January 01, 2001
My friendship with John, whose month's mind was celebrated recently, goes back a lifetime of our childhood days as cousins in Anahorish Primary School. During our teenage years we shared many happy times and later as team mates, many football honours on various victorious Newbridge and Derry County teams.
John McGlone was the complete Gaelic Football defender, being gifted with height, weight, pace, one of the safest pair of hands in the game and, of course, fear was a word completely missing from his vocabulary. The McGlone family had kindly arranged a footballers table in the Glenavon Hotel at John's funeral dinner and Jim McKeever had us laughing at the description of John handling a dangerous attack by a Monaghan side during one McKenna Cup tussle.
"As the ball was on its way into the Derry square from midfield, John shouted to wee Tommy Doherty at left back "Leave it to me". He then rose up, made a mighty catch and headed outfield. On the way out he used both shoulders to scatter two Monaghan forwards who had headed in seeking a piece of the action. After leaving the ball out to the three quarter line, he came back to his place at full back and leaned over to wee Tommy with a knowing wink as if to say "That's how you clear your lines with a bit of authority!"
John's start in business was a modest one, Tommy McKenna, another football star and himself, renting a loft from Butler Hurl at 2/6d per week to cater mainly for the bicycle needs of the Yankee soldiers based in Derrygarve during World War II. Each morning apparently a row of bikes would be waiting with labels attached such as "Fix Flat", "Straighten Forks" etc. The trade was good as a lot of these chaps, some of whom had discovered the charms of the local poteen, frequently spent as much time in the hedges as the country roads!
In later years John branched out with a lucrative garage cum petrol business in Ballyronan. The place was always a hive of activity when one waited for repairs. John was the MC and the craic was mighty. A top salesman, John could have sold snowballs to Eskimos and sand in the Sahara Desert! In later years, John extended his tyre business to such an extent that he was known in many places North and South as "Big John The Tyre Man".
There are so many anecdotes told about John McGlone that, if I wrote them all down, this modest article would become a fair-sized book. Hence, I will recount just one about the wee game rooster man.
One particular Sunday, John, who also ran a successful taxi business, drove four other Derry players to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. All five of us were playing and we welcomed an early arrival as it gave us a chance to stretch our legs before taking on Armagh on their home pitch. Shortly after we started walking, John stopped at a street corner, leaned over to a wee man in a navy blue suit and declared "You're not unlike a man with a game rooster about you."
"The response was immediate, "I have two dammed good ones", he replied, "come on home till you see them", so we followed the wee man home, saw his prized birds and heard about all their fights as well. On the way back to the Athletic Grounds John laid it on thick.
"Could ye bate that boys? Do you know I could pick out a game rooster man on a pitch-dark night and a hurricane blowing?
"We were duly impressed till I mentioned the incident to another cockfigher I met in Cookstown a few weeks later.
"For God's sake John, that wee man was Peter Nugent and McGlone knew him like a bad halfpenny. He sees him every time he has a taxi load of punters from South Derry to all the cockfights in Monaghan, Cavan and Fermanagh."
John McGlone was also a gifted singer. I have no doubt at all that, had he been trained, he could have made a good living on the stage. Frequently on a taxi-run to an All-Ireland, if the craic waned a little, John would burst into "Danny Boy" or "The Green Glens of Antrim" in that beautiful tenor voice of his and you felt that heaven had come that little bit closer.
Speaking of heaven, couldn't you just see John, if St. Peter had a slack spell at the pearly gates sliding over and asking the Holy Man himself, "Did I ever tell you the yarn about ...?
John's friends from all over the North and beyond turned out in massive numbers for his wake and funeral. Father McNally spoke eloquently about his lively faith, his love of his family and extended family and his love of children. He also recalled how touched he was when John and his wife Mary were among the first parishioners to make him so welcome on his arrival in Newbridge.
In conclusion I would like to offer on behalf of all John's friends, our sincere sympathies to Mary, his widow, to the family and extended family and especially his two surviving brothers, Hughie and Henry.
Big John may be gone but fond memories linger on. His multitude of friends whose lives he touched are that little bit richer for the experience.
May his big gentle soul rest in peace.
- courtesy of John P. Murphy, January 2002
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