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'Fermanagh's Finest' is feat of fine storytelling

Fermanagh legend Peter McGinity (right) during the 1982 Ulster final against Armagh in Clones
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

PERHAPS the best compliment which can be given to Gerry McLaughlin’s Local Legends, is that proffered by former GAA president Peter Quinn in his introduction.

The book, Quinn writes, is the truth as McLaughlin’s interviewees saw it, “unvarnished and sometimes raw”.

Ultimately, this is what all good books must seek to do: every now and then make you shift in your seat with discomfort, not attempt to coat things as they are with a pleasing veneer. McLaughlin, in this book, has proven himself adept at this task.

In all, long-time Irish News correspondent McLaughlin interviewed 82 Erne natives for his book, which carries the subtitle of Fermanagh’s Finest. Among the GAA figures to talk are the legendary Devenish player and manager Jim Carty, multi-championship winning ladies’ footballer Shauna Hamilton, Erne Gaels stalwart Gerry Gallagher and the county’s first footballing superstar PT Treacy.

Pride of place is given to “Fermanagh’s greatest ever footballer” Peter McGinnity, the man who managed to win not only three county Senior Football Championships with Roslea but another three Antrim titles with Belfast club St John’s.

“I had ambitions,” McGinnity tells McLaughlin.

“I wanted to play in Croke Park, I wanted to play for Fermanagh seniors, I wanted to do what Mickey Brewster had done and play for Ulster and, as they ticked off, other goals came on.”

McLaughlin’s Fermanagh personalities aren’t restricted to the Gaelic field. Among the pages of this tome, you’ll find interviewed the likes of local actor Siobhán O’Brien and independent councillor Bernice Swift.

Lisnaskea solicitor, civil rights veteran and one-time member of parliament at Westminster Frank McManus gives the inside story of Bernadette Devlin’s famous assault on Reginald Maudling in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday.

“She was making for [British prime minister Ted] Heath, but Maudling happened to have his feet up on one of the dispatch boxes,” says McManus, who acted as Devlin’s ‘backup’ that afternoon in the House of Commons.

Big John Rehill was the last islander to leave Lough Erne in the middle of the last decade. The native of Corkish Island near Lisnaskea is a historian, author and poet and all-round storyteller.

“It could be that the landscape affects the disposition,” says Rehill to McLaughlin of Fermanagh, “that has an effect on the people”.

If you’re a Gael from Fermanagh, chances are you already have this book on your shelf. If you’re a Gael from further afield, give yourself the treat of the rich stories of the Erne county.

 

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