My brother Shaun

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1. My brother Shaun's anniversary is today - this is a tribute to the most memorable person I have known in my lifetime... Remembering Shaun 40 years on… On the 22…
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  • 1. My brother Shaun's anniversary is today - this is a tribute to the most memorable person I have known in my lifetime... Remembering Shaun 40 years on… On the 22 August 1976, we lost our dear brother Shaun. He was 21 years old and the eldest of seven. He was full to the brim with life and love, with faith and ambition. This very day 40 years ago was spent on Buncrana Beach – Shaun, my mother and father, my younger brother Gary and me. Hundreds of Derry and Donegal folk filled the beaches and seaside towns of Inishowen that day, making the most of what was a glorious, scorcher of a summer day. Shaun played football with Gary on the beach and then swam in the sea with me. My mother was having a panic attack as she watched us swim further and further out across The Swilly, until we were only dots on the horizon. After the usual fish and chips and ice-cream in The Four Lanterns, we were taken home to Derry and Letty and John dropped off to meet relatives. Shaun then headed back down the road to The White Strand to meet with cousins and friends. It was on his way there that he was involved in a horrific six vehicle collision that took the lives of three people – young Damien Breslin, Mrs Annie McMonegal and our Shaun, all from Derry City. That day has defined the lives of our whole family; each one in their own way marked for evermore. Our Shaun (Shaunie) was well known in Derry and further afield because of the game of soccer. That love of football was nurtured in him from a very young age, by my father and by our local community. He joined Athletic FC in Creggan at 7 or 8 years of age, along with almost every young lad in the area. Under the sound leadership of Jim O’Hea Shaun made it ‘across the water’ as they say. He was only 15 years old. We were of course very proud of him, my father in particular, while my mother was in despair at her son heading into the wilds of the world so young. He signed for Leicester City firstly and stayed at Filbert Street for nearly two years before moving to Hibs in Scotland, where he spent another two. Homesickness got the better of him and he returned to Derry. At local level he played for Foyle Harps, Celtic Swifts, Crusaders and Derry Athletic but at 19 he signed for Finn Harps, making his League of Ireland debut at the beginning of ‘75. It didn’t take him long to make his mark and soon manager of Dundalk FC, Jim McLaughlin came calling after securing another Derry man and friend, Seamus (Shakes) McDowall. Shaunie and Seamus partnered in midfield and using much written about skill, guile and muscle, they created and supplied some of the campaigns most memorable moments with spectacular and stunning goals at regular intervals, culminating in Dundalk taking top spot in the League of Ireland that year. Over his career as a footballer, many column inches were written in his praise. Young lads would stop and sit on the grass to watch him just train. He was a crowd puller for matches too and played endlessly at any level, and couldn’t get his head around being paid to do what he loved. It was his life’s passion. He worked as a trainee accountant for DuPont in Derry but office work was not for him so he took a job running a milk round for Vinney Morrison. A job he absolutely loved! The early morning starts, the meeting and greeting of people young and old, the tests of how fast he could run from cart to door delivering the milk, putting up a challenge to the young helper, usually Thomas. He’d bring home exotic foods from the diary - strawberry yogurt, natural yogurt – yes! And while the people knew Shaun as the footballer, or the milkman, to us he was our big brother, head of the house, the one who laid down good example and was there for each of us when we needed him. Daily life in our house when Shaun was alive was upbeat and full of good laughs. He’s the one my father would listen to and trust. He’s the one my mother leaned on for support, when my father was abroad working. There were good Irish dinners every day, there was ambition in us all and unity. Match of the Day was a ritual on a Saturday night in the early days. Jim O’Hea would come over to watch it with my father and Shaun but the reception wasn’t always great. Tina would be made hold the aerial and move around with it, up and down, left and right, according to instruction, until
  • 2. the reception was clear and the shouting and spouting would begin with the game… My mother would cook them all chips. He helped my mother in many ways but particularly with the minding of us younger ones. Numerous times, he loaded us and all our friends from the street, into his car and off to Lisfannon Beach we’d go, where we’d have great craic, a swim in the sea and a game of football on the beach before heading for home. He’d buy us all a ‘poke’ on the way back; he’d have a Brunch. He was like a father to me and Gary, us being the youngest two. I remember him giving Gary piggy backs, everywhere. He helped us with our homework, showed us maths, taught me how to breathe properly when jogging and how to dive into the water and if I got spooked in the night, he’d bless me with the sign of the cross and say everything’s going to be alright. Not many people had a car back in those days but he loved his. He minded it, washing it with a hose from the kitchen sink. My mother, either busy in the kitchen, or armed with a spade or cutters in the garden; usually dressed in a denim shirt, jeans rolled to her knee (for kneeling to wash the floors or on grass) and a bandana on her head, would be caught off guard, grabbed by him and showered with the hose. The screams of her; the laughs of us… He trained morning and night, dedicated and disciplined to the end. He watched Paul (Oxo) and Pat play football too and encouraged them all the way. He was Paul's idol, a great example to him, yet he’d repeatedly say to everyone and to Paul that he had to train so hard for what Paul had naturally at his feet. He ran after Pat, across the broken fenced back gardens of Circular Road towards Oakland Pitch one day, raging because Pat threw a stone and it hit me on the head. A chase ensued and boy was he fast, but he couldn’t match the speed of our Pat. He doubled up and laughed in the end. Maria was his best pal. Like most families in those days space was scarce so they shared a room, the wee room; bunk beds and conversations into the wee hours… They fought too when they were young - I remember she accidently broke the head off one of his many footballing trophies while she was cleaning and in her panic, she chewed down a piece of Juicy Fruit and tried her utmost to stick it back on – but that wee head kept falling off. When Shaun seen the damage he broke her hair brush in retaliation. But they had a special bond, they understood each other and confided in each other. Shaun’s death broke Maria’s heart in two and to this day she grieves. People who met him either through his footballing career or as their milk man, loved him – he had integrity beyond his years. Over the days that followed his death, thousands of mourners filed through our house to pay their respects. I was ten years old, totally bewildered, as I watched the adults in our lives fall apart. A whole community it seemed were in mourning with us. The condolences we received by way of Mass cards, hand written letters of sorrow and regret filled up a whole wardrobe in our house. People spoke of him for years and years. Someone said to me recently that he remembered queues outside our house at 2am in the morning waiting in line to pay their respects. On the morning of his funeral, when his body left our house for the last time, I stood on the step at the front door and could see only people, hundreds and hundreds of them. It was and is a great source of comfort to know how well regarded he was. After Shaun, our parents were broken people, they didn’t have the tools to deal with his loss, nor was bereavement counselling or the likes the done thing. So they suffered… We as a family were plunged into horrendous grief and over the years this took its toll. A story I know many a family could tell… In Shaun’s short life, he was an example to behold. He was dedicated, disciplined and passionate about both soccer and life. He was a tower of strength to our family, kind, compassionate and just so decent to those he met along the way. This is his legacy and it has stayed the course and we grew strong again. So today Shaun, 40 years on, you are very much part of our lives, still. Our children, who never met you, know you well. Jackie McLaughlin
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