A leading light in the San Francisco Irish community, writes Liam Collins
THE death took place recently in San Francisco of one of the city's best known Irish emigrants, Ray Sheeran.
Ray, who was 54 when he died on November 14 after an eight-month battle with cancer, was from Coolraine, near Mountrath, Co Laois, where his late father Canice ran the family pub known for its traditional music and a great welcome for locals and visitors alike.
Ray played the banjo and fiddle and was a great lover of traditional music and song. He was, however, better known as an all-round sportsman and played hurling for his local club, Camross, and for the Laois county team during the Eighties; he also played rugby with Portlaoise and soccer with Pike of Rushall.
"Some of the best times I have had have been with Ray Sheeran. I played against him in the 1981 county final and in 1989 I played with him in the Na Fianna team in San Francisco," said his friend Pat Critchley.
Ray emigrated to San Francisco in 1982 where he started his successful construction company Tara Engineering.
He was also proprietor of Rocky Sullivan's Bar, a great hang-out for the Irish community for many years. He "looked after" many people from Laois who gravitated to the pub when they arrived on the west coast of America.
In San Francisco he was a founding member of Na Fianna GAA club, but it was his passion for rugby that led to the establishment of the Golden Gate Rugby Club (GGRC) and their 'field of dreams', which was re-named the Ray Sheeran Field in his honour just days before his death.
"It was Ray's vision to build a clubhouse and field that would produce a 'factory' of rugby players from the youth level," said club member and friend Tony Wells. "It took three years of training and playing rugby on the practice field at Treasure Island before finally reaching a breakthrough."
In 2005 Ray and local contractor Eamon Murphy approached Tony Hall, executive director of the Treasure Island Development Authority, and secured a permanent site for the club. The development was spearheaded by Ray and another great club supporter Jerry Tynan and the resulting pitch is now regarded as one of the premier rugby venues in the US.
"A quiet man, Ray worked out of the spotlight, not only managing the field but helping coach the high school team, organising club tours to Canada and Ireland and spending time fundraising for the club" says Tony.
His proudest moments were when his sons Ryan and Eoin played for the club.
Ray Sheeran is survived by his wife of 26 years, Catherine and his children, Maeve, Ryan and Eoin and their friends and family in Cazadero where they live and back home in Laois.