Bloody Sunday - the Kilbeggan connection
The GAA commemorated the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday last Saturday, November 21 and there was an interesting Kilbeggan link to that fateful day. Thomas (Tommy) Whelehan was an umpire at the match between Dublin and Tipperary in Croke Park when the Crown Forces opened fire, killing 14 people, including Tipp footballer Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan Stand is named.
Tommy was born in Rochfortbridge. He had one brother (Paddy) and one sister (Mary) who later emigrated to America. The family ran a pub and farm. Their mother died in 1909 when Tommy was just 13 and their father died in 1912 when Tommy was just 16 and Paddy 18. Tommy went to work in Dublin during the First World War and Paddy took over running of the family business. While in Dublin, Tommy played club football with the C J Kickhams club, which amalgamated with Ballymun in the 1960s, and represented Dublin. Tommy eventually returned home to Westmeath; had he not he would likely have been involved with the Dublin team 100 years ago.
Tommy travelled to Dublin for the match on Bloody Sunday which was a challenge between the two top teams in the country at the time. In early morning raids, 15 had been killed by the IRA and people were being advised not to attend Croke Park that day. It was envisaged that there would be reprisals, but no-one expected them to be so severe.
Tommy was advised not to carry ID as Dublin was tense that morning and afternoon. On arrival at Croke Park the designated umpires hadn’t turned up and as the officials knew Tommy, they asked him to step in. He was umpire at the goals where Michael Hogan of Tipperary was shot and was one of first to his assistance.
The events left a lasting impression on Tommy, but it was something he rarely spoke about after. There is a recollection locally that his brother Paddy may have been a linesman at an earlier club match played before the main match.
Tommy started his playing career with Rochfortbridge Warriors, a club where his brother Paddy was one of the founder-members in 1910. In 1914, they won the County Junior championship with both playing. They both won Senior County Championships medals in 1914 and 1915 with the club. They also played for the county team in 1918 that defeated Offaly. The war years saw little football and it was 1923 when next Rochfortbridge were next in a county final with both lads again on the winning side against Kilbeggan. Both lads played county again that year. Tommy, along with Paddy and later Paddy’s son Eddie, were the only family that had members on all county titles won by Rochfortbridge.
Tommy married Georgina Rowan in 1925 and ran The Distillery Inn in The Square in Kilbeggan which is still there to this day. They had two boys, Clement (Fr Mark Whelehan) the eldest, and Raymond. The pub was a great gathering point on match days and locals remember being warned not to slag the Warriors if they stopped en-route or returning from games. When Kilbeggan GAA club played away from home, many players travelled in “Count” Brennan's taxi which was always parked outside Whelehans. Tommy had charge of the jerseys which he packed in a suitcase and placed in the boot of the car.
Tommy played for Kilbeggan after moving to the town and won County senior football titles with them in 1925, '27, '30, '31 and '35.
Sadly, Georgina contracted TB and passed away when the children were just five and three.
Tommy later worked in Locke’s Distillery and later still bought a small shop on the Dublin Road. He was ably assisted there by Nan Moore who still lives in the town. The current Leinster PRO Pat Lynagh was a customer there and remembers being sent from school for ‘messages’ for his teacher. Tommy was chairman of the local Hall Committee for many years. His eldest son Clement was ordained Fr Mark Whelehan into the Passionist Order and currently resides in Minsteracres Monastery and Retreat Centre in Durham in North East England. He is 94 years old and still full of the joys of the world, and an inspiration to all he meets.
His youngest son Raymond (Ray) settled in Roscommon and married Vita. Tommy enjoyed the weekly visits from Ray accompanied by any of the seven surviving grandchildren of whom he was very proud of. His grandchildren spent happy summers with him in Kilbeggan. Ray sadly passed away in 1999.
In another local link, Ray's son Paul moved to Athboy in Co. Meath and went into partnership with current Westmeath GAA chairman Billy Foley. Paul and his wife Noreen are volunteer stewards at Croke Park and both are lifelong members of the GAA. Ray’s eldest son Gerry is married to Patricia. Patricia worked as an NGO in Africa with Therese Kinahan, adopted mother of current Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh.
Throughout his life, Tommy faced tragedies and witnessed the awful carnage of Bloody Sunday but the GAA was a positive influence and support to him. He passed away in 1975 and is buried with his beloved wife in Glasnevin Cemetery.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen" - Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
Last week’s lucky numbers were 4, 5, 7 and 15. There were four Match 3 winners – Tara Carroll, Colum Connolly, Lil Gorman and Mal Keenan. The jackpot remains at €16,000 with the draw being streamed live on Facebook every Tuesday at 8pm. Please note that the cut-off time for purchasing online tickets is 5.30pm on Tuesdays.
Best of luck to Ayesha Roche and her Westmeath ladies football team-mates in their All-Ireland intermediate semi-final against Roscommon at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park this coming weekend.
Wishing club stalwart Donal Fox a happy 60th birthday. Donal celebrated the milestone birthday last Wednesday.Tweet