Frank McElroy: 'Nothing lasts forever… you have to dig in and make it good'
POLITICIAN, engineer, footballer, historian, community activist – Frank McElroy was all of these and more.
The Tyrone man was the first republican chairman of Omagh District Council, a fierce defender of townland names, and a proud committee member of Carrickmore GAC for almost half a century.
However, family was always his first priority and he will be remembered above all for doing all he could for those close to him.
Frank was born in the townland of Lower Carrickmore in July 1939 to Bartley and Mary McElroy (nee McCullagh).
He grew up on a small farm with his siblings Sean, Sheila, Mary P and Paddy and his early life typified that of many of his friends and neighbours in the 1940s and '50s when times were tough.
Employment would take him to Belfast in 1958, working as barman for Irish Bonding.
It was while there that a phone call to the Benn Hospital, enquiring about a sick friend, would change his life. On that day Vera Savage picked up the phone and in his last days he recounted the story to the nurses in hospital, telling them: "I just heard that voice and chanced my arm…"
Frank and Vera were married in 1965 in St Patrick's Church, Banbridge.
They began a new life in Toronto were Frank found work with Kodak and played for Clann na Gael, a team with which he won titles in 1965 and 1966. He was also selected for Toronto City and would fly across the border on weekends to play in the North American League.
With the passage of time Francis and then Katherine would come along. But as was the case in the last days of his life, the lure of home was all consuming.
Frank and Vera returned to Carrickmore in 1968. He would start work in Hadden’s Quarry, the third generation of his family to do so.
Later he would set up his own business beside the house in light engineering. The shed was a magnet over the years where friends would call to discuss football, politics or just enjoy the craic.
Vera worked in the South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon until one day she met Dr Kevin Quinlivan. The conversation that day would see her join him in his Carrickmore practice and set in motion a unique partnership devoted to health care in the parish.
A new home would soon be built beside the quarry in Lower Carrickmore and the family would grow with boys Gavan and Davitt arriving and then ‘the baby’ Jayne.
Frank had a passion for stone building and his connection to the ground on which he was born was also lived out in the planting of many trees and hedges.
He had grown up in a house were politics and a sense of justice were central and his father’s involvement in the republican struggle from 1916 through to the War of Independence shaped his mind.
His own involvement with republicanism stretched back to Tom Mitchell’s landmark Mid Ulster victory in 1955 and the Liam Kelly organisation of late '50s.
His return to Ireland in 1968 coincided with the changing tide in the ‘north’ and he was drawn back to his political roots. His journey followed that of many of his contemporaries and would eventually move towards a political path. He was a treasurer of the Tyrone Prisoners Defence Committee, a civil rights member and trustee of the Garden of Remembrance in Carrickmore.
In 1973 Frank was elected to Omagh District Council as an independent republican candidate on an anti–internment ticket, refusing to take his seat until the policy was ended.
Elected again in 1977, he would become the first republican to chair the council the following year.
Throughout his life he was always outspoken about the ‘disease’ of sectarianism and the need for equality in society.
He took the ‘townlands’ issue to the High Court, challenging the failure of the post office and local government to recognise townlands in postal addresses. It was a case he won.
Frank was a community man and his life bore that out with his involvement in the Credit Union, Termonmaguirc Historical Society, the Patrician Hall Committee and board of governors of St Colmcilles PS.
He had a deep interest in Irish history and contributed articles to the An Tearmann magazine and Glimpses of Carrickmore.
Frank was also a constant on the committee of An Charraig Mhór GFC since 1974, including as treasurer and as club president in 2021, a position he carried with great pride.
He always spoke of how lucky he was to have seen so many great wins and to have had family involved.
Throughout his life he enjoyed people and the craic that went along with daily life. His wit and sense of humour never left him.
In his final days he faced his fate with strength and dignity. Foremost in his conversation were his wife Vera, his family and the many friends he made along the way.
He summed it up best for all those who spent the precious last few days with him, saying, "It was a good life… tough at times… but great… nothing lasts forever… you have to dig in and make it good."
Frank McElroy died on May 16. He is survived by his five children, 12 grandchildren and sisters Sheila and Mary.