Lives Remembered

James 'Snowball' Quinn: Sporting prodigy was known across Omagh for his quick wit and generosity

James 'Snowball' Quinn signing a contract to play for Distillery FC in 1957 before his sporting career was cut short by injury

AS an 18-year-old finishing school in Omagh, Co Tyrone, James 'Snowball' Quinn seemed destined for sporting greatness.

The year was 1957 and the brilliant young athlete with the shock of blond hair was the talk of the town.

In athletics, he had just won the 100 yards, long jump and triple jump at the Ulster CBS championships for the third year in a row.

He was also Ulster senior champion over 100 yards in a time of 10.1 seconds, and had won two medals for Ireland in the European junior championships at Lansdowne Road.

On the soccer field, word of his talent had spread to top English clubs with Everton and West Ham both offering trials.

James had even signed a contract to play for Irish League side Distillery that year only for his father to veto the move.

He was a rising GAA star too, having just won the county senior championship with Omagh and played minor football for Tyrone, with progression to the great senior team of that era seen as inevitable.

James was undoubtedly one of the most promising athletes ever to come out of Omagh, someone set to be a household name in years to come.

But within months all that was gone, his sporting dreams dashed when he suffered a serious thigh injury while playing for Omagh CIYMS hockey team.

It was a devastating blow, one which always left questions hanging about what might have been.

It was therefore to his enormous credit that rather than wallow in self-pity he would find equal fulfilment down the years as a coach and spectator of sport as well through a happy family life and strong faith.

James was born in 1939 in Dublin to Edward and Gretta Quinn but grew up in their native Omagh when they moved back for work when he was a few months old.

His mother was one of the wealthy Garrity family in the town and they raised their eight children in Johnston Park.

After primary and grammar education with the Christian Brothers, his introduction to working life was with the Ulster Herald before taking up a job as a compositor with the Queen's University press in Belfast.

James first met Betty Reynolds during a family visit to his home and despite a few complications - he was 19 and from a nationalist background; she was four years his junior and the Protestant daughter of a World War II veteran - they fell in love, Betty converted to Catholicism and they were married in 1964.

When the Troubles broke out they upped sticks from Belfast to Tyrone and settled in Killyclogher, where they had two children.

James's varied working career saw him move into medical sales, first with Boots and later US firm MSD.

He scratched his sporting itch by setting up the White Hart soccer team in Omagh in 1971, whose most famous product Pat Sharkey was signed by Bobby Robson to play for Ipswich.

He also took a keen interest in the fortunes of young athletes in the town.

With his silver locks and striking appearance, James was a familiar figure across Omagh and popular everywhere he went with his wisecracks and banter.

James Quinn died aged 80 on June 8

At his funeral in St Mary's Church, Killyclogher, Fr Dan McFall remarked that "it took a man of 80 years to fill the chapel on a Monday morning".

James was never afraid to express his views but was also kind and thoughtful, generous with his time and full of good advice.

He had a devout faith but always carried it lightly and was devoted to his family.

James Quinn died on June 8 and is survived by his wife Betty, children Neil and Oonagh, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and siblings Frances, Ann, John, Eithne, Jean and Damien. He was predeceased by his sister Irene.

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Lives Remembered