They also serve

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.

17 thoughts on “They also serve

  1. Congratulations John Cuffe.
    Eddie was a gentleman, a great Mayo supporter, who was always willing to give a hand to everyone. He was a kind man, a charitable man who gave of his best to any cause that he was involved in. Six months ago he was looking forward to selling tickets for the Co. Board of which he was a former President and the current Assistant Secretary. It was no bother to Eddie to travel to Cork, Kerry,Derry and far distant places in all kinds of weather to support Mayo.

    His wife Margaret and family will miss him as will Belmullet Town, Belmullet G.A.A. and the G.A.A. in general.

    He longed for Mayo to win a senior All Ireland but alas it was not to be before his death.

    Belmullet to-day was a sad place but it was delightful to see the local G.A.A. personnel organising the traffic on Ballina Road

    No doubt he will be remembered in Croke Park on Sunday.

    May he Rest in Peace.

  2. Its funny the things you remember, when I heard the news I distinctly rememberd winning a north mayo U-12 or national school, cant remember which, but I’m pretty sure it was in Bangor, along time ago. What i remember afterwards is that we all went for chips and a can as a treat for winning, bought by the club i think, and what struck me, was that Eddie spent his time running around making sure everyone had chips and a drink. Probably sounds like no big deal but even at 11, it was his kidness that stuck me, most adults wouldnt have done that, even our own trainers woudlnt be that bothered, but Eddie was. He was fussing around making sure everyone was looked after and it didnt matter to him if we were only 10 or 11, he made us feel like we were after winning the All Ireland.
    RIP Eddie, you’ll have a good seat Sunday.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to pen those words, John.
    Eddie was well known to many of us & was indeed a true gentleman.

  4. Well done John thanks for taking the time to write about Eddie . you sure did know him well .He was a wonderful community man.

  5. Just so sad to see so many fine people passing away.Writing the truth is easy. Mayo and it’s people are special.

  6. I’d like to add my thanks to John for penning such a great, lyrical tribute to the late Eddie Cuffe. I saw the news about Eddie’s death after we got back from Mayo the other evening and I immediately thought that John would be just the man to write a tribute piece on his namesake, whom I knew he was very well acquainted with. I sent an email to John coming up to midnight that night asking if he’d be interested in doing this and inside five minutes had a reply back to confirm that he would be. Then, around 90 minutes later (the email came in at 1.28am), John’s pitch-perfect tribute landed into my inbox. So, not only can he fire them over the bar, he can do so under pressure too – thanks again, John.

  7. WJ you are making me blush now. Two things folks….this is a great Mayo site for us all and when we can and where we can we will pay tribute to our own.

  8. Eddie was laid to Rest to-day. Ian McAndrew paid a moving tribute to Eddie’s and his contribution to Belmullet G.A.A. and many organisations in the town.. The local club and employees of Eddie’s formed a Guard of Honour again. May he Rest in Peace.

  9. ya,well said john, eddie was truely a great erris n mayo man. He,ll be missed n hope he,ll be rememered tomorrow with the great john egan,May they rest in peace..

  10. Thankyou John for that glowing tribute to our dear friend and coach Eddie. Centra is always my first stop when i get to Belmullet. My fondest memory of Eddie is him driving me around the town in July of 1979 after we had won the North Mayo under 16 championship. Margaret held on to my legs as the weight of the Gusty McDonnell cup was all i could handle.
    Miss you and love you Eddie. Looking forward to my next trip home to get together with my GAA friends.

  11. If its the Owen I think it is and I am fairly sure it is…great to hear from you after all those years. Hopefully our paths will cross .

  12. Yep Albany, thanks to WJs site the Mayo News asked for it and up and away it went. I appreciate the air it got because the man whom it was dedicated to earned that right.

    It shows that WJs site and all our contributions are watched and give enjoyment and provoke debate in our great county.

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