Friday 24 November 2017

Michael Waldron

'The Minister' was an iconic stalwart at the heart of GAA in Mayo, writes John Prenty

Michael Waldron was the epitome of "GAA Man". He was the backbone of his club and community, the kind of fiercely dedicated official that every club in every town and village in Ireland depends upon to function and to thrive.

His roots, of which he was inordinately proud, were in Togher and Mayo. His club was Ballyhaunis; Cave, his residence.

Club members are rarely known by their Christian names or surnames -- they have nicknames. Michael Waldron was known as 'The Minister', and under that soubriquet he became known at first locally, and later nationally, within the GAA. He became an institution.

On leaving school he went to work in the post office, firstly as messenger boy and later as a postman. This qualified him for the nickname 'The Minister' (for Posts and Telegraphs). In the Sixties, he emigrated to the Ballyhaunis enclave of Coventry. There he joined the Roger Casement club and from there organised the first of many club trips to Coventry in the mid-Sixties. Some of his greatest friends still reside in Coventry and many of them made the sad journey home to pay their final respects.

On his return to Ballyhaunis, he immersed himself fully in the GAA club and became its first Club Person of the Year in 1978. Although he never played, he held a variety of club positions during his lifetime. In the mid-Sixties he was secretary and after returning from Coventry he had been a selector, a referee -- usually in his everyday clothes where he was worth about 60/40 to the home side -- and an umpire in which role he could be more useful to Ballyhaunis than a bad corner forward.

Other positions he filled were those of safety officer and PRO. He excelled in this latter role, without being a product of the Twitter or Facebook era. He did his best work on the ground, always promoting the GAA by word of mouth. He had a wonderful rapport with young people and revelled in their victories.

As a historian and collector of family history, 'The Minister' had no peers. All it took was a phone call about any query on a person's heritage and the answer would be available, if not immediately, then the following day at the latest.

After a recent championship victory over Moy Davitts, he spent the night regaling the younger players with past tales of the club and educated many of them on their seed, breed and generation in Ballyhaunis.

He was also a delegate to the East Mayo Board and later Mayo delegate to Congress, where he once had the distinction of making an impassioned speech against a Mayo motion on the Clar.

But it wasn't just in the administration of the games that he made himself useful. He was a regular adjudicator at the all-Ireland youth talent competition Scor.

On one occasion he was "volunteered" at short notice to travel to north Mayo to help out that area's secretary, Luke Fitzmaurice, in judging a competition. While judging the singing, the late Fr Scahill from Balla, a noted expert on singing, at one stage leaned over to Michael and remarked that there was no harmony in the ballad group. 'The Minister' replied: "You are right Father. It's beautiful."

His love of sport extended beyond the GAA; he was also interested in hunting, shooting and horse racing -- but he drew the line at soccer. He was also a lover of nature and wildlife, an excellent gardener, an accomplished cook and carer for his late mother, Sarah.

He brought the same passion he held for sport to his other great love -- politics, and specifically, Fianna Fail. He often got embroiled in heated political debate and was always willing and able to defend his cause. Once an election was called he was on full-time election footing -- canvassing, organising and preparing for the election day.

He fully supported all Fianna Fail candidates but it would be fair to say that he had a special affinity with PJ Morley.

'The Minister' was not perfect. He could be contrary. He could cut one to the quick with a comment. He liked to get his way and very often did. But it was easy to get into his good books. Once he was convinced that you were genuine about the cause you followed, then you were fine. From a club perspective he had a simple philosophy: be loyal to the club and follow the ideals of the GAA. To him the GAA was the only game in town.

Michael's month's mind mass will take place on Sunday, August 21, at 10am in St Patrick's Parish Church, Ballyhaunis.

Sunday Independent

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