Last Tuesday week, I witnessed a sight that I never thought would happen, a silent Paddy Concannon, as he lay in his bed in Portiuncula Hospital.
It is very difficult to put words together that do justice to a man who had so much to say, all of which was well worth listening to.
His encyclopaedic mind was a resource available to the whole community and he enjoyed sharing that information with all who sought its content – whether it was local history, family connections, the happenings of Roscommon County Council, the list is endless.
One of the many stories that he told centred around the work of Mother Paul McLoughlin who first set up an intensive care unit in a vacant part of the Castlerea workhouse in 1918 to care for flu epidemic patients of that year. Of course Mother Paul is remembered today in the building Aras Mathair Phol, a facility that Paddy frequently visited and where he recounted his many stories of a bygone era.
I think that all of us who knew Paddy were a bit envious of a man with a sharp mind, who had lived through many interesting times from his birth during the First World War right through to the era of the iPhone.
But for him the greatest development of all, I think, was local radio. This was not just because he was a regular contributor, contributions no doubt enhanced by his years of participation on the stage with Castlerea Drama Society, but because he could keep a close ear on current and local affairs.
Paddy had two radios – one tuned into Midwest and the other to Shannonside, no need for new-fangled pre-set radios with him.
At political level he served as a member of Roscommon County Council for 46 years and was Chairman on three separate occasions in the 1970s. He was originally elected to the Council in 1945 for the Clann na Talmhan Party.
I understand that he may have been the last surviving elected member of that party.
Literally translated Clann na Talmhan means “offspring of the land” a term that also applied to Paddy who, as a farmer, had a great love of nature and the land.
Born onto a farm of just 4.5ha in Knockmurray he had a deep understanding of the need for farmers rights and throughout his political career he was a great advocate for this cause.
Paddy was a man of strong moral conviction who was outspoken in his defence of those who were not in a position to advocate for themselves and over the last number of days I was told many stories of the work that Paddy did quietly, effectively, in the interest of those who he had the honour of serving.
He was the epitome of what public service is all about.
He was a pragmatic man, a principled man, one who made a decision and stood by it and the people who he represented.
Paddy Concannon was also a strong defender of local health services throughout his political career, serving on both the Health Board and its predecessor committees. It is poignant that his last days were spent in Roscommon County Hospital, which he had fought for throughout his political career
But it was, of course, on foot of initiating his campaign against the ban on turf cutting in 1998 that he became a national figure, as the face of the fight against the removal of rights from turf cutters due to the mismanagement of the issue by officialdom.
I recall the meetings in cold halls, with Paddy & Sile O’Connor, where Paddy would go into the practical detail of the implications of the EU Habitats Directive.
I remember looking back on those days, last year, at the major public rally in Athlone with in excess of 5,000 people and thinking of the days when few would even listen to us, never mind attend a meeting.
But Paddy persevered, spoke wherever people were prepared to listen and built up the Turf Cutters Association.
For Paddy, a man who had lived through an economic war where the Government promoted the use of turf over imported coal, through the Emergency when turf production was encouraged to fuel the homes of Dublin, right through to Bord na Mona, cutting turf for domestic use was an essential right that had to be protected.
And I have no doubt that were it not for Paddy Concannon domestic turf cutting in this part of Ireland would be viewed, on exhibition rather than a summer’s day.
Paddy did not rush into things and marriage was no exception, but in 1966 he married Kitty Carroll and they had three children.
It was a well-balanced partnership. Kitty did the worrying and Paddy was the story teller. That skill was put to good use when he often provided the history lesson in Tarmon NS.
He had an uncanny ability to bridge generations and I know that in the years to come his own grandchildren will fully appreciate what they have shared with him. Memories that they will take with them on their journey through life. That is the legacy he would have wished for, one that we will all be indebted to Paddy for.
But along with his love for his wife, his children and grandchildren, sport was close to his heart. He was part of that great Tarmon team which won three county titles in the 1940s.
In a recent interview Paddy said “All my life, it was national policy to cut turf and now it’s a crime. Maybe I’ll be spending my 94th birthday in prison”.
That was not to be.
He had a good life, a full life. He was definitely not a man who would have left things unsaid.
Earlier this week, Paddy’s grandson Evan was asked was Paddy sleeping. He turned and said NO, he’s dreaming.
Well if he is, I’m sure it will be of a summer’s day on the bog with the smell of fresh hay in the air and an evening without a midge. Now that would be heaven for Paddy!
Ar dheis de go raibh a h-anam dilis.