Dedicated Councillor Is A Man For All Seasons

WHEN that genial and dedicated councillor, Pat McElroy, hung up his boots as a member of Newry and Mourne district council, he chalked up a quarter century of service to the community.

What a varied career this popular public representative can reflect on. Barman, student priest, seaman, bus-driver, factory-worker, boxer, civil rights activist, internee, Hibernian, GAA and soccer player and manager, the climax came when elected council chairman in 1995.

Hob-nobbing with President Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, industry and commerce leaders, was a far cry from that grim period when he was interned. Hooded for hours, thrown out of a helicopter while in flight, deprived of sleep and decent food, he spent 15 months in Long Kesh Prison, where inmates included Gerry Adams and Martin Meehan.

But a memorable moment had come when Down won the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 1960. Pat McElroy was one of the first on the field and Sean O’Neill, who had the ball at the final whistle, knowing that he would be swamped by jubilant fans and lose that precious piece of leather, tossed it to his Newry Mitchels teammate, asking him to keep it safe.

Pat McElroy stuck the ball up his jersey; and when the presentation of the premier trophy and celebrations were over, went to the Down dressing-room. However, there was no chance of admission, being a scene of chaos and unbridled excitement. So Pat asked T.P. Murphy to pass the ball on to the star-player. It is in now on display in the GAA Museum at Croke Park.

Another outstanding event came when, as chairman of Newry and Mourne council, Pat was invited to meet President Bill and Mrs Clinton, during the official visit to Belfast. He had a long chat with Mrs Clinton, now a senator, informing her about the serious unemployment situation in the frontier town, causing widespread poverty and emigration, stressing the need for U.S. investment.

Earlier, Pat McElroy had proposed that the council set up an Economic Development Committee, with EEC support - the first in the north. Local business and industry leaders came on board, taking part in delegations to Europe and the United States, especially Pittsburgh. And when Pat met Lord Sainsbury at the Culloden Hotel in Belfast, he recommended that the frontier town would be an ideal location for his enterprise. The result can be seen, where once was derelict dockland!

Born in Home Avenue, off Chapel Street in Newry, Pat’s father and two uncles, - Jimmy, Paddy and Jack, - were butchers in the town. He has three brothers, Seamus, Peter and Sean, along with sisters Phyllis, Alice, Sadie, Mona, Carmel, Joan and Martina.

At the Abbey primary school, classmates included Tony Hadden, Liam O’Reilly, Brendan Murtagh and Brendan Halpin, while the teachers were Bros Hennessy, McGreevey and Cloke, as well as Mr McArdle. Future soccer stars, Peter McParland and Raymond Hollywood were also pupils at the time.

The family then moved to North Street, where Pat recalled personalities like historian and poulterer Eddie McAteer, the O’Callaghan brothers, - who had a grocery shop and home bakery, - Teddy Goodman, Gerry Treanor and Seamus Loughran.

“On our way to the Abbey school, we would stop at McCann’s bakery for some free broken buns. Sometimes a kindly baker would deliberately break some buns for us. We would also get some mugs from O’Neill the tinsmith, across the street.”

The McElroy family then moved to Derrybeg Drive, part of the new housing estate at Rooney’s Meadow, where neighbours included Geordie McCrum, the McCauls and McCabes. Pat was involved with a local team in the Under-14 League, including Nickey Barry and Rowan Hand. It was called St Jude’s, - patron saint of hopeless causes. Nickey Barry went on to star for Mitchels and Down, - whatever happened to Rowan Hand!

Pat McElroy’s first job was with Armaghdown Creameries, helping to deliver milk in the Warrenpoint area. Then he became a barman, first at the West End public house, owned by Barney Hughes, and then in Joe Cosgrove’s Bar on the Mall. Meanwhile, he had joined the boxing section of the St John Bosco Club, one of the pugilists being Pat Price, later owner of an ice-cream shop at Abbey Yard. And some years later he would manage a Bosco soccer side in the Carnbane League, players including the late Sean Hollywood, Mickey Keenan, Ritchie Rafferty, John Carroll and Larry Boyle.

Feeling that he had a vocation to the priesthood, Pat joined the Rosminian Order, the seminary being at St Michael’s College at Omeath, now the Tain Holiday Village.

One of the best-known priests was fund-raiser, Fr Aidan Kennedy. The college had a fine Gaelic football team, drawing from Dublin, Cork and Galway students, beating the Abbey CBS on one occasion.

However, realising that he did not have a calling to religious life, Pat became a seaman, operating on the Fishers’ vessel, SS `Oak,` with Captain O’Keefe in command. They transported coal and general cargo between Newry and Liverpool.

Next Page >

© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008