03 Oct 2022

Sad passing of redoubtable Burt hurler

Sympathy extended to family of James Whoriskey

Donegal hurl dating from 1960s  turns up under bed

Whoriskey brothers James, Teague and Brian.

* There was sadness in Burt as the Parish awoke to the news of the passing of James Whoriskey.

Late of 36, McNeely Villas, Letterkenny, James was the husband of Evelyn and the father of Caroline, Stephen and Paul.

James was the son of the late Hugh and Mary Whoriskey from Moness in Burt, and brother of Willie, Patrick, Tadhg, Brian, Kieran, Celistine, Helen and the late Anna, Kathleen, Margaret, John and Hughie.

James' Funeral Mass took place on Wednesday, in St Eunan's Cathedral, Letterkenny with interment immediately afterwards in Conwal Cemetery.

As a tribute to James, Donegal Live is republishing an article which first appeared in early March past, when James was enjoying his new-found celebrity status *

In March, the 77-year-old was in the picture of three generations of Burt hurlers that won Donegal Live's 'Snapshots' competition recently.

The black and white photo, capturing a lovely moment between James, his father Hugh and grandfather Johnny gathered together round a hurley stick, was taken way back in the 1960s.

Speaking to Donegal Live at the time, James said it still felt like yesterday. "That picture was taken just before Burt were to play the Antrim hurlers," he said. "I played a match for the minors and then went out and played again for the seniors that same day.

"That wouldn't have been that unusual. I didn't take my first drink 'til I was 24, so the focus would have been very much on the hurling on those days."

"The hurlers were made of sterner stuff alright," says James' younger brother Teague. "You wouldn't even see the young ones play two matches in a week nowadays - but James took his porridge in the morning!"

James, Teague and their brother Brian, along with James' wife Evelyn and daughter Caroline, were gathered in his family home in Letterkenny, reminiscing about old times.

The three men came from a proud family of Burt hurlers - the Whoriskeys - whose prowess at the sport was legendary throughout Donegal and beyond.

All eight brothers represented Donegal in the sport, and the number of county championship medals they won for Burt would fill a barn. James was on the Donegal side that won the Ulster junior championship in 1972 - the first time they'd won it since 1948.

James' niece Mary Devlin, daughter of his late sister Anna, was also there. Mary was the person who submitted the picture into the competition, and it has caused something of a storm with the wider Whoriskey clan, with votes coming in from England, Scotland and America as well as here at home.

Mary's mother Anna gave the photograph to her, and one of the main reasons she entered it was because it would have pleased her mother so much.

"Mum thought the world of her family," she said. "She was so proud of all her brothers' achievements in hurling and she would have been delighted to see the picture in the paper.

"She didn't play herself, but she loved the Gaelic. She knitted the entire Donegal team one time, and it was put into Michael Murphy's window in Letterkenny a few weeks before the All Ireland final in 2014 between Donegal and Kerry."

That was Anna's (pictured below with James) claim to fame. 

Said Teague: "James is enjoying his moment in the spotlight - the next we know Tubridy will be ringing him for an interview!
"Of all of us, he would have been the best at the hurling. He was very skillful, and because he was a full forward he would have scored plenty of points."

The emergence of the picture has brought back a lot of memories for the family, and they got quite a shock last week when James produced the very stick that was in the original photo.

"I had the hurl under the bed all this time," he said, "so it would be at least 60 years old now.
"You can see the tin on the end of it. That wouldn't be allowed nowadays as it would be thought too dangerous, but money was tight in those days and if your hurl was split you couldn't really afford to replace it, so the tin was to strengthen it."

Amazingly, given the ferocity of the game, and the fact that helmets weren't worn back then, none of the eight brothers was ever seriously injured. But they didn't escape the odd scrape now and again.

Said James' wife Evelyn: "There was days he came back in here and the blood was pouring from him, and he has more bumps on the back of his head than you would believe.

"But it never bothered him because he and his brothers loved it so much. Even if it was only an ordinary, plain match they won, they were delighted."

And it was all the better, says Brian, if they got one over on one of their rivals. "I played in nine consecutive senior finals for Burt," said the 70-year-old, "and we had some great battles with Setanta around then.
"Those were real crackers - and if we were playing Carn then it was a real bloodbath!"

Though all eight played at different stages for Donegal, there was overlap at times and many of them would have lined out together. James remembers with pride the day he lined out with his father Hugh (pictured below with his eight sons back in 1994) in Ballyshannon.

He said: "In those days you would have had men playing into older age, because if you were short of men then the older ones had no choice but to play.

"My father would have played right up until he was in his early fifties."

The men's grandfather, Johnny, is the man holding the stick on the right of the old black and white picture that won the 'Snapshots' competition. Their passion for hurling came from him, and though he's dead more than 50 years, the legacy he has left still burns brightly with his grandchildren.

Said Teague: "Granda was that mad about Gaelic he never would have allowed you to even go and watch a soccer match, never mind play in one.
"He absolutely loved the hurling, and as he was a cobbler by trade, he would have sat and made the balls himself, and you should have seen how intricate they were.

"We were eight brothers in a family of 13 and it was just natural we would all play the hurling.
“It's a bit different nowadays because there's so much activity going on with young ones.
"Our young boys used to play, but then they got to 16,17 and they started chasing the women!"

On Friday evenings, James made the short walk to the Station House Hotel to pass a few hours with his friends in the bar.
He said: "I was telling them I had the hurl under my bed, and the landlord Brian Gallagher has said to me there's a wee space on the wall where I could hang it.

"But I told him no chance - I'll be keeping it with me a while yet."

Donegal Live extends our condolences to James' family and friends at this sad time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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