Owenie O'Neill: Great Culloville and Armagh Gael led from the front
OWENIE O'Neill was a man who led from the front, a dedicated Gael who gave his time and talents unsparingly for the benefit of his GAA club and community.
The president and former chairman of Culloville GFC in south Armagh had a long association with the club and devoted many years to its service in many capacities.
As a gifted tradesman he also left his physical mark as great development took place during his stewardship.
He set an example of unselfishness and an ethic of voluntary work which gladly has continued and flourished.
From the townland of Drumbee, as a 19-year-old Owenie played at centre half forward on the first Culloville team to win a county championship – the junior title in 1951.
He picked up a knee injury in the final and emigrated to work, plying his trade as a carpenter in England, the Channel Islands, the highlands of Scotland and Glasgow, where he also won a championship medal.
When he returned home in the early 1960s he donned the blue jersey again and when his playing career came to an end, he took a keen interest in the administration of the club and was a committee member before taking on the role of chairman in 1975.
With the exception of two years, this was a position he held until 1998 and it was a period that saw Culloville won three championships.
It was also a time when very firm roots were laid to ensure the future of the club.
Under Owenie's leadership, land for development was purchased on the Corrasmoo Road and the first match took place in the GAA's centenary year of 1984.
With unemployment and emigration rife in the 1980s, funds were scarce and further development had to be on a voluntary basis.
Owenie was very much to the fore in this regard and many were the days when he spent long hours working at the grounds.
His skilled hands were very evident as a perimeter wall and fencing, ball stop netting, training lights and dressing rooms were all put in place with the help of a loyal band of clubmen.
It was a very proud Owenie O’Neill who saw the culmination of his work with the official opening of Gaelic Park by then GAA President Peter Quinn in 1992.
In his final year as chairman he oversaw the purchase of lands on the Concession Road which were later developed into the fine facility of the 'Top Field'.
He also staunchly represented the club at county board meetings and annual conventions.
Owenie was an easy going, generous person who was the first to be sought out when a bit of help was needed.
He was also a great conversationalist with a keen interest in farming and local history.
He followed the fortunes of Armagh up and down the country and there was no prouder man in Croke Park when Kieran McGeeney, son of his Drumbee neighbour Pat, raised the Sam Maguire aloft in 2002.
Owenie O'Neill died aged 87 on July 18.
We at Culloville GFC are all hugely indebted to him and his likes for the facilities which will ensure our native Gaelic games will be played in the area for generations to come.
We extend our deepest sympathy to his brothers Charlie, Tom and Jim, his sisters in law, his many nephews and nieces and wide circle of family and friends.
Owenie's month's mind Mass will take place at 6.30pm today in St Patrick's Church, Crossmaglen. May his gentle soul rest in peace.