Burke, Denis

28 February 2003
The Late Denis Burke

"He strode through this earth like a giant colossus. And now, the great master of ceremonies from Bandon must be striding through the Heavens," declared Monsignor Kevin O’Callaghan of the late Denis Burke.

Thousands mourned the sudden passing away of the great GAA activist, Bus Eireann worker, newspaper correspondent and family man, Denis Burke of Coolfadda, Bandon, at a Requiem Mass that packed the local Catholic church to overflowing at the weekend. The Mass was concelebrated by Rev Frs Eddie Collins, Kieran O’Driscoll, Finbar Crowley and Sean Broderick and attended by several visiting priests.

"Denis died last Wednesday night, in the early hours of the morning, in the manner he had lived, working for others, organising yet another event on his computer," said the Monsignor. "He was known as the great master of ceremonies. He mastered whatever he undertook.

"He roamed this parish like a colossus. He loved the playing fields of West Cork, of County Cork, or Munster and of Ireland and as he goes down into the earth today, we know he was one of the greatest parish men and Irish men that ever lived."

The chairman of the Cork GAA County Board, Jim Forbes, in a graveside oration, praised Denis as "one of nature’s gentleman and a person of enormous charm," who would be sadly missed by his loving wife, Aileen, his children Mairead, Irene and Donnach, and adoring grandchildren Katie, Jenny and Laura.

Denis, who joined the staff of CIE in 1961 was soon to become the "face of Bus Eireann in Cork" in his role of sales executive. He fused his two most dearly-loved roles when got Bus Eireann involved in the sponsorship of national finals of Scor, the inter-varsities hurling competition, the Fitzgibbon Cup and the Carrigdhoun GAA summer camps.

Denis, who won a minor football medal, devoted his life to the modernisation of Bandon GAA club, the building of the pavilion and doing the public address on the "big match" days. One of his proudest moments was when his son, Donncha, captained the Bandon junior hurling side.

He was a journalist of quality with "The Southern Star", under the pen-name of "Old Timer". During the Mass, copies of "The Southern Star’ and ’Irish Examiner’ were brought to the altar during the offertory procession as a tribute to the significance they played in Denis’s life, along with a football and hurley, Bus Eireann calendar and family photographs, as well as the water and wine.

The most remarkable thing about Denis probably was his sense of fun and spontaneity, as recalled in an anecdote by his brother, Andy, off the altar after Communion at the Requiem Mass on Saturday. It seems that after a recent All-Blacks match which he attended, he managed to get an introduction to world famous rugby player, Jonah Lomu.

As he was talking with him, the international media descended and primed themselves for a photo-shoot. Denis, always one to sense an opportunity for fun, ran over and sat on the rugby player’s knee. The cameras clicked.

Then just as quickly, he diffused the confusion when he announced to the photographers: "Just in case anyone didn’t know on whose knee Denis Burke was sitting, it was Jonah Lomu!" It was but one more time Denis had the whole crowd laughing.

Andy Burke said it would be impossible to individually thank the thousands who had come from far and wide to sympathise with the family and support them in their grief, but he had special thanks for the members of Bandon GAA Club for their hospitality in catering for the visitors at the pavilion.

Afterwards, Mr Jim Forbes concluded his graveside oration: "May the sod of St. Patrick’s Cemetery rest lightly on you and may God, in his wisdom, have a bed waiting for you in heaven."

By Anne Ryan

Courtesy of the Southern Star
February 2003