Brendan Crossan: GAA members continue to fight the good fight in the midst of Covid19
MY mother was a secretary in a solicitor’s office for most of her working life and my late father a plumber. They had four children – three boys and a girl.
I was the second child.
We all turned out okay.
Growing up, university was never on our radar.
Academically, we were all capable but it was a different time. You either got a trade or applied for the civil service.
I actually tried both routes and failed miserably. My first job was a YTP civil servant in IDB House in Chichester Street in Belfast city centre, which is no more.
To this day, I don’t know what I was supposed to be doing in that lovely building Monday to Friday.
But I always turned up on time and was pleasant.
Later, I tried to get a trade. A neighbour got me a job as a telephone cabling engineer. I earned £60 per week. Looking back, I hadn't a clue what I was doing there either.
I could never quite master the colour codes, which was kind of an essential part of being a cabling engineer.
I lasted less than a year.
I jumped from temporary job to job and went back to night classes to try and add to the one GCSE pass I left secondary school with – a grade ‘B’ in English.
It took me three attempts to pass Maths GCSE. I added History and English Literature to my burgeoning GCSE collection before passing a couple of ‘A’ Levels at ‘the blackman tech’.
I meandered aimlessly to the doorstep of university with no great master-plan in mind.
I loved sport and I loved writing.
If anyone asked what I was studying for, I’d reply: ‘I want to be a sports journalist.’
Of course, I never believed I’d become one because I thought those kinds of jobs were the preserve of others.
Like, smarter people.
My parents fretted over how much it would cost to send me to university because at that time student grants were being phased out and student loans were all the rage.
Everything was means-tested.
In a desperate attempt to see her son reach university, my mother asked her boss in the solicitors’ office did he know of anyone who might ‘sponsor’ her second eldest.
Paul, her boss, was friendly with Jim Fitzpatrick (senior). Paul was a bit of a wordsmith.
So he drafted a letter to Mr Fitzpatrick. I remember reading the letter; it was a few short paragraphs but not one word was wasted and the tone was pitch perfect.
In the nicest possible way, Paul was asking Mr Fitzpatrick for a donation to help put her secretary's son through university, or at least get me through the gates of Queen’s.
I remember reading Mr Fitzpatrick’s reply to my mum's boss. He kindly offered £200 towards my university fees.
Twenty-five years ago, £200 was a large sum of money.
It turned out I didn’t avail of this stranger’s kind offer as I qualified for a student grant, albeit a reduced sum, and borrowed the rest through the relatively new student loan scheme.
But I was always struck by this gentleman’s generosity because he didn’t know me from Adam. And yet he was prepared to contribute to my university career.
For the last 21 years I’ve been working for Mr Fitzpatrick (senior). He owns The Irish News.
If you see the newspaper in your local shop, I humbly ask to purchase a copy.
These are desperately uncertain times for everyone.
As we all try to out-smart the ubiquitous Covid19 virus and keep each other safe, there have been acts of kindness that will be remembered for a long time.
Last Sunday, I walked my two kids down to the front of the ‘Crickey’ pitch on the Cliftonville Road where Ardoyne Kickhams GAC were collecting food supplies for the local community.
Packing food donations into the back seat of his car and car boot, club member Conor Barnes, wearing a face mask that wouldn’t keep out a common cold, was typically full of light and energy.
Of course, many clubs the length and breadth of Ireland are doing likewise.
But when you see it for yourself, people giving up their Sunday afternoons to accept, sort out and then deliver food parcels to the most isolated in our communities is ceaseless volunteerism in action.
Scroll through the club’s Twitter account [@ardoynegac] and you will see for yourself.
These club members don’t give up their time so that they can see their picture on social media later that evening – they do it because they want to help.
I suspect senior footballer Corrine McFall didn’t know she would be ‘papped’ before doing food deliveries, nor Ciaran and Chris Brown from St Paul’s GAC who donated to Ardoyne’s food appeal.
In these times you see people’s bottom line and, for the most part, the results are hugely heartening.
A friend of mine decided to become a hospital cleaner in Covid19 wards. A hospital cleaner during a pandemic.
I was moved by the altruistic act of Antrim GAA recently when the senior football and hurling squads and management teams donated £3,000 to food banks in different parts of the county – a figure that was matched by the county board.
When I approached one of the county footballers about this incredible gesture, he politely declined to be interviewed. Why? Because the act spoke for itself.
Roisin O’Hare is the county’s health and well-being officer. When Covid19 reached Ireland, she re-registered as a nurse to help the front line.
I’ll never forget the kindness of my son’s nursery school teacher.
On his birthday, she sent him a video and sang happy birthday. It wasn’t just the video; it was the fact she went to the bother of putting up birthday bunting on her living room window.
His teacher is an active member of Glenavy GAC. You see, the GAA pervades every aspect of Irish society.
Every few days a WhatsApp video message lands from my friend Fr Gary Donegan.
Each message is calmness itself.
With so much employment uncertainty down the tracks Anto Finnegan, one of the brightest minds I’ve encountered in GAA circles, offered his services via Twitter to prepare people for job interviews.
All the while Paul McCusker stands at the open doors of St Patrick’s food shelter on Donegall Street every Friday and Saturday with a team of volunteers.
During my university years, we studied the Politics of Latin America. We learned about dictatorships and freedom fighters. Good guys, bad guys, heroes and villains.
We all wanted to be like Che Guevara.
We were introduced to Guevara’s doctrine of trying to transform a system governed by “material incentives” into “moral incentives”.
Perhaps that process has begun in the midst of this pandemic, when our lives are governed by the moral and not the material.
Where we see acts of kindness in our daily lives, and where we tend to and nurture our relationships in a way we once promised ourselves.
And we see the rat race for what it was. I can live and learn in a world like that.