Death of a great Carlow man

January 10, 2014

The late Willie White
The many tributes paid to Willie White of 1 St. Brigid's Terrace, Clonegal, Co. Carlow since his passing on Monday 23rd December at St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny are more than richly deserved for a many who gave so much of himself to his native place.

Throughout his life, Willie (92) was involved win everything associated with the welfare of the pretty village, which lies at the confluence of counties Carlow, Wicklow and Wexford, and through which the River Derry flows. He placed no small part in the creation of that beauty.

It is hard to know where to start to adequately assess the life of Willie White.

He was a community leader, historian, poet, sportsman, author, press correspondent, raconteur and proud Irishman.

Born on 19th April 1921, the only child of William and Elizabeth (nee Lacey) White, Willie was so deeply identified with his native place that the county accurately be described as 'Mr Clonegal'. Over the years, he led the way in so many aspects of community life that it is impossible to enumerate them all. He was to the fore in such local organisations as the Clonegal Development Association, Clonegal Raparees GAA Club, Kildavin GAA Club, Clonegal Vintage Fair, Clonegal Tidy towns, Clonegal 1898 Bi-Centenary, Clonegal Heritage Committee, St. Brigid's underage GAA Club ... the list goes on and on.

Willie liked nothing better than a discourse on his native Clonegal, often in conversation referring to the Irish name of the village, Cluain an Gall - the Meadow of the Stranger. That would be the staring point for a discussion in which one quickly realised Willie White knew every nook and cranny in the place he called home.

Sport played an important part in Willie's life. A dedicated Gael, he played in goal for his native Clonegal football team in the late 1930's, going on to line out between the post for the Kilbride senior team of the 1940's. He also represented Carlow with distinction in that era at senior county level.

It was Willie's proud boast that, while manning the last line of defence, he never conceded a goal from a penalty at club or county level.

In addition, he played football for Kildavin, served as the club's secretary and was author of the definitive book on Kildavin GAA, written in the association's centenary year of 1984 and titled Footprints to the Future. During his association with Kildavin, one of Willie's closet allies was the late Andy Redmond, whose commitment to the club surely earned him the title 'Mr Kildavin GAA'.

The Grim Reaper has taken both Willie and Andy in 2013, along with Jimmy Kealy, Cross Road, Clonegal, a lifelong friend of Willie's.

Willie held the position of chairman of Clonegal Raparees when the GAA club was revived in the 1970s and was a proud man when the Carlow junior football championship was landed in 1980. He as also deeply involved in Scor, the social aspect of the GAA.

In the wider GAA family, Willie served as deputy vice-chairman of Carlow County board of the GAA for a number of years.

Willie was the man to consult when debate arose about the footballers and hurlers of the past, having instant recall of deeds from the playing fields of county and country, going back over a huge span of years. He could vividly remember details of football and hurling matches back in the mists of time. In recalling these incidents, Willie's storytelling skills came ot the fore: he had the knack of engaging his audience and knew how to deliver a good punchline.

He was a follower of almost every sport under the sun - enjoyed a flutter on the horses and watching the sport of kings on television. He was very much in a sporting minority in Ireland as a follower of cross-channel soccer club Portsmouth. Willie would remind one that the club, nicknamed Pompey, held the English FA Cup for the longest period: Portsmouth had won the cup in 1939, the year World War 11 broke out, and the competition did not resume until 1946, when hostilities had ceased.

In 1992, Willie wrote Heirs to a Heritage, a story of the people from the Clonegal area. The author dedicated the publication 'to the people of Clonegal parish past, present and future.'

A visit to the White home at St. Brigid's Terrace was something to be treasured, as one conversed with Willie on anything from the state of the nation, the world economy, the political landscape and national or international history to the latest GAA happenings.

A forester by occupation, Willie worked for the Coillte state forestry at Ballintemple, Ardattin, retiring in the late 1970s after long years of service.

Willie was local press correspondent for three provincial newspapers - The nationalist, Carlow People and the Enniscorthy Echo, always providing highly detailed and factually accurate reportage of the local happenings.

Willie penned a widely read weekly column for The Nationalist, title Times Past, having previously written the paper's Looking South page. Down the years, Willie covered a phenomenal range of topics in the column, which has continued right up this his death. He was also a regular contributor of articles to periodicals and journals, most notably Carloviana, the annual journal of the Carlow Archaeological and Historical Society.

When the Carlow Person of the Year Awards was initiated by The Nationalist, Willie White was the inaugural winner for the community section of the scheme, being an obvious choice for the award.

In a newspaper interview in 2001, Willie spoke of the days of innocence in his childhood, when every local boy and girl headed to the old football field near the village castle on many a summer's day for a game of football - the only form of local sporting recreation.

He recalled, with obvious pride, the manner in which Clonegal had developed from being a dusty, rustic village to becoming what he regarded as a place of great beauty.

"We were taught the value of money because we seldom had any, and I think it served us well in later life," Willie remembered.

On a personal level, I well remember calling on Willie at his home in the early 1970s, when my mission was to pen an article for The Nationalist on Clonegal. Willie provided me with an abundance of raw material for the piece, during which he described Clonegal as 'Carlow's forgotten village', through what he perceived as the neglect of the area.

With Willie White at the helm, Clonegal went on to shed the 'forgotten village' tag, which has long since been erased from popular belief.

Willie regarded the village's new buildings, housing estates and the work of the local tidy towns committee over more than three decades as the dominant aspects in bringing Clonegal to its place of current beauty, located as it is at the end of The Wicklow Way.

Willie retained a deep interest in politics throughout his life and, while he never put himself forward for political office, was a lifelong supporter and activist on behalf of the Labour Party. he also served as a member of the Local Defence Forces (LDF).

Willie reposed at Byrne's Funeral Home, Tullow before removal of his remains on St. Stephen's Day to St. Brigid's Church, Clonegal, just across the road from the White home, and where Willie had worshiping all his lief. His remains were received by Fr. Tom O'Byrne, PP, Clonegal-Kildavin.

Fr. Joe Fleming, PE, former parish priest of Clonegal-Kildavin, celebrated Willie's funeral Mass on Friday afternoon, assisted by Fr. Brendan Howard, PP, Ballon-Rathoe.

A number of symbols from Willie's life were brought to the alter at the start of Mass. Great grandchild Keith Gray brought up a pair of goalkeeping gloves, reflecting Willie's GAA career, another great grandchild Martin Gray, brought forward a cup with illustrations of famous major horse racing wins, symbolising Willie's love of horse racing; Abbie Gray (great granddaughter) brought up a copy of Heirs to a Heritage; while grandchild Nicola Gray brought forward a copy of The Nationalists.

In a homily during Mass, Fr. Fleming spoke of the huge contribution Willie had made to his native place. He also spoke of his deep faith and his devotion to Our Lady. Willie, he said, had been the driving force behind the provision of the grotto to Our Lady in the village.

Guards of honour were provided by members of Clonegal/Kildavin GAA at Thursday night;s removal and by members of Kilbride GFC and Carlow County Board at Friday's funeral.

Prayers of the Faithful were recited by Willie's grandchildren Dervila Candon, Shane Evans, Gregory Evans, James O'Toole and Frank White Jnr., while the readings at Mass were by his son Frank and granddaughter Jennifer Evans. The Offertory gifts were presented by Willie's daughters Patricia Gray and Eileen O'Toole.

The singing at Mass was by Joe Whelan, with organist Margaret Grant.

At the end of Mass, Stephen Shell, former neighbour and great friend of Willie, in tribute spoke of Willie's influence in Clonegal. "He was the man behind the formation of the Clonegal Development Association, founded to get houses built in the village - and they were built. He drove the Village Fair and entered Clonegal in the Tidy Towns competition, making Clonegal one of the beauty spots, not alone of Carlow and Leinster, but Europe.

"He published a number of books on local history the first of which was the history of Kildavin GAA Footprints to the Future."

Stephen, like Willie, a dedicated GAA man, spoke of Willie's football career, noting that he won a Carlow intermediate football championship with Kilbride in 1945. He always said the time he enjoyed most during his playing days were with Kilbride.

When Clonegal Raparees came into being, Willie served as chairman and president. "So Willie travelled the full circle - he started and finished his playing career with Clonegal."

As a poet, a selection of Willie's poems were published in book form.

Stephen then read one of Willie's poems to the congregation, Old Comrade.

And while Willie devoted so much time throughout his life to his local place and community, he also created the time for family life, Stephen stated.

Present at the obsequies were Michale Meaney, chairman of Carlow County Board of the GAA, Ger Lennon, board secretary, as well as representatives of many of the GAA clubs of the county.

Willie, predeceased in November 2007 by his wife, the former Carmel Healy from Bunclody, was laid to rest in the White family plot in the adjoining cemetery, not far from the final resting place of his lifelong friend Peter Murphy, the Voice of Rural Ireland, who died in June 2011. Fr. Fleming recited the final prayers at the grave, while there was a graveside oration extolling the life and times of Willie White by his great friend PJ Kavanagh, The Mill, Clonegal.

Willie is survived by his son Frank (Newbridge), daughters Mary Teefy (Raheny), Eileen O'Toole (Myshall), Joan Evans (Blackrock, Dublin) and Patricia (Trish) Gray (1A St. Brigid's Terrace). He is also mourned by his 17 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, nephews, nieces, sons-in-law, extended family, neighbours, relatives, GAA colleagues and many friends.

The end of an era is an oft-used cliche which, in the case of Willie White, is a truism. His passing marks the loss of a remarkable man, which will be felt most by his family and extended family. In a general sense, Willie White's death is a communal loss.

When they made Willie White, they threw away the mould - he was truly the jewel in Clonegal's crown.

May the soil of his native Clonegal rest lightly on Willie.

Courtesy of Charlie Keegan and the Nationalist

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