Thursday 19 September 2019

Michael Fitzpatrick will be remembered in Gorey


The late Michael Fitzpatrick
The late Michael Fitzpatrick

Cathy Lee

Nicknamed Mr Gorey, Michael Fitzpatrick (84) late of Cluainin, Gorey lived a full and fruitful life, shaped by his deep passions for his family, discovering all he could of the local history of Gorey and North Wexford and being dedicated to authentic Irish traditions, from music to language.

Born in May 1935 in the old Garden City to his parents Michael Fitzpatrick from Ballingarry, Tipperary and Mai Travers from Gorey, throughout his life, Michael carried those family traditions with him, knowing the importance of where he came from.

Michael was one of eight children and he left school at age 14, and began his trade working at Lord Courtown's house before starting out in carpentry and joinery following in the footsteps of his father.

He went to London at 16, where he finished out his apprenticeship but Ireland and Wexford were always very important to him no matter where he was.

The renowned historian first discovered his own interest in the past during his late teens, although had an interest in folklore from before even then.

Before he married the love of his life Bridgie Sheil in London in 1958, he admired her closely when they both lived in Gorey and she was his childhood sweetheart.

When she was based in Liverpool, he travelled the distance to continue their courtship and he always stayed by her side throughout their 61 years of happy marriage.

While he was in England, he got involved in the Essex County Pipers, and this passion for traditional music he brought back with him to Gorey when he returned with his wife after working on building sites and power stations across England.

Michael was happy to be home once again and soon, after the first of eight children were born, Michael began to make a start on researching local history.

He would visit older people in the community, and sit down and talk openly to them, getting as much information as he could about the past as they remembered it.

He had a photographic memory, and a particular interest in the 1916 rising as well as the famine, and he respected the dead.

Michael admired the ideals of republicanism, and was a fan of rebel leader Padraig Pearse, particularly his views on gaelscoils and keeping the Irish language alive.

Michael wanted to pass on these ideals in his family, and from a young age his children were involved in the traditional music scene in Wexford.

He was the Chairperson of the local comhaltas branch, CCE Gorey/Ballygarrett, and took great pride in passing on traditions to younger generations, providing daily classes in music to children in Gorey and the surrounding areas for decades.

There was never a dull moment in Michael's life and he always kept himself busy, as learning was one of his favourite things to do.

He enjoyed research, and he had an appetite for getting to the bottom of something which his family saw as his particular gift or skill.

A truth seeker, when Michael would focus in on his interest in genealogy and local families, and he would not shy away from the truth giving the full picture. People from near and far would contact Michael to find out more about their family tree, and Michael would happily find the answers for them.

His wife often suggested that Michael go to university and complete a history degree, but this never really interested him.

But he was known in those circles despite this, even lecturing in folklore at UCD in the 1980s and mixing with like-minded people, such as President Michael D Higgins on an invitation to the Aras.

Details and facts were always important to Michael, and as a perfectionist, he would not be satisfied until every stone was unturned during his historic research.

The ability of his strong memory never failed him throughout his life, and whatever he found out always stayed with him.

His family would say that he could call back things from memory like no ordinary person could.

Michael was never materialistic and some things about the modern world's reliance on technology frustrated him, having a very strong work ethic himself and not being afraid of hard work.

Some of his favourite places to be and do this work included the national archives and libraries, where he could be surrounded by books and photographs, just like in his own personal area at home, as he was a memorabilia collector.

Michael held his first exhibition in 1974, and many more followed this.

Legacy was important to Michael, especially when it came to music as he wanted to make sure that his family would be accomplished musicians.

Some proud moments for Michael included leading Gorey's St Patrick's Day parade as grand marshal, signing his name as a distinguished visitor of Gorey and being named person of the year.

A carpenter all his life, Michael made sure to put care and effort into everything that he made by hand, and this attention to detail came through in his writing also.

His first book Clonattin in the Fields was published in 1986, and this had seen him visit each gravestone at an early Clonattin graveyard as part of the research which he completed alone.

With what was described as a few museums worth of collectable priceless items and books, Michael held exhibitions and conducted local historical tours and produced six volumes of works.

These were Historic Gorey, A Pictorial View Volume 1, Historic Gorey Volume 2, Historic Gorey, The Famine Years Volume 3, Historic Gorey, Reflections of 1798 volume 4, Historic Gorey, The Changing Face of Gorey Volume 5, and Historic Gorey, Gorey and Courtown Volume 6.

Up to the time of his death, he was working on the next volume, Reeling In the Years of Gorey, particularly with the Gorey 400 celebrations in mind.

Michael was a high achiever, but he also knew how to enjoy himself and was known for his wicked sense of humour.

If asked to make a speech, he would do so without preparation and impress a room there and then with how it would just flow out of him from the off.

He played percussion in the ceili and pipe bands locally, and would also do this at Gorey Little Theatre during musical society shows, pantomimes or the like.

He followed sport, particularly GAA, remembering the legendary Wexford team that shone bright in the 1950s.

He often contributed to the local newspaper and the Link magazine, and he particularly admired the Guardian.

Michael often helped sports and community organisations when researching their individual histories, and most recently worked on Gorey Pipe Band's history.

He also loved gardening, having won gardener of the year on many occasions throughout his life.

He loved spending time being a friend to his 32 grandchild, and was caring and concerned for them, while they looked up to him for his knowledge and wisdom.

He liked photography and would have often been seen snapping the shutter happily, before going to get his photographs developed with due care.

Religion also had an importance in his life, and during tough times he would turn to his spirituality for help.

Michael loved the history of Gorey and Wexford and being surrounded by it, but he and his wife often travelled the world together as a pair.

His family would describe him as a genius and one of a kind, and they know that his legacy will live on through his books that they plan to finish off in his memory and continue his only wish which was to preserve local history and culture.

Michael Fitzpatrick is survived by his wife Bridget, children Mary, Siobhán, Sarah, Denis, Michael, Pat, David and Tom. His siblings, Tommie, Maureen and Margaret, as well as his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended family relatives, friends and neighbours.

May he rest in peace.

Gorey Guardian