Lives Remembered

Widely admired Fermanagh footballer Frank Mulligan had a huge unselfish heart

Frank Mulligan played Gaelic football for Roslea and Fermanagh

ST Francis of Assisi said, “It is in giving that we receive.” These words came into my mind on August 16 when the huge heart of my father, the generous and unselfish Frank Mulligan, ceased to beat.

Frank was born in 1932, the third of four children to Joe and Mary Ann in a small and primitive three-roomed thatched house in the townland of Scribby, Roslea, a notably unsophisticated part of Fermanagh that snaked along the border with Monaghan.

The Mulligans were the only Catholic family on their stretch of road, and they lived in perfect harmony with their neighbours.

Frank walked a six-mile round trip to Gransha School, where Master Con Short from Crossmaglen, a future Ulster President of the GAA, introduced him to Gaelic games.

At length he came to belong to the Roslea team which spun Fermanagh on its axis by winning their first ever senior championship in 1955. They went on to win four in a row, enriching the lives of many people. There was even a song written about them.

By all accounts, Frank was a widely admired footballer. He went on to play for Fermanagh.

Frank Mulligan (right) with his younger brother Tom in a Roslea Shamrocks GFC team photo from the 1950s

In the early 1960s, he got a job in the newly-fledged building firm of Eugene McMahon. There he learned new skills, became more confident, made many friends, and expanded his horizons.

It was at a céilidh on St Patrick’s night 1966 in St Joseph’s Hall, Clones, when the Teddy Kennedy lookalike with kind blue eyes met Rosemary Barkey from Aghadrumsee, a newly qualified teacher.

Their romance went smoothly, aided by numerous lifts in Sonny McDermott’s car. Marriage came naturally to Frank, even though Rosemary didn’t know his date of birth until he was signing the marriage register. The match was greatly blessed. It lasted for 52 years and two days.

Frank got used to domestic life, and became adventurous outside the home. He began to take on more local building work himself.

Soon he built his own spacious dream-house in the picturesque setting of Tattenbar.

He gave several young lads their first start, showing them how to enjoy a stable career, without greed or avarice, by being reliable, cooperative, and prepared to work to a high standard.

We read in Job 5:7, “Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” No authentic human life is devoid of sorrow.

Frank’s own parents died when he was relatively young. His sixth and youngest son, Dara, died as a baby. Frank had to be resolute when his in-laws, Bob and Pat Barkey, died suddenly in separate ineffable tragedies. He also experienced the anguish of losing his nephew Brian in a horrific road accident.

Frank and Rosemary gave their children a wonderful upbringing. They organized some memorable family holidays. They poured their hearts into their parental rôles. However hectic and precarious life was at times, they were generous of spirit – givers, and not takers. They showed their children how good life could be.

Frank liked his local area. He loved it for its rhythm, which gave him a profound inner peace.

Being a man who spent most of his life going to work on a bicycle (he never drove), with his lunch in a Rover biscuit tin, he struggled to understand why his children would want to seek unscripted adventures, or to work elsewhere.

He taught them not to complain, to hold their heads up, to pay their way, and to make things better by working hard.

Frank was a man of simple faith, and a loyal contributing parishioner. Canon Brian McCluskey got him to build the stone wall at the graveyard car park.

He made concrete products at the back of the house as a sideline. He dabbled in bowling, took part in the local historical society, enjoyed the old time dances, watched Gaelic games, and loved the snooker.

He read The Irish News and the local papers assiduously. He and Rosemary travelled around Ireland. They also made trips to America, to Lourdes, and to the Holy Land.

I believe that courage is the first of human virtues, because it makes all the other ones possible. Frank rolled with every punch that was thrown at him. He survived.

His catalogue of ailments and setbacks never caused him to despair. Frank simply died as he had lived, leaving an indelible impression on all of our memories.

He was laid to rest beside his own people, and snuggled close to his baby son. I’m sure he is up in heaven now. As a lifelong Pioneer, he may have bypassed God’s vineyard. St Joseph the Worker will have some jobs for Frank to do around God’s house.

There are times when I forget that my dear father has died. It gives me a jolt even to write these words now.

I remember Isaiah 49:16, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” When I think of Frank now, I realize that his powerful hands were so important, whether he was playing football, twirling the trowel, holding a child, or taking the sacraments.

I rang home one day to speak to him. When I realised that he wasn’t there, a wave of sadness came over me. I looked at my own hands. All that I could see was Frank, the subject of a multitude of memories which we as a family will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Long long ago, St Francis got it right. “It is in giving that we receive.”

Marius Mulligan

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