Eddie Cuffe – former Mayo GAA President, Assistant Treasurer and loyal Mayo supporter – passed away yesterday. Fellow Erris man and namesake John Cuffe pays this tribute to the man and his memory.
If the late John Egan was the archetypal Gaelic number 15 then Belmullet’s Eddie Cuffe was the archetypal club man. We take so much for granted. John Egan was meant to be eternal not dead at 59. We arrive at the match every Sunday or Saturday as the case may be and we expect the team on the pitch and the show to roll.
What we never allow for is those that put in their time effort and energy. Sure let’s salute the players but let’s not forget the manager, the trainer, the man who marks the pitch, sweeps the dressing room, who turns up on a piss-wet November’s night when a dog would recoil at going out. Those are the men and women who keep the GAA great.
Eddie Cuffe was a great. Be in no doubt about that. He had to pass on for the accolade to be formally knighted upon him but without the Eddies, the Buddy Valkenburgs, the Eamon Shevlins and countless others there would be no Belmullet and no GAA. You see we take them for granted and when we are a certain age we see them as they are now not as they were as young men.
Eddie Cuffe togged out on the side of ditches throughout Erris in the 1960s. He wasn’t alone. Along with him were the Reilly brothers, Seamus Cafferky, various McIntyres, Cathal Gilroy and assorted Maguires. Belmullet depended on those men and they kept the club alive and competitive. Travel was costly, cars were scarce and the hinterland was scattered.
The arrival of Joe Earley, the absorption of a lanky Garda or two and the dragooning of a studious bank clerk kept Belmullet respectable. Then the shadow of the Droch Saol lifted and youthful players of the calibre of John Gallagher, more Barretts, Keanes, Toghers, Walshs, O’Tooles and O’Donoghues arrived. The early 1970s saw Kiltane and Belmullet follow each other with Junior and Intermediate titles to the Barony.
Eddie and the older lads had got their rewards. Belmullet never had a ground befitting their ability but in time and through the stewardship of Eddie, Ian McAndrew and John Gallagher finally Belmullet got a home befitting their status. Eddie did every job at the club and no job was too menial.
I left home at twelve and have spent the next 48 years returning like a homesick swallow. Maybe it’s a Mayo thing, maybe it’s an Erris trait but each time I return I am greeted as if I am home from the Far East after a lifetime. The warmth and words are music to my ears as is the sense of belonging.
I always seemed to meet Eddie on the street or in Dublin. Always the hand out and a warm welcome. The league final of 2001 and we met exiting Croke Park. A wet May in 2010 and a hosing from Cork ensured that the eyes rather than the mouths did the talking. That June, Belmullet finally opened their magnificent complex back near Borhauve. I travelled down from Dunboyne to salute it. Entering the main hall Eddie with his Belmullet blazer spotted me. My contribution to the club of Belmullet would amount to a feather on a scales but Eddie welcomed me as a long lost son.
The Comortas Peil na Gael victory was the jewel in Eddie’s crown. A craven defeat to Sligo by Mayo the day before left us down in the mouth but the sun rose in Belmullet that summer’s day. Eddie stood like a proud headmaster watching his pupils like Sean Ó Gallachoir and his back room committee unveil a great team and a masterful complex.
As old favourites like Willie Joe Padden and Tom Rua Reilly dropped in to say hello and Willie Joe’s two boys out on the pitch drove Belmullet on to a national title, Eddie beamed. That day I saw egos cast aside as former Mayo greats like Liam Donoghue did jobs ranging from umpire to car park attendant. I saw former legendary players sell programmes, steward a multitude with a smile. Henry Gaughan – van driver, selector and confidante to generations of players – sat calm and collected as Joe Earley had a word for all and Eddie was in his glory, with Belmullet in its essence.
I saw Eddie for the last time on the big fair day on August 15th . The rain hammered down. The canvas tents collapsed in the deluge and we did what all great Erris men do in a downpour: we headed for the pub. Crossing towards McDonnells I passed a group of men in Mayo rain jackets. Eddie was one of them – the warm handshake, a hug and a bit of shadow boxing and sparring over the lamented and drowned Mayo Review Plan. “What are you selling Eddie?” I asked. They were tickets for the Mayo County Board draw.
That sums up the man. No opportunity spurned to keep this country of ours great. Eddie saw the rain as a nuisance, not a reason to stop selling and head for a pint. I joked as I introduced my wife to him “this is my uncle, he got the shop” I joked. We were namesakes, only related by our love of county and club.
Eddie will be a loss to his family, his town, his barony, his club and his county. A man who played, managed and did it all. He achieved the highest office within the County Board and it’s through the Eddie Cuffes of this world that Mayo can meet as equals the kings of the GAA in Croke Park on an April Sunday. A dheis Dé ar ainm dilis Eddie Cuffe (chuir Eddie Ó Coffaigh ar a ainm chuir mise Ó Doirnín air agus cur mo mhac Macdubh air) Go mbeidh sé sna flaithis ard anocht leis na Gael usual uilig.
The funeral arrangements for the late Eddie Cuffe are as follows: Remains reposing at his home from 1 o’clock this Wednesday afternoon until 9 o’clock on Thursday night.
House private thereafter. Remains arriving at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Belmullet on Friday morning for Funeral Mass at 12 o’clock. Burial afterward in Glencastle new cemetery. Family flowers only please. Donations in lieu to Erris Branch of Croí, Mayo Roscommon Hospice or Carra Iorrais. May he rest in peace.