John Mulgrew: Fior Gael, fear feasa, laoch Thír Eoghain
‘Anocht is uaigneach Thír Eoghain' (Tonight Tyrone is lonely) is an historical sentiment that retains its resonance here.
On March 9, when John Mulgrew died, the day after his 81st birthday, that loneliness returned.
John was born to James and Lizzie Ellen Mulgrew in Moygashel, Co Tyrone in 1938. That was a Tyrone of no frills: John’s home had a ‘rammed clay’ floor and shoes were a luxury rather than an essential.
But it was a Tyrone underpinned by staunch neighbourliness, kindness, and an aptitude for hard work.
The Mulgrews’ Moygashel roots go back to the 1600s and James was a farm hand, milking, ploughing and harvesting on the old Ballynorthland estate (now Dungannon Park).
Outside farming, the teenage John’s introduction to work was in Moygashel Linen Mill.
He stayed for several years before moving into the retail drapery trade, first in Keady and then on to Dungannon and Omagh.
Drapery introduced him to Scotland, for which he always retained a great grá.
Among John’s many qualities was a natural ability to be strategic and ‘read the runes’: he inevitably judged to perfection when to enter or leave a business sector.
Over time he succeeded grandly in the drapery, bakery, fast-food, kitchen-making, videoing, property and health care sectors, always re-inventing things if he felt the market was changing.
That work placed him at the heart of the business revolution which has totally changed the face of Tyrone. No more clay floors or shoeless feet.
In June 1967 John married Cassie McCaul, from nearby Dungannon, a noted camog and John’s bulwark through his remarkable life journey.
They had five children, Sean, Deirdre, Martin, Marcus and Seamus, all still based locally.
Tyrone is gifted with many good, committed, successful people. But John Mulgrew was just different. His inspirational contribution to Gaelic Tyrone alone stands out.
For a quarter-century he was central to two of Tyrone’s great successes.
He helped create and then grow Club Tyrone into the phenomenon it has become and simultaneously helped scope, plan, fund, build and then manage Tyrone GAA’s Garvaghey project.
By bringing his wisdom, knowledge, experience, acumen and downright common sense to bear on something that was and remains hugely ambitious and complex, John helped ensure Garvaghey came in on time, to plan and on budget.
All the while he remained quiet, modest, charming but inevitably in the background. A giant of Tyrone life, largely unknown to most of Tyrone.
Neither was John just a single-focus person. His contribution to our time and our place ranged across business, charities, church, community, faith, family, GAA, parish, Pioneers and much else.
There were ‘many Garvagheys’ in John’s life. In 1985 he was a founder member of Dungannon Development Association, staying with it over the next third of a century as it helped many thousands of people better themselves and their communities.
He was a founder trustee of The Cormac Trust, energized the major renovations of Dungannon’s parish chapels and simply would not miss Armagh diocese’s annual Lourdes pilgrimage.
Last year he met Pope Francis privately in Dublin: the Pope chose well that day. And all the while a delight of John’s life was his weekly card-playing in Ballymacnab Hall.
John did everything with belief, commitment, faith, good grace, integrity, kindness, style, wisdom and total effectiveness.
Others might preach about these things. Still others leave them to somebody else. But John delivered them, so often calming things with his two classic phrases: “Leave that with me” or “That thing’s been sorted/fixed”.
John Mulgrew’s life was a blessing on us all. His legacy to Tyrone in all its guises can't be measured. We won't see his like again. That’s why Tyrone is lonely without him.
Luímse le Dia agus luífidh Dia liom, Éireoidh mé le Dia agus éireoidh Dia liom: 'I lie with God and God will lie with me, I will rise with God and God will rise with me.'