Willie McLaughlin: King of our hearts who treated all the same
WILLIE 'The Kid' McLaughlin was the king of our hearts and our greatest hero.
He was born in 1920 on a high and windy hill known as the “Raws” just outside Castlefin, on the border between Donegal and Tyrone.
When he was five he came to live in the lovely townland of Corlea near Belleek.
His father Thomas was a noted musician and Willie loved to sing, dance and act all his life, as he cast a cool look at the world from two merry blue eyes.
He was also blessed with great hands and could handle a hurley, a plough, a maid, a spade, a dart or a rifle, and spin a yarn from the slightest of cloth.
A well known actor with the Border Players, where the great Tomas Mac Ana was his drama coach, he shot fast from the hip, had great time for the underdog and could rapidly deflate windbags with a look, a wave, or a lightning one-liner.
Willie joined the Cementation Company and worked on the Erne Scheme, later joining the ESB where he worked until his retirement in 1987.
He loved to travel and while working in Kildare in the early 1950s he won an All-Ireland medal for amateur drama with the Ballymore Eustace players in the Fr Matthew Temperance Hall in Dublin, though it was lost during the full-blooded celebrations.
He had the good fortune to marry Rose McGuire from Cashel in Co Fermanagh, who passed away last July.
Rose was 20 and working in the Carlton Hotel, Belleek when she first spotted 32-year-old Willie swinging from a lamppost at Rooney's Corner some time in 1952, when trench coats and Brylcreem were really cool.
They went to live in Gaoth Dobhair where they were very happy, until touched by tragedy when they had to bury their first child Rose, who was stillborn.
Willie's family will remember him as their Gaelic chief who stayed up all night in case Gerard, their first to live, went the same way.
The family moved to Cloghore, just on the Donegal side of Belleek, in 1960.
Willie drove a lorry for the ESB, a job he loved in latter years as it took him all over the country, and he also worked on the family farm in Corlea.
He loved to tell yarns about the great characters from the old Corlea football team, having once played in a Donegal senior league final, and retained an encyclopaedic knowledge of sportsmen and women all over Ireland.
He also had a rich, deep ballad-singing voice that he put to good use in various convivial settings all over the Rosses, south Donegal and north Fermanagh, and a certain watering hole in Leitrim when on his way back from Dublin.
Willie taught his family to neither look up or down on people. Treat them all the same, he said, for we will all end up on a grassy green mound on the edge of town.
He gave them a great love of life, of music, of storytelling and drama tinged with occasional melodrama, teaching them to stand on their own feet and let others admire, accept or shun the view.
A fiercely independent and deeply religious man, Willie was driving his car up until six months ago and boy did he force other drivers to be at their best.
His ghost will always sing in the summer wind around Corlea, for all rebel hearts, for all those who taste life through the teeth, for all the mirth makers, the wordsmiths and weavers of dreams, and for all those who rage so magnificently against the dying of their light.
Willie McLaughlin died aged 97 on April 8. He is survived by his children Gerard, Liam, Maurice, Martin and Catherine and family circle.