By Fr. John D. Flannery and Peter Feeney
SOURCE: ATHENRY ADC’S PUBLICATION-THE ATHENRY JOURNAL, NO. 16, 2002
Making the World a Better Place – Seamus Cullinane 1933 – 2002
Fr. John D. Flannery and Peter Feeney reflect on the enormous contribution of a gifted teacher to the community of Athenry
It was in September 1975 that I met Seamus Cullinane formally for the first time. I still vividly recall being welcomed by Seamus at the door of the Vocational School. It was break time and the students were bustling back and forth in the front corridor. Standing tall and erect, he was an imposing figure, sincere and hospitable in his welcome to me, while at the same time his eyes, his ears alert to the different nuances of the movement of students and everything that would seem to be out of the ordinary, and as such, should demand his attention. That now is still my image of Seamus whose life’s call and service was to his school, its staff and its students. I was back again twenty three years later and he brought me on a tour of the final piece of the chessboard that was his building plan for the school’s extension. It was his wish that before retirement all would be in order, building complete, debts paid, his final response to the demands of his position. There was pride in his voice; there was pride in his walk as he said with hands pointed outwards. “I have done my best”. Yes, Seamus did the sowing. If only bricks and mortar could speak, what a story!! A story of leadership, of commitment of willing helpers of staff, of parents and community and a growing body of young adults who have been enriched and in turn have enriched our society as a result of the years of education and development within those walls. Seamus has richly earned the plaudits of praise and gratitude for his service to education.
There was life too outside the school and again it was the unselfish sense of service with which Seamus enriched the community, and by his vision and leadership empowered so many others in community service and parish ennoblement. The early year’s purchase of Raheen grounds proved his vision, and this led on to his elected leadership of Community Council. There are many who will remember Sales of Work in the Mart, Poker Classics in the Ardilaun Hotel, the purchase of cattle and farmers’ rearing of same and probably the most public events of all, the potato sowing project. No half measures when Seamus was involved, his meticulous checking and planning for the weekly card games and despite bad weather the “Meitheal” in motley garb, town and country, young and old, nun and priest on a late October Sunday in a potato field, presided over by a smiling and ebullient Seamus as the bags were filled and the stack grew higher. Athenry’s rich heritage was very much part of his plan for overall development and maybe the open air Banquet in the castle grounds on the night of the King’s election could have been the firelighter for the medieval joists and functions of later years.
Love of Hurling
Seamus was a GAA man through and through – hurling his game. His own prowess on the field of play in a Castlegar and a Galway jersey earned for him a deep rooted respect as a shrewd judge of the game, a tactical reader of the play and a coach and motivator of a very high standard indeed. His pride in the mammoth achievement of the school in college’s competitions was not only visible but his distinctive voice could be heard loudly and clearly as he pucked every ball in spirit with his team on the field. 1977 was an ‘almost year’, as he led Athenry Senior team to that year’s County final. Members of that team will recall his statement, “You don’t know what it takes to win”. Nearly or close was not sufficient. To win was the goal. He was disappointed then, but it was good that he saw it all come to pass in later years and how he loved to analyse and then relate the great breakthrough of the county in 1980 and his parish team in 1987.
Seamus was a private man in many ways, traditionalist and conservative by nature but open to the advancement, challenges and the changes that technology and scientific development were bringing. He loved to talk and among his friends there are many memories of political discussion, heated at times, where his strongly held views on political life, the state of the country and the growing urban/rural divide could not be easily shaken or changed. Conversation and friendly company brought a new dimension to his life’s interests.
The horse – part of our nature – certainly became Seamus’ source of relaxation and joy. His journeys to the Sales, his buying and rearing, resulting in his daily visit to the field of the horse. He had good advisors and he had friends to share his stories of how everything was progressing. Bawnrock the horse he sold on to a Kilkenny syndicate was his great pride and I will always remember his childlike exuberance as Bawnrock won the Bumper in Killarney on his first race. It was a late night’s journey home, but a well-remembered one.
Time marches on and so does the journey of life. Seamus looked forward to many years of enjoyment and companionship with Anne and Ann-Marie, Niall, Cormac and their families. He was so proud of each of them. They shared as a family in the joy of the Papal Recognition and tribute to him and his life’s’ work. They now share with one another in grief at his loss. His friends and all who know Seamus share too in his loss, and all the more so can then appreciate Anne and families’ loss.
The recent sad passing of Seamus Cullinane RIP has led, in the weeks since, to many chats and memories about his time in Athenry and his great work in education and community development. Seamus was the driving force behind a series of projects undertaken in Athenry from the mid-seventies and through the 1980’s and while there were many people who worked extremely hard for the community during that time, it is acknowledged that Seamus Cullinane provided the leadership and motivation that ensured that so much was achieved. Many of those involved at the time remarked to me that “we did it as much because Seamus Cullinane asked as for the community”. Such was the respect and admiration in which he was held.
Seamus was one of the prime movers behind the founding of Athenry Community Council and became its first Chairman in 1977. On the agenda of the first meeting was a proposal to purchase the Town Hall and despite having no money the deal was completed shortly afterwards and as a result Athenry had its first community-owned property. This gave the new Community Council a timely boost and it went from strength to strength over the following years.
Secret of Success
Fundraising to pay for the hall was pursued with the same determination. Based on Seamus’s maxim that “people give to people and not to causes” a large number of local people were involved. There was a Monster Sale of Work held one Sunday at the Mart when the Committee took the opportunity to charge £1 per car for parking to match goers in the back lawn. Neither team was from the parish and I’m told that reaction to the charge was “mixed” to put it mildly! The enthusiasm of Seamus Cullinane and his Committee seemed to be infectious as all fundraising schemes attempted seemed to meet with remarkable success. Bingo was started and the profit on the first night was £261, an amazing sum for the late 1970’s. An equally successful Silver Circle Draw with contributors paying £1/week was started. A progressive 25 card night was so successful, that there was a shortage of tables and more were made, locally of course.
The development of the new Parish Grounds at Raheen was the next project undertaken. The building of the clubhouse and pitches was funded by planting potatoes and rearing cattle. The potatoes were sown in a field in Raheen owned by the Murphy family of the Arch Bar. Local farmers ploughed, tilled and sowed the potatoes and at the time for harvesting, the late Canon Gibbons PP asked volunteers at 11.30 Mass one Sunday and 120 pickers turned up, including a number of nuns from the convent.
Money was also raised through a novel scheme of cattle-rearing. With the generous co-operation of the Mart, the Community Council through the late Tony Murphy, bought a large number of cattle in springtime and distributed throughout the parish amongst farmers for fattening. The following August they were sold at the mart and Seamus Cullinane who was on holiday in Cork came back to be present for the sale. These fundraising schemes involved a lot of hard work, but caught the imaginations of the community and were successful as a result. Never content to rest on their laurels, Seamus and the committee bought a field at Knockaunglas part of which is now the site for the Boys’ school. This was a far-sighted plan giving the Community Council a valuable property for future development. It was part-funded by the King of Athenry contest where four local people, Bridie Finn, Cyril McNamara, Gerry Melia and John-Joe Brady raised £16,000 towards the cost.
That was a “Golden Age” for community development in Athenry, when a hard-working, totally committed council led by a man with great vision and leadership, combined to create something very special and something we will all benefit from in the years to come. Our best tribute to them all is to continue the good work they started in whatever way we can.
On behalf of all Community Council members past and present, I would like to extend our sincere sympathy to Anne and the Cullinane family and our deep appreciation for Seamus’s great contribution to Athenry.