Jack Gleeson (1923-2009)
Oration by Seamus J. King at his graveside in Moyaliffe Cemetery, Sunday, April 5, 2009.
It is a privilege for me to be asked to pay a tribute to Jack Gleeson on the occasion of his funeral. I don't claim to know him a long time, only became acquainted with him in 2007, and many of you have known him much longer over the years of his very long life. But, I got to know a lot of him over the few short years and he was an extraordinary man.
Perhaps it was the place where he was born made him special. Moyaliffe is a border area, between Clonoulty-Rossmore and Holycross-Ballycahill, between the West and Mid G.A.A. divisions in the county and between the North and South Ridings of Tipperary. His place of birth made him look beyond his immediate neighbourhood to a wider world and gave him a greater perspective on things.
His view of the world embraced his hurling heroes like John Doyle from the Mid and Tony Brennan from the West but took in Tony Reddin in the North and stretched beyond to a wider world that included the great Limerick team of the thirties and the Waterford team of the late fifties, as well as many more. His view of the world was broad, embracing and ecumenical.
Hurling was his great love and his great conversation. He brought to the subject a knowledge that came from having played it, first with Holycross and later with Clonoulty. It was ironic that it was his former team, Holycross, that deprived Clonoulty of a county final in 1951. Jack also featured on a Thurles Sugar Factory team, that included Mickey Byrne and Tommy Doyle, Larry and Connie Keane and Tommy Barrett, that won a Munster title in the same year.
His knowledge of hurling was also increased by his attendance at so many games and, I might add, his continued attendance up to the time of his death. He followed the fortunes of Tipperary and other inter-county sides long before the end of his playing days arrived. He cycled to Cork in 1942 and 1946 to see Tipperary defeated by Cork and Limerick respectively. He also cycled to Dublin in 1942 - it took him ten hours - to see Cork win one of their four-in-a-row. From these journeys he got to know a lot of players and teams. He first saw Phil Cahill play against Cork at Thurles in 1931 and regards him as one of Ireland's greatest hurlers. He reckoned the best game he ever saw was the 1947 All-Ireland final in which Kilkenny defeated Cork by 0-14 to 2-7: 'It was a show to the world!', he said. The best club game he saw was between Ahane and Sarsfields at Newport sometime in the early forties. He believed that John Doyle was the best player he saw in a long life.
All the memories of those years were firmly etched in a photographic memory. He never really forgot anything and the names of players and teams tripped lightly from his tongue. He knew a large number of top intercounty players, including the famous Christy Ring, and revelled in talking to them about games and incidences in their playing careers.
Almost as impressive was a giant scrapbook compiled by his brother, Matthew, and himself with information on G.A.A. personalities and teams going back to the late forties. It could be called the Book of Moyaliffe and will take on similar historical significance to the Annals of the Four Masters in the course of time, containing as it does so much information on hurlers and footballers from all the counties of Ireland for over half-a-century. Both Matthew and Jack deserve our thanks for the collection.
If I spend some time on Jack's knowledge and memories of hurling I do so because it was extraordinary. For someone who depends so much on the written word, on the book of facts, on the preserved records, Jack's ability to mentally recall so much and in such vivid detail made a lasting impression on me. The fact that his mind remained so fresh as he arrived at the end of his eighties made him unique.
But Jack Gleeson was much more than an extraordinary memory of hurling facts and lore. His mind remained open to the world and to new happenings and events. He didn't only dwell in the past and what happened when he was young. He was open to what was happening in the world about him and to the lives of the young who crossed his path, comfortable as he was with people of all ages..
He remained curious about the world in a way that older people seldom are. He could get enjoyment out of a conversation with the very young and appreciate their reactions to the world around them. He was also willing to focus in on a young player and recognise his merits and give him encouragement. He had a generous heart and wasn't one to run down or denigrate a person. He had a wide range of interests in sport and while I have concentrated on his love of hurling, his interest embraced other sports as well such as dogs and horses.
Most of his neighbours will remember Jack as a tidy farmer. His place was recognised as one of the tidiest around, with the hedges always trimmed, the graden always set and the timber always cut and stacked. It is fanciful to imagine Jack in heaven now looking after the place, sharpening the bill hook and clippers, and going out to look after not only his own hedge but the neighbour's as well, opening the drills and priding himself in having them as straight as an arrow, setting the seed and having the potatoes ready for digging before anybody else.
Most of you will remember Jack Gleeson as a witty man, whose stories lightened a conversation and whose good humour made him such enjoyable company. Most of his stories were funny but never hurtful. One day he was praising Tommy Butler on his goalkeeping skills and how they made him the best goalkeeper in the country. And Tommy replied: 'Yes, when I was good I could stop turnip seeds but when I was bad I wouldn't stop Hogan's bus in Liberty Square.'
He was a great man to introduce the quotation from the poem or the match account which was another reflection of his extraordinary memory. These quotes were introduced to give a contemporary flavour to the story he was relating and he quoted them with a vividness and freshness as if they were being given for the first time: 'And we collected Martin Kennedy at Currabaha Cross.'
Jack Gleeson never looked for any recognition in life. He was happy to talk about the things he loved, to share opinions on a wide variety of topics, to hold his own in conversation. In 2007 he was honoured when elected to Laochra Sean Gael. This honours people who have given a lifetime of service to the G.A.A. and in many cases were never honoured before. Jack's life of service was slightly different to the normal. Yes, he did play the game of hurling but for most of his life he has been a supporter of others who have done so, by going to see them play, by forming intelligent opinions of the ability of players and regaling others of these opinions over many years.
Today, as we lay him to rest in this graveyard with the lovely name of Moyaliffe, it is partly a sad occasion, as anyone's passing is, and in Jack's case, although he was eighty-eight years old, we all thought there was still a lot of life in him because he was so agile, mentally and physically. But it is also the celebration of a man and a life that was extraordinary. Jack may have appeared ordinary but he was extraordinary in his qualities, in the nature of his mind, in the brilliance of his memories, in his capacity to converse and to entertain, in the generosity of his heart and in his openess to the world. To all who knew him his passing is a great loss. To Molly, and to his nephews and nieces, as well as his wider family and relations, I want to extend my sincerest sympathies. Nothing that one can say about such a man can pay sufficient tribute to a very special person. I am so proud to have known him.