Minister's hill and around for four miles. According to Patsy there was great interest in running as people had little else to occupy their free time.
If one is to find a peak in Patsy's achievements it must be 1949. The list of his successes is phenomenal. He won the Southern Command three miles. He dead heated -both got gold medals - with Mick Cleary in the Munster four miles. About 6,000 supporters watched that race in Kanturk and the crowd included intrepid Lorrha fans like Bobby Dillon, Joe Sutton, Jack Cleary, Tommy Carroll, Paddy Corcoran and Mick O'Meara of Roughan. Patsy won the Army three miles at the Curragh, after being runner-up in 1948 and he would retain it in 1950. He also won the All-Ireland three miles at Carlow and was second in the five miles national championships held at Moneygall. Other successes that year were achieved at Moyglass and Galway. He was second in the Guinness four miles on a Saturday and won the three miles at Killaloe the following day.
As I have already said an impressive record and one to stand with the best. When it is realised that athletics were much more popular then than now and that the number of athletes competing was far greater than today, Patsy's achievements become even greater. A contemporary and fellow competitor of Patsy's, Mick Blake of Ballincurry has told me how impressed he was with the Lorrha athlete. The two of them, together with Gerry Kiely of Aherlow, competed all over the place at a time when there was little reward for running. A national championship medal was much coveted but other medals on offer at the time were of poor quality and many of the other prizes were downright shabby. But yet Patsy and his fellow athletes competed, most of them barefooted, for the love of the sport and the camaraderie it generated. Among his peers Patsy was a gentleman and extremely popular. Nobody begrudged him victory and they all wished him well when it was achieved.
Patsy didn't have an auspicious start in life. Misfortune dogged those early years. His brother, Martin, died at the age of three.. His mother died when he was only twelve years old and his father was blinded as a result of the belt of a caveson in the eye from a rearing horse. He had to take responsibility on his shoulders very early on. Those who remember him at school recall one with plenty of brains and one who might have followed a different path in life had he been born in the era of free education. He is remembered as never having walked to school but running there and back home in the evening. He went working as soon as he left school and began drinking but took the pledge from Fr. Clune in 1945 and never looked back after that.. He gave the same effort to his work as he did to his running and lifted himself up in life and could be regarded as having made an equal success of that.
Today, as we bury him in this ancient churchyard we are sad at his passing. We share the sorrow of Celia and his family. By turning out in such numbers last night and this morning we are saying to his family that we regret his passing and that we express our deepest sympathy at his loss. That loss seems all the more poignant on a sunny morning in June and on a day when Tipperary are playing hurling. Patsy is no longer present to pick up the game on the radio but more than likely he is listening in on some heavenly airwaves. Perhaps he may have some influence in the way the game goes.
But I should like to see the occasion as not one completely of loss and sorrow. Even though we are returning Patsy to the soil, which he pounded over for many years, and saying goodbye to his physical remains, we are not forgetting him. He has made so much impact on our lives and has left such an imprint in his athletic record that he cannot be forgotten. We know that Patsy Carroll was a great athlete and that he proved his greatness by winning numerous All-Ireland medals. We also know that he represented the amateur ideal in sport at its noblest and that he led a life of honest endeavour in the field of sport with little or no material reward to show for such effort. We also recognise him as the greatest athlete that ever came out of this parish and as a man that brought more honour and glory to this small place than any other man. As I said in the beginning I was privileged to be asked to speak at his funeral. We here were all privileged to have known him and our parish is a much better place as a result of Patsy having lived amongst us.
Ar dheis de go raibh a ainm dilis.