IT WOULD have been apt as the late Con Downey’s signature tune.
All You Need is Love, released by The Beatles in 1967 would have summed up the life and times of a son of our city who devoted himself unselfishly to his people in a colourful and oft exciting 95 years.
The Talbot’s Inch man who has passed away at his Talbot’s Inch Home on the periphery of our city, in his 96th year, had an insatiable love for every man, woman and child in his home parish of St Canice.
He had great love for his wife and family in whom he took real pride.
He loved his extended family, the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters and all their kith and kin that lived in or had a most minute association with a noble place he cherished as The Butts.
Ever close to his kind heart was the game of soccer to which he devoted so much of his time and energy.
That was from his early years right up to the final chapter of a life that was enveloped in positivity, care for others, with a deep concern for those who needed a leg up.
To Con, soccer was a game that brought young and young at heart together to enjoy sport, to make friends and perhaps to garner an insight into the world of teamwork.
From his own playing days with Green Celtic on the old Castlecomer Road pitch, as a teak tough defender, right up to recent times, he cleverly mixed the positives of sport with the joys, trials and tribulations of all family life.
WORKING A MIRACLE
While he didn’t have the power to tell anyone to take up his or her bed and walk, his unselfish ways, his warmth and respect for human life, meant that he may even have tried to work a miracle for anyone carrying a cross.
In his youth, he was a prolific boxer, proud as punch of his achievements in the ring before going on to be a respected boxing referee in the era of St Patrick’s Boxing Club in Kilkenny City.
Boxing may have given him the zest and enthusiasm to help others in danger of a knockout blow.
But soccer was to be the vehicle that would encourage him to expound his undoubted talents of persuasion, advising, aiding and abetting, ensuring that there were epochs when even the bad times were good.
Accidentally, his chocolate-coloured Morris Minor was the Downey family car, more often than not the team bus for St Canice’s, Talbot’s Inch or whatever team Con was managing at a particular time.
The car, with apologies for the pun, was a Minor detail in Con’s life, a means to an end, four wheels that ensured an U8, 9 or 10 team got to a city or county venue any day of the week during the schoolboys’/girls’ soccer season.
It could so easily have been at the heart of The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.
There was a certain magic about it and the mystery was of how up to 20 youngsters could be packed into a motor that was made for four!
EXCITEMENT WAS PALBABLE
The excitement was palpable when the car rolled into Fatima Place for a Saturday morning game with Emfa.
The Fatima/Emmett Street area was one of a series of soccer bailiwicks, part of an open air nursery, not necessarily to prepare boys or girls for the top echelons of the game in Ireland or indeed for the lofty heights of Old Trafford or Anfield.
Aim was to give youngsters a healthy interest, to help to keep them on the straight and narrow and to provide an outlet from which participants would get a kick out of their formative years.
An orchestra of great people from all parts of Kilkenny City, along with Thomastown, Graignamanagh, Goresbridge, Bennettsbridge, Callan, Castlecomer and many other rural regions, along with the tradesmen and hod carriers of city clubs such as Evergreen, Newpark, Emfa, St Anthony’s and Freebooters was conducted by one C Downey.
The latter’s ethos of fun and games for all edged its way into the hearts and minds of fellow volunteers and the result was that young Kilkenny had its regular world cups and leagues.
The game was a huge part of Con’s life.
Yet it was peripheral, merely one of many projects that he somehow managed to juggle successfully into his activity-packed years.
The then St Canice’s Boys’ Club on the Butts Green and the Fr McGrath Family Resource Centre meant so much to him.
He knew a majority, if not all, the children of The Butts by their first names.
A HAPPY PLACE TO LIVE
He knew their mams and dads too.
He knew that the St Canice’s Parish was a lively and happy place to call home.
He was well aware too that, similar to other regions of our city and county, life wasn’t always a bed of roses.
That was to lead him to God only knows how many years of multi-tasking.
He was caller at bingo in the local hall. He helped activists to provide better leisure, educational and sporting facilities, not for children only, but also for parents and grandparents.
No problem was too big or too awkward.
If soccer equipment were to be moved, Con would know someone with a tractor and trailer.
He wasn’t one to take no for an answer
Not because he wanted something done but because a project would be for the greater good of a community that he loved and respected.
It was his Talbot’s Inch family home that gave him greatest pleasure.
His family was his rock.
His beloved wife Gertie was his best friend and his children who accompanied him on his amazing soccer journey were all so close to his heart.
In later life, a team of grandchildren, nephews and nieces were to become part of the pride and joy he took in his nearest and dearest.
When he was not organizing soccer or helping children with homework, Con would enjoy a few pints with friends. He loved a laugh, he was great company.
TALES WERE ALWAYS AMUSING
Inevitably, Con’s name would crop up wherever soccer aficionados met.
The tales were always amusing, if at times somewhat embellished.
The team bus, aka the Downey family car, with Con at the wheel, was stopped by Gardai as it returned from a game in Castlecomer.
Or at least, so the story goes.
The long arm of the law wasn’t impressed. “My God, Mr Downey,” said the Garda on duty. “You have more in this little car than you could get into a school bus.”
The man in blue did a head count, 14, 15, 16, you have 17 on board.
“That is disgraceful,” said the Garda.
“What’s worse,” said Con as he did a U-turn, “it’s a disaster. We have left one of the team behind us in ‘Comer. We had 18 on the outward journey.”
Con Downey enjoyed a long and happy life.
His gargantuan contribution to Kilkenny soccer will always be treasured.
But his legacy will be that he gave so much of his life to others as one of our city and county’s finest community leaders.
His name will forever sit proudly beside social services stalwarts, Bishop Peter Birch and Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, the latter who continues to fight to help the poor of our country.
The trinity had a lot in common. Each made a major contribution to Irish society, but without any beating of drums or shouting from rooftops.
None craved publicity other than for causes that were for the greater good.
If anything, they were camera shy.
The Downey family will miss Con dearly.
But as well as mourning his loss, it will celebrate the fantastic contribution he made to life in his native place.
During his working years at the then Mahon McPhillips, he helped to make working life cheerful and memorable for his fellow employees.
At the same time, with what seemed like a permanent smile on his face, he toiled relentlessly for the friends, Romans and Countrymen of St Canice’s Parish, not for gain but to relieve pain.
He left an indelible mark of his powerful contribution to his fellow man and woman.
Con’s remains will be removed from his residence today, Wednesday, to St Canice’s Church, arriving for 11am Requiem Mass.
Interment follows in St Kieran’s Cemetery.
Mass will be streamed live on www.stcanicesparish.ie/web-cam
Con is survived by his children Geraldine, John, Eugene, Eileen, Mary and Una.
He was predeceased by his wife Gertie and baby son Gerard.
Other relatives are his sons-in-law Niall, Declan and Dave; daughters-in-law Yvonne and Dervilla and Una’s partner Ian.
Grandchildren are Trudy, Robert, Darragh, Róisin, Gerard and Thomas; brother in-law Billy, nephews and nieces.