The funeral cortege of the late Tom Gallagher (inset),makes its way to St. Patrick's Church on Monday
The town of Ballyshannon came to a complete standstill on Monday as hundreds of people lined the streets to pay tribute to Tom Gallagher (93) from Cluain Barron, who was the epitome of the heart beat of the Erne town, that he so dearly embraced and loved to his last breath.
His contributions to family, community and Donegal were reciprocated in one of the largest turnouts at a funeral there in living memory, as mourners, socially distanced and wearing protective Covid masks, lined the length of streets from the deceased's home on his final journey to his Funeral Mass and burial.
Another group of mourners composed of family members, relations and close friends followed Tom as the cortege made its way down the town on a route that would have been part of a daily pilgrimage for him, for over nine decades.
And in a beautiful spontaneous round of applause that accompanied a short stoppage outside the Abbey Arts Centre, as the hearse slowly made its way towards St. Patrick’s Church, there was recognition for one of his great contributions to his community, that of his renowned musical skills that had so often adorned venues in Ballyshannon and the wider north west region.
Prominent among the mourners and guards of honour were members of the Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band, which he spent a lifetime with as well as the Aodh Ruadh GAA club, which he had also represented with honour and success, in his playing days.
This photograph appeared in last week's Democrat and features Tom Gallagher and some of his fellow members in the Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band, at a recent sponsorship presentation outside Mr G's, Ballyshannon
Former colleagues and friends from the ESB, where he worked up until his retirement also paid their respects.
In his poignant homily at the Funeral Mass, restricted to 50 family members because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, chief celebrant Fr Cathal O’Fearraí P.P. V.F., spoke of the family man who had worked so hard to provide for them and yet still had time to contribute to so many other aspects of community life.
He noted that Tom was returning to the church where he had also been baptised.
“The gift of life itself has come from God, on loan to us, for Tom, for 93 years. He gave a good length of life. He also gave him many gifts and talents as a person and then he said to Tom, use that life, use these gifts, the best that you can.
“And then I will call you back to give an account of your life. And we are assured today that Jesus will be very pleased, because he has indeed embraced the gift of life in a very precious way, he has acknowledged his gifts and he gave very generously in the years that God gave him.”
He said that Tom was born in Tirconaill Street, on the site where the Abbey Centre is now located, before they moved to St Benildus Avenue and later to College Street.
He went to the De La Salle brothers school and then began his working life.
That started as a messenger boy with Vaughn’s shop, filling in the tea and the sugar and looking after the rations, as it was during the war times. Later he worked with the Cementation company on the Ballyshannon hydro-electric scheme, “which of course changed the whole face of Ballyshannon”.
When that was finished he worked as a plumber with a company in the East Port, before gaining employment with the ESB, where he spent the following 40 years, up until his retirement.
Fr O’Fearraí said that Tom was so gifted in so many ways in life that a book could be written about him and the social life of the community in Ballyshannon over the 90 years of Tom’s life.
He described Tom as a man who was “very hard working and very industrious” who like many of his generation, could turn his hand to anything.
“But the first in his heart was his family. He met a young girl called Angela Clancy from Kinlough at one of the dances in the Rock Hall or Bundoran. They got married on the 10th of September 1958 and would have been 63 years married next September.”
They were always seen together and as a couple they always supported each other.
“Family was so important to him. He worked hard and unstintingly for them to provide everything that he could as a father, to provide for his children and the best start in life. Tey came first at all times.”
He referred to the items on the gift table - the drums and trumpet, reflecting his musical talents and a beautiful family photograph of his 60th wedding anniversary to his wife Angela, and a little camera.
“Tom was a gifted and talented musician, playing the drums and the trumpet. He joined the Brass and Reed Band, which is so much a part of the social life of Ballyshannon for many decades. He joined that at the age of 14 and he continued to play with them until last Saturday week, when he played for the last time down at Mr Gs, who was making a donation to the band. And we had them here on many special occasions - Corpus Christi processions, the rededication of the Church and Tom was there, very much to a man.”
Tom, he noted, also played in many bands, which were very much part of the social life of the community , during his era, including the Modern Airs and Breakaways, whether it be the Rock Hall or dance venues all over the county.
Others would recall him at a Musical in the Abbey Centre, under the stage with the orchestra or with the Assaroe ceilí band playing in the Thatch.
“He shared that beautiful talent that he had, that love of music, that he shared generously with anyone that asked him on, but also passed it on to his next generation, which is so important.
He also alluded to Tom’s love of photography. “He always had a camera in the pocket. Always updating it, ensuring that he had the best camera going. And of course, if Tom and the camera were around, nobody was ever safe. And he has left behind a great collection of photographs over the decades.”
He was also generous in helping people connect with locals connected with the town, through his memory and old photos.
A man of great energy
Sport was also another big part of Tom’s life, whether snooker, rugby, boxing and his connection with the ‘98 Hall, but his great love was Gaelic Games and his club Aodh Ruadh.
A great supporter, coach and player he won a Senior county championship medal in 1951.
Later he was honoured by the club as a recipient of the Hall of Fame Award in 2010.
Other areas of involvement included the Town Commissioners, the swimming pool committee when it was being renovated.
“Tom was a man who had great energy and a great ability. He was indeed a true gentleman. Maybe reserved and unassuming in ways, very kindly, very friendly, truly a great friend to many many people, but not that quiet. He always had a great chat and plenty of stories, whenever you would meet him.”
Many of the mourners who had lined the streets on Tom’s journey to the church were still in situ as his final journey to the tranquil setting of Abbey Assaroe cemetery followed after Mass and led with some beautiful music from members of the Ballyshannon and Brass Reed Band.
Deceased will be sadly missed by his loving wife Angela, his daughters Geraldine, Christine, Deirdre, Marian and Lorraine, his sons Thomas and Seamus, his 15 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Lovingly missed by his sisters Helen and Mary, his daughter-in-law and sons-in-Law, his nieces and nephews and all his extended family and friends, to whom deepest sympathy is extended.
This week, the town has not only lost a heartbeat, it has lost one of its most enduring and loving characters of his generation, who will live long in the memory.
May he rest in peace.
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