A tribute to my late father Frank Fearon R.I.P

March 18, 2013

A regular contributor to The Examiner, Tony Fearon penned this moving and poignant tribute to his late father, recalling many happy memories that stand out over the years for him and the sadness that was visited upon his family with Frank’s illness and recent death.

A tribute to my late father Frank Fearon R.I.P. and the story of the Tommy Haughey Cup

Contributed by Tony Fearon

“It never came back up the Dublin Road since.”

The words often used by my late father Frank Fearon, who sadly passed away on February 9th. The Sam Maguire or the MacRory Cup are household names for many of us. The Tommy Haughey may not be so well known, yet for many local dart throwers it is held in as high regard as ‘Sam’ itself.

When McCreesh’s darts team brought the trophy back to the Three Steps in 1991 it was to be the only night the biggest trophy in local darts would come up the Dublin Road from Newry. When it arrived at our house later that year for a month I could not believe how big it was. I was in Primary 4 at the time and was dwarfed by this monster of a trophy. It also seemed to get an abundance of respect around the house, from what I can recall.

Only those who follow darts would appreciate how big an achievement this was.

In 1991 McCreesh’s had won the Division One title but faced the Premier League outfit The Gaelic in the Final. The bookies and everyone else had them as major underdogs that night but they would emerge victorious with a 6-5 victory to the delight of the Dromintee team and support.

On that famous night the Tommy Haughey would make its way up the Dublin Road and arrive at The Three Steps Bar which, I imagine, would have opened ever so slightly later than usual. Dad may not have been the greatest darts thrower in the world, but he loved the game and kept darts going in the Three Steps when there was little interest, compared to the interest there is today.

It would be fitting to see the Three Steps team gain promotion to the Premier League this year. His old friend John McCoy who played with him on that famous night in 1991 still plays with the Three Steps to this day.

Darts was certainly a big interest of Frank’s. Another would have been that of music. He played for years in various bands including ‘The Portland Four’ along with Micky McCormack, Peadar Rice and Mary Ryan, as well as Gerry and Angela McKay and Oliver Markey. He played in many local venues such as The Blue Anchor, The Lumpers in Ravensdale, The Three Steps, The Welcome Inn in Forkhill, Donnelly’s in Silverbridge and the Labour club in Newry.

Ill health

He continued to play his accordian until recent times. He was always a man for a song and it was the norm in the Fearon household to hear ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’ or ‘Galway Bay’ coming from the Kitchen. We can recall every word and note, he had a great voice and a great love of music in general.

Unfortunately having being diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease in May of last year, he lost his ability to speak and was reduced to writing words on a small white board to communicate.

It was rather fitting then that the beautiful music played at his funeral mass was delivered without singing. This music was wonderfully performed by Niamh Trainor from Dromintee (whose mother Mary is a first cousin of Franks) and John Cunningham from Hilltown (whose mum, a sister of the late Jerry Quinn, is a first cousin of my mothers).

Motor Neurone Disease is not something that is becoming more common, it is simply being diagnosed more frequently. Neurologist Doctor Craig, who attended to Frank, explained how when he qualified in 1992 there were only four neurologists in Northern Ireland, while today there are 18.

This article would not be complete without mentioning the ‘Vintage Day’ which Dromintee GAC ran as a fundraiser for Motor Neurone Disease. This was one of the key events in the club’s 125 years celebrations. With three parishioners suffering from the disease the club committee decided to organise the event. This was a day that fortunately Frank was able to attend and a day that will live long in the memory of all who attended. The social committee of the club worked strenuously to organise and run the event. It demanded a massive effort from all involved and was a major success.

On November 3rd Professor Orla Hardiman arrived at the club for a presentation night to receive a cheque of the funds raised. Professor Hardiman is one of the world’s leading figures in MND research and was humbled by the money raised by a small rural community to assist her and her colleagues in their research.

Sadly that was to be dad’s last outing. The music played that night put a smile on his face and was played largely by the local musicians who will go on to represent Dromintee and Armagh in the Scor Ulster Final this year. I wish them every success and Frank will be cheering them on from above.

Club connection

Dad was a keen follower of Dromintee football club over the years. His dad Charlie needs little introduction to the club members of Dromintee. He managed the 1966 Junior Championship side to their first success – something which made dad very proud. Frank’s late brother Michael who passed away in January 2009 played on that triumphant team. I am glad that Frank was around to watch Dromintee’s most successful period in recent years. He saw the club reach 5 Championship finals only to be outdone by Crossmaglen- arguably the greatest GAA club team of all time.

Frank always had a soft spot for Cross and barring Dromintee would have liked to see them beat any other opponent than his own club. He was a massive admirer of Oisin McConville and would have known his mother from working in St. Joseph’s High School in Crossmaglen some time around the late 1970s.

I am equally delighted that Frank lived to see Armagh win the Sam Maguire in 2002. When I look back at that day now it is amazing how much happiness it brought to the people of our county – dad included.

Unsurprisingly myself and my younger brother Emmett both have a major interest in sport. Dad’s knowledge of sport was at times ridiculous and unsurpassed by any man I have ever met. Whereas most men would have an interest in the GAA, soccer, golf or darts, Frank had an interest and an amazing knowledge of a wide range of sports. May it be listing the All- Ireland champions of the 1940s, recalling who scored the winner in the FA Cup finals of the 1970s, listing the winners of the British Open Golf in the 1980s, Wimbledon in the 90s, The Cheltenham Gold Cup in the 70s, or the World Darts Finals of the 80s – you name it he could recall it effortlessly. He could do all this without the help of google or the internet (which I often used to check if he was right!) He didn’t require a search engine – I don’t know how but he kept it upstairs.

Other than darts Frank didn’t play any sport beyond his youth so he didn’t converse with people claiming to know better. That is why I believe only those who knew dad best would appreciate his ridiculous knowledge of sport. He respected those that played their respective sports and took their opinions on board. That is not suggesting for one minute that he remained free of controversy! Myself and Frank had an ongoing debate about Roy Keane since Saipan in 2002. It was still going strong up until as recently as a few weeks before his passing.

Frank was a very proud supporter of Leeds United and I could name that 70s Leeds team quicker than I could name most Premiership teams today. He still followed them right up until his death and could name the current panel never mind the first XI. As my brother Emmett said, it was a pity they couldn’t reach the top flight again before Dad passed. He did see them beat Spurs and Everton this year however. At the Offertory Procession at his funeral Mass one of his Leeds United shirts was included.

A chip off the old block

All in all this article has been a tribute to my dad without getting too emotional or personal. A reference to local darts, and my how he loved them, an acknowledgement of the effort made for the Vintage Day run by the Social Committee and club members of Dromintee GAC and to heighten an awareness of a disease which is not more common, simply easier to diagnose.

It’s strange how I write this on the week of Cheltenham. Frank and his brother Michael loved the Cheltenham week so I am a chip off the old block in that regard. This time last year we were probably debating on who would win the big races at the meeting. I know he followed First Lieutenant and I’ll have a heartfelt few quid on him at Cheltenham.

Oh and one last thing Dad – the Tommy Haughey Cup finally made a second trip up the Dublin Road. Your old friend and another player on that 1991 Three Steps team Martin ‘Pup’ McCartney brought the trophy to our house once again to be used in the Offertory Procession at your funeral.  And just so you know it was treated with upmost respect again!

From your Beloved wife Geraldine, your daughters Kerry, Edel and Chynel and your two sons myself and Emmett – thank you for great times and memories we will never forget. R.I.P Dad.