There was a great sense of sadness about Clonmel on 14th February last when news came through of the sad passing of Jimmy Byrne, Saggart, County Dublin and formerly of the town.
Eldest son of former Mayor of Clonmel Billy Byrne and his wife Nonie, Jimmy grew up at 30 Baron Park and went to primary school in Ss. Peter & Paul’s and later at the Technical School on The Mall.
At 16 years of age he joined the Air Corps at Baldonnel, County Dublin, as a trainee aircraft technician, later going on to re-train as a draughtsman and librarian while still attached to the Air Corps.
Outside of his career Jimmy was a keen sportsman and played many codes. A talented footballer he won a Dublin minor championship medal in 1967 with an Air Corps team. But it was at the game of squash that Jimmy truly excelled. He was Irish All-Army squash champion on no less than seven occasion and was ranked No. 1 in the sport in Leinster for a period of time while at his peak. Amongst his proudest sporting achievements was representing Ireland at international level on the squash court.
With the opening of the Clonmel Rowing Club Squash Courts in 1979 Jimmy Byrne, because of his Clonmel connection and obvious prowess, was invited to play an exhibition game with Clonmel’s best and long-time Munster player Sean Twomey. The occasion meant much to Jimmy in that his sporting talent was being recognised and appreciated in his own home town.
Jimmy Byrne was also a member of the Slade Valley Golf Club and played a prominent role in the winning of the Bloom Cup in 1992 and 1995. While squash may have given him his proudest sporting moments there was no doubting what he enjoyed most of all. Quite simply it was a round of golf with his two younger brothers, John and Billy, both members of Clonmel Golf Club.
Jimmy was hugely competitive and never more so than when playing golf with his younger siblings. Together they competed several times over the last few years in a number of ‘Three Brothers’ golf competitions, namely at Kenmare in Kerry and Knightsbrook in Meath, a competition that they won only last year in 2014. The boys lived for their few weekends away each year and indeed the banter about those great days kept Jimmy going through many a tough day in the last few weeks of his life.
Only last September, shortly before he was diagnosed with a serious illness, Jimmy, John and Billy, along with their wives, Ann, Anna and Geraldine, headed for Kenmare for a mini-break and, of course, a ‘Three Brothers’ golf competition. Jimmy’s sister Anne, along with husband Johnny Kennedy would travel too. The three Kennedy brothers from Clonmel - Johnny, Liam and Martin - also participated in the golf tournament. In made for great camaraderie and the friendliest of competition over the weekend. At the testing County Kerry venue the Byrne Boys finished fifth from over 60 competing teams, which in itself was a tremendous achievement. Sadly though it was to be their last days together on the fairways. Thankfully though the memories of the golf and the ‘craic’ from the few days of being together will long remain.
A few years after his landing in Baldonnel Jimmy met his future wife Ann Reilly and they were married for over forty years living almost every day of it in Saggart where Jimmy became very involved in the local community on many fronts.
Jimmy and Ann lived right in the middle of the village which was appropriate as Jimmy was at the centre of so much that went on in key organisations. Jimmy gave his time generously over many years to such as St. Mary’s Gaelic Football Club, Saggart Residents Association and Saggart History Society - all groups that have contributed tremendously for the overall benefit of the residents and the village.
On leaving the Air Corps in 1984 Jimmy set up his own very successful printing company Spectrum Print in Saggart, and over the years the astute businessman grew it into the successful company it is today. Jimmy’s intentions were to soon start pulling back a little from the business but by his nature he had to be busy and involved always, whether it was in business, community work or sport.
On the GAA scene Jimmy was a mentor to a number of the club’s teams and was never slow to lend a hand to any job that needed to be done, from humble umpire to club chairman. If the job needed to be done, Jimmy got on with it without ceremony or pomp.
As chairman of St. Mary’s he spearheaded impressive improvements to the club’s facilities from 2001 to 2004 and also acted as chairman of the lotto sub-committee over recent years.
Another proud achievement for Jimmy was that he co-edited the recent publication celebrating the “Hundred Years or So” of the St. Mary’s Gaelic Football Club’s history, taking the project right through from committee room idea to a well-printed book at his very own Spectrum Print.
Today his children and grandchildren in Saggart remain very involved in the St. Mary’s Club and are a lasting testament to the proud example Jimmy has set for them to follow.
For all his years in Dublin - nearly a full half century - Jimmy never forgot his Clonmel roots and loved to get home when circumstances allowed. He particularly liked bringing his young children to visit their grandparents. And when his father Billy began to slow down a few years back, Jimmy with all his other siblings played his part well. Family occasions such as weddings he loved also and the last big get-together the family enjoyed was last summer when his sister Mary and her husband Denis Ryan celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. No one could have imagined it would be the last such fun occasion with all present.
Jimmy’s passing at 65 years of age is a great loss to his family and we extend out deepest sympathy to his wife Ann and to his three children Ciara, David and Declan, and his grandchildren in Saggart, and indeed the whole community there who have lost a great community leader.
We also offer our sincere sympaties to the Byrne family in Clonmel, Lily, Mary, June, Anne, Bernie, John and Billy.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.