People in Focus: Barry McElduff on GAA, Community, Fun, ‘Keep er lit’ and the evolution of the political arena…

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The political arena has evidently dominated the headlines once again across all forms of media in recent weeks and there is no doubt that today will be very significant in terms of what lies ahead for us all.

The dawn of social media has seen the entire process evolve somewhat in a short space of time and political results like what happened in the USA, France and close to home, in the form of “Brexit”, paint a very clear picture that everything may not always be what it seems!

Going to the polls again in Northern Ireland will bring with it that edge of what may transpire and so we bring a latest People in Focus Profile with one of the current MLAs who remains one of the few to have been elected in the first Assembly back in 1998 and has held a political place there ever since – Tyrone’s Barry McElduff.

The popular Carrickmore man, who is renowned for the saying ‘Keep er Lit’ and has published a book of the same title, has engaged again across the card in his constituency and in recent times has also seen his popularity soar through the use of social media. The youth in particular follow him now in “droves” as they see a character that can also have “fun” in addition to addressing the many wide ranging critical issues which need to be looked at.

Here we find that Barry is a family man, who takes tremendous pride in his community, has a deep love of all things GAA, was a talented young footballer himself and “scored one of the two best goals executed by a Carrickmore man in championship football” (as per the Carrickmore history book), has always been engrossed in the thought of “Irish unity” and freedom, yet can also see the much-needed “lighter side” of life.

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Never one to shirk a challenge he has taken on many daunting tasks in recent times too, which include a solo stand-up comedy routine in a Comedy Club and travelling to every county in Ireland to take a penalty in all 32 counties against former Tyrone keeper and Carrickmore clubman, Plunkett McCallan – all in aid of charity.

Tyrone Life asked Barry to sum up his personality, hopes and vision and he commented…

“I have a great ‘Grá’ for the GAA, a passion for County Tyrone and a close bond to the people and places within there. I would be known to many as an entertainer as I have always been good at ‘overstating’ facts and emotions. I want to continue to be an active, assured and visible MP for West Tyrone and add to a journey that can enhance life for us all”

People in Focus with

Barry McElduff, Carrickmore

Now poised to become an MP for West Tyrone – here is the latest in our “People in Focus” series at #TyroneLife

Community Life…

Tell us about where you are from and your early memories of growing up in your local community…

I am from a well known and close-knit community in Carrickmore, in the parish of Termonmaguirc, and like everyone else there my earliest memories would have centred around the GAA and football.

I always remember having that great sense of freedom when I was on my bicycle or running down the park and heading for a kick-about. Whether it was playing football in the Youth Club, on the top pitch at Dean Maguirc College, in Kerr’s field which wasn’t level but it didn’t matter or down in the playpark, there was always a great feeling when I was out playing with a ball. If I couldn’t get Raymond Munroe or James or Brendan Flanagan out playing then Kandy (pet dog) would do. ‘Toe-tapping’ and ‘keepy-uppies’ were the order of the day when I was on my own and actually remember missing ‘A Question of Spirt’ one evening because I kept going for ages – some feeling!

Playing tennis when Wimbledon was on was another big memory in my childhood or getting to see the Kerry Legends in 1981 when they were in Carrickmore on a really wet day.

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To be honest the word ‘mischief’ comes to mind as it was something that all young lads would have been up to in those days too. I remember one funny story that still draws a smile when it comes to mind…

“The Patrician Hall usually provided some fun and mischief and I remember a few of us sneaking into the balcony during the weekly bingo in the Hall. Myself, my  brother Eamon, Raymond Munroe and Paul Allison were lying low in the balcony and started talking about whether or not we could reach up and touch the balcony ceiling if we stood up on the front seat and reached up. Eventually we agreed that Paul Allison would try it and he stood on the chair and stretched right up with his arm to the ceiling. At that point Owen Kerr was calling the numbers in the Bingo and Eamon and a few friends shouted ‘Check’ just as Paul got on the chair and stretched his arm right up. The Bingo stopped and Paul had to start explaining to the packed hall that he actually hadn’t won”

Can you tell us about some of the Characters in your Community…

Paddy Grogan would have been a big character in the community. He brought out a book every year called ‘An Tearmann’ and it was a fantastic offering in the community. It is a publication that would be greatly missed. I remember he would have penned poems in it like “The Lament to the hob-nailed boot” or “The Black Shawl”. He also taught me in Omagh CBS and was a very smart man and I remember it was a great thing that Paddy Grogan, Cormac McAleer and Seamus Woods all taught there. I also remember that in ‘Art’ class if you could draw a Celtic Cross or a Harp, with Paddy it was worth top marks. I also remember it was funny when Dermot Murphy came into the school in 1st year and he would call the three men – Paddy, Cormac and Seamus by their first name and it took them a while to convince him that he needed to call them Sir.

Raymond Munroe was a next door neighbour in Termon Crescent and would have been a close friend and a big character in the community too. A brilliant footballer for club and county, he would also have been a tough competitor down at Fr. McCullagh Park, even on a 1 on 1. He just had that competitive nature in everything he done.

I would say Frank Daly as well. He was the Youth Leader for years in the Club, in a full-time role, and it provided so many in the community so much for many years down the line. Great to see it continuing to go so well too.

Family Life…

I’m married to Paula Kelly, who was originally from Dungannon, and we have three children.

Niamh is 21 and of course made her own headlines lately. I got a text from her recently saying “You may start looking about accommodation in Tralee as I’m going to be staying in the Rose Hotel”. Very proud of her, what an achievement to be the Tyrone Rose.

People in focus: Niamh McElduff embraces exciting times ahead as ‘Tyrone Rose’

Blathnaid is 18 and is very much into her Music and Bands.

Patrick is 17 and just football mad. He was on the Tyrone Minor team this year and would be hugely proud of his achievements in winning the County Grade 1 double for Carrickmore at both Under 16 and Minor level. Big Oz would have told him to wear the medals on his chest like a veteran. If I ever annoy him about something while watching TV he would go to the room and come back and place the medals across the front of the TV and make me watch the TV through the prism of his medals 🙂

“Patrick is 17 and just football mad. He was on the Tyrone Minor team this year”

Daddy would have been from Striff originally and Mammy from Sultin. We lived and grew up in Carrickmore. I’m very proud of my heritage but would always have a soft spot for Loughmacrory and Creggan, anything to do with Termonmaguirc, due to my lineage. Daddy would always have ensured I kept my feet on the ground. I would get over-excited and he would just say “Eat your peas”. Mammy was, let’s say, “unsure” of my ‘calling’ into politics and would always ask me if I would think about another career, as any worrying mother would.

My brother Seamus was always big into music – the likes of Elvis Presley, Springsteen, Jerry Lee Lewis etc… There was also my brother Eamonn, who was a very good hurler. I was so pleased for him when he was recognised at the brilliant Eire Og Banquet for his hurling skills on the field of play. My sister Caroline was actually a champion ‘Disco Dancer’ and competed very much in this respect, with the Nugent sisters of Galbally her big rivals growing up. My youngest sister is Frances and I remember being her minder at Primary School back in the day. Sitting beside her at lunch and looking after her in the playground, no-one was allowed to touch our Frances!

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Event Life…

Tell us about a few key ‘Events’ or ‘Moments’ which stand out for you over the years…

The ‘Hunger Strikes’ back in 1981 would stand out very strongly. I was a teenager and the era of the Hunger Strikes impacted me greatly and probably shaped most of my future endeavours.

I remember writing a ‘Letter of Support’ for Bobby Sands to the Ulster Herald and shortly after was arrested and spent two days in Goffs Barracks for showing my expressions of support. I was at Omagh CBS at the time and I suppose they thought they needed to curtail the spirit of a young supporter from a young age. There were actually candles lit in the classrooms at the CBS at the time and I would have very distinct memories of going back to school, after I got released, and Brother Nolan and Brother McCrohan saying to me “You have got something worth holding on to there but get your A Levels first”. I felt inspired that I wasn’t frowned upon. I remember presenting a wreath then on behalf of the residents of Termon Crescent at the funeral of Martin Hurson, the many rosaries being said and the bus trips to H Block.

Croke Park is always a place where I would have so many incredible memories and so many amazing big match days there. When I was young though it was nothing like it is today. I recall standing packed into the Hill on All Ireland Final day for Dublin v Galway and, being small in stature, just not being able to see.

I remember also attending there with Packie McGurk, who was a steward on All Ireland Final day, something that I felt was just huge. Packie was in on the sideline as a steward and I got in too. It was massive excitement to get to experience such an occasion from the line and my abiding memory on that day was Kerry’s Paudie O’Shea and Dublin’s Joe McNally hammering lumps out of each other, right in front of me. I had never seen such a physical game and then I recall being moved away as I was blocking the letter ‘I’ on the AIB sponsors hording at the back of the goals!

Croke Park is the Field of Dreams – Peter Canavan is carried shoulder-hugh from the pitch.

Believe it or not, Columbia is another one I would include in this list. I was one of three Irish men who went to Columbia and met the leader of FARC. The first thing he asked me was could I get him an Armagh jersey, which I thought was remarkable and of course Gerry Adams saying to me “Barry, don’t be dragging Morgan Fuels into this one”.

“The 2003 All Ireland Final would have to stand out as most vidid. When Tyrone had finally won the All Ireland in ’03 I think every Tyrone person in Croke Park just found wings and flew onto the pitch. It was the most sensational feeling ever, the most astonishing chaos and bedlum you could imagine. Every person in Tyrone hugged, leaped and roared in what must rank as one of the greatest celebrations I have ever seen.

“What a man to go up the steps to lift the Sam Maguire Cup for the very first time, the one and only Peter Canavan. It was like it was written in the stars. And I can’t let the 2003 All Ireland final go by without mentioning Conor Gormley’s famous block – what a moment in Tyrone GAA history!”

 

A few other key moments that jump out at me too include arriving at Stormont on my first day as an MLA. I take pride in my own wee corner there, where I have been an MLA since the very first Assembly back in 1998.

“Did you know I brought the first ‘Holy Water Fount’ into Stormont, have pictures adorning my wall of Peter and Sam, Daddy and Mum, the 1916 Proclamation, a St Brigid’s Cross, underage football photos from Carrickmore, the great photo of Peter’s winning free v Armagh – just some of the things that strike a chord within me.”

“I am also proud of the day that the Nally Stand came to Carrickmore. What an honour for a wee community to say you have the Nally Stand from Croke Park in your grounds. So much history associated with it. I remember at the time Bertie Ahern, the then Taoiseach, would have been a contact where I could have got my hands on tickets and I recall ringing him and telling him that if he ever needed tickets for the Nally Stand that I was his man.”

“I am also proud of the day that the Nally Stand came to Carrickmore.”

I remember also travelling to meet the French Prime Minister to be a neutral observer of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and had Stevie King, brother of former Trillick great and county star, Pat King, with me. Before we went into the chambers, Stevie told me that he had a county championship medal with Trillick and I was then thinking at that moment that I didn’t know which I was more impressed by – going into meet the French PM or that Stevie King had a senior championship medal.

The GAA had that sort of hold on me and so many others too, as we know. On another occasion at a special assembly meeting in England, I asked to step out of the talks for a moment so that I could ring Loughmacrory Chippy to find out the result of Loughmacrory and Edendork, who were playing in the Senior Championship that day. And there to my right was Austin Currie, who had also stepped out to ring home to check out the result of Edendork v Loughmacrory.

It’s funny too as I remember most vividly when Elvis Presley died as it was on my 11th birthday and I grew up loving not just his music but the movies he was in, they’d go down as my favourites!

Political Life…

Tell us about your role in Politics and your belief or vision towards the future…

My vision is ultimately for a united Ireland within a united Europe. First and foremost I am driven by the thought of a United Ireland of 32 counties – it is what gets me up early in the morning and will see me work late into the night.

I dream of a 32 county Ireland where we have the right to govern ourselves. I have said in Stormont, and will stick by my sentiments, that the Unionist people will also find us amazingly generous and willing to work closely with the Unionist people in going forward in the pursuit of this goal, in recognising their identity and culture.

Of course I am also inspired by the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation.

I was very much involved in the process that led to the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ and recall arriving at Stormont in 1996 as a ‘Peace Talks Delegate’ and arriving on my first day, driving up ‘Prince of Wales Avenue’, which I simply call POW avenue! The Gateman stopped me and asked me my business there and I said “The People of Tattyreagh and Dregish have mandated me to be here today on their behalf so please step aside.” It was a good feeling as he duly did that!

I was elected to the very first NI Assembly back in 1998 and have continually served as an MLA since, until March 2017. I am obviously now hoping to go forward to represent West Tyrone as an MP and that has with it very important roles where I will have to be prominent in Belfast, Dublin and London. The role will also mean representation on the Oireachtas ‘Good Friday Agreement Implementation Committee’, comprising TDs and MPs – a very positive development! Sinn Fein don’t actually take our seats within Parliament but have a strong presence in respect of negotiations and talks in London, where we have a base.

What is disturbing at present regarding Brexit is that the ‘People of Northern Ireland’ have spoken and voted to remain in Europe but are being told they are leaving anyway. This is right now something that is the greatest concern and needs all our focus and attention.

Our approach will come through a ‘European Diplomatic Offensive’ as leaving the European Union will have such a huge negative impact on all of Ireland.

I will look forward to this challenge and as Michelle Gildernew has said “All Westminster has been missing is an effective corner forward”.

GAA Life…

Tell us about your interest in the GAA and the figures or moments that stand out for you…

I love the GAA and what it has done for Community life everywhere. I would always be an avid Carrickmore supporter and a very enthusiastic Tyrone GAA fan. Watching the skills of Peter Canavan and what he could do with a ball was always amazing, and the fact he could step and produce it at the most intense pressurised moments is always something to admire.

with GAA Legend, Peter Canavan

I played football myself for Carrickmore at all levels and loved every moment. My defining memory is of course s goal I scored against Augher, in the Senior Championship in Beragh. Mattie McElroy was marking me in the game and I remember him holding and pulling at my jersey for the entire game. I remember finally breaking free, cutting back from the corner, going on a long solo run before hitting the top corner of the net. I then recall Eugene McKenna coming racing towards me and I braced myself for a hit, as Dessie had already clipped me earlier in the game, but he then said to me “What a goal”. I actually scored 8 goals for Carrickmore that season and it was a great honour to see it picked out alongside Peter Paul Kerr’s sensational championship goal in the 1969 SFC v Coalisland, as the two best goals scored in championship football for Carrickmore in the history book.

Turlough McGarrity or Enda Loughran have been known to do me a few favours on occasion at a wake or two as they would say “Tell is about that goal Barry”.

Indeed Seamus McCallan has accused me of being “The best footballer I’ve ever heard”.

I also played alongside Henry Downey, the famous Derry all Ireland winning captain, at University. He was some engine and when you were training on the slopes the last thing you wanted to see was Henry Downey coming up you’re right side.

Another player I think I should mention is Aidan Loughran. I won an U18FC with him and he was a class player – he was small in stature but very strong, extremely accurate and could score the most fantastic long range points.

No GAA piece could ever go by in Tyrone without recalling the genius of Frank McGuigan in that 1984 Ulster final in Clones against Armagh. What an exhibition of score taking!

I’ve never really been big into royalty but I was definitely saluting the King that day!

I also think the success of Eire Og Hurling Club is tremendous and what they have achieved now with their brilliant new pitch and facilities, and of course that is something that Dungannon Eoghan Ruadh have now done too. Two great clubs who have produced a terrific high level of Hurling through dedication and commitment over many years.

 

Barry travelled to every county in Ireland to take a penalty in all 32 counties (including at Croke Park) against former Tyrone keeper and Carrickmore clubman, Plunkett McCallan – all in aid of charity.

Fun Life…

There’s no doubt about it that Barry has developed a bit of a ‘Youtube’ personality with some of his videos going viral – namely the ‘Snickers Bar’ and the ‘Sprinkles on his ice Cream’ videos posted in recent times.

So what made you think of doing this…

Performing a ‘Stand-Up’ comedy routine at Omagh’s Comedy Club

Well I love to have a bit of fun and think it’s very important to get people to smile too. The Snickers video came about for a bit of craic and I suppose everyone should view it for what it was, exactly that. Funny, afterwards the Snickers producers sent me a box of Snickers and I noted that there was exactly 32 bars of snickers in it, which made it very relevant, as I know a few loyalists who felt that there should be 26 bars of snickers in a box!

 

Funny I would compare that to going into the Canteen in Stormont and Tom Elliott ordering his Ulster Fry and me shouting to the girls to make sure and put 9 pieces on Tom’s plate and him responding to make sure they keep it at 6 pieces!

The one with the Sprinkles I suppose came about by the fact I just loved them on my ice-cream growing up and it just happened and took on a wee life of it’s own!

 

Favourites…

Joke…

“A Tiger goes into a bar and gets a drink, feels unwell and collapses onto the floor. A man comes out of the toilet, sees the Tiger on the floor and says ‘would you look at the state of that lyin there’ to which the barman replied, that’s not a Lion, that’s a Tiger”

GAA Players…

  • Football – Peter Canavan for obvious reasons – the greatest gaelic footballer of al-time. Mickey Quinn of Leitrim as he was one of only 2 all-stars from the county, a terrific player.
  • Hurling – Dave Guiney of Wexford
  • Handball – Ducksy Walsh of Kilkenny, a handballing legend, taken from us too soon
  • Camogie – Jane Adams of Antrim, a supremely gifted player
  • Ladies Football – Eilish Gormley, just a brilliant all-round ladies footballer

Barry in his Tyrone GAA Handball jersey with the famous Gael Linn Cup, the All Ireland Senior GAA Handball Singles Championship Cup.

Sportstars…

In my youth I was nicknamed ‘Keegan’ because I was a fan of Kevin Keegan when he played at Liverpool

Singers…

I am a massive fan of the Wild Swans and the Wexford hurling Songs, ‘Purple and Gold’ – very motivational music.

Song…

Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You”

 

or Ann Breen’s “Pal Of My Cradle Days”

TV Shows…

‘Porrige’ with Ronnie Barker or I was a big fan of ‘Faulty Towers’

Movies…

I like big ‘epic’ movies like ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ about Nelson Mandela’s life.

Biggest Influences…

Gerry Adams, my Father and Peter Canavan. Plenty of other people out there ho may not have had a profile in the public eye but have had a profound impact on me at various stages of my life.

Favourite Quote…

Nothing remarkable here as everyone has heard me say many times!

“Keep ‘er Lit” & “Sustain the Flame”

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