The death of Brian Clarke, The Bridge, Killinkere on March 29 was greeted with great sadness by those who came to know him as a kind, caring and witty person. Aged only 56 years, Brian was diagnosed with a serious illness in November 2011. When he asked his consultant how long he might expect to get, he was told perhaps two months without treatment or four months or more with treatment. His immediate response was "Shur look it, that's it, wouldn't it be worse if it was one of my sisters or one of my nieces or nephews or a young mother. I had a good life, I have no complaints. It would be nice though to live to see the long days again and to see the grass grow."
Most of Brian's wishes were granted but his time was shorter than all who had loved him dearly had hoped for.
Brian lived a good life, was a great brother, uncle and a wonderful son who cared for his mother so well over a long number of years. He was a caring neighbour who loved his townland of Granacunia and his parish of Killinkere. He was a proud Cavan man and Irishman.
Having left school in 1972 Brian trained as a waiter in the Grasshopper Inn in Clonee and in Killiney Court Hotel. He was such a fine waiter it was believed that he could have worked in the best hotels in the world.
When Brian's dad died in 1978 he came home to look after the family farm. While he may not have been a progressive farmer, the animals he reared were cared for so well and this was noted by his veterinary surgeon John Lynch and by his many good neighbourly farming friends.
Brian loved sport, he was a great bare knuckle boxer in his primary school years and God help anyone who tried to take him on. He followed boxing throughout his life and could name the top fights and boxers in any weight division. Rugby was another sport he enjoyed greatly and even in his sick bed followed the fortunes of the Irish team in this year's Six Nations.
However it is Gaelic football that Brian will be best remembered for. He served as secretary and P.R.O. for Killinkere GAA; his weekly newsletter is still missed by many. In his youth he played a little but didn't excel. However over a 20 year period he managed both the 'B' and the 'C' teams for Killinkere. His easy going manner and commitment to those on the margins gained him so many friends throughout Killinkere and beyond. He loved the youth and the youth loved him.
Here is a snippet of a typical day in the life of Brian (known as "Gigsy" by the players). The year is 1997, it's around 11am on a Saturday and Brian's on the phone- "Hello, this is Brian, Brian of the Bridge, is so 'n so there? "No he's away" "Hello, this is Brian, Brian Clarke, lookit, is so 'n so there? "No, he got hurt at training last night" "Hello, this is Brian", "Hello, this Brian", it goes on and on until about 3pm. He has 10 definites and is happy that by 5pmin Blacklion, 50 miles away, he'll have 15; they can get into the semi- final if they win this one!
He gets his basic gear together, one football, one old set of jerseys, the book for the team-sheet and of course his Monaghan or Avonmore milk container to carry the water for the boys who didn't train and who would drink water during the game like suck calves! He calls for his right-hand man "Red John" and off they head for BIacklion. He collects a new recruit called Jim Egan from Sharkey's hotel. "Where is Egan from?" asks Red John, "Kerry" says Brian, "anything to John Egan" asks Red John, "Yeah" says Brian a younger brother; it was looking good already.
As they approach BIacklion, Brian sees an ape of a man about 40 years old cutting grass at the front of his house. He stops and enquires "Do you know where the new pitch is? "No" says your man, with a hint of a Birmingham accent, "I don't know anything about this Club at all, I'm only here a short time." "Did you ever play football?" ask Brian. "I played a little with Erin Gaels in Birmingham years ago."
"He could stand in the goals" says Red John, "we're fairly stuck for a lad this evening" and with a bit of persuasion, yer man agrees to give it a go. His name was Wilburn so they decided to call him Stafford. Brian plays him comer back. The ball comes in, Wilburn fouls a young forward; he's out of wind himself and collapses in a heap. The ref goes to take his name, he forgets what his name is! "What's the name" asks the ref a number of times, no response. Red John intervenes "he's one of the Staffords."
"Anything to Joe Stafford?" enquires the ref, "a younger brother" says Brian, "the youngest of 15." The team were down by five points at half time; Caldwell, Mollie and Podge arrive late. Gigsy rings out the changes and they make the difference. With time almost up and the sides level there is a disputed line ball. Aidan Cullen, our lines-man says "Whisht, I'll give fair play"; he gives it to Killinkere The ball is kicked in; Caldwell catches it and is dragged down in the square. He takes the penalty himself and buries it. The game's won, the place erupts. The "C"s are in the semi-final, Gigsy is a hero once again. Gigsy you will be missed by your team, your club and all GAA followers.
Brian passed away in Cavan General Hospital on Thursday, March 29 in the loving care of his family and the wonderful staff who are a credit to the health service. Many hundreds of people attended the house, the removal and funeral Mass in St Ultan's Church, Killinkere. He was buried in St Ultan's graveyard. Guards of honour were provided by members of the Killinkere GAA Club and Virginia Show Society.
Brian Clarke is survived by his sisters, Mary, Ann and Eileen, his brothers Phil, John, Pat and Gerard, brothers-in- law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, grand nephews, grand nieces and extended family. Brian, you will be missed dearly by all who had the privilege of knowing you. You were a real star. Rest in peace.