August 25, 2001
On a warm humid day of late summer with the sun filtering through the clear windows of St. Paul's Church, Francis Street, Lurgan many gaels, family, friends and parishioner neighbours gathered with the family of Gerard McStay to celebrate his good life and mourn his untimely passing. Gerry, as we all knew him, would have offered that gentle enigmatic smile at the rightful tributes paid to him as husband, father, grandfather, gentleman and superb gaelic footballer at club and county level.
Gerry was born seventy three years ago in Lurgan and although his family settled in the Wellington Street area it was to South Lurgan he owed his allegiance as sportsman and gael. He attended St. Peter's Primary School and Lurgan Technical College where he served his apprenticeship in work experience as an electrician. He later became a fully qualified electrical engineer and worked in the Belfast area for most of his working life. He was known to all as a dedicated, skillful and multi-talented professional in his long working life.
With his beloved wife Sheelagh he settled in the newly built Taghnevan estate in Killough Gardens within sight of St. Paul's Church and Davitt Park - two important influences in his life.
Of course, coming from the family background he did, he was staunch and faithful in his dedication to his religious life. He was a loving and devoted husband to Sheelagh (RIP) and a caring, dedicated father to their daughters Denise, Catherine and Maura and son Timothy. Sadly Sheelagh died twenty years ago but this bitter blow did now break the unquenchable flame of this good man's spirit. He devoted all his time to rearing the children who with his inspiration, turned out to be what their beloved mother would have wanted.
I first met Gerry McStay in his sporting life as a young Clann Eireann minor club player who was promoted briefly to senior ranks. It was an interesting encounter. Having come from the refined ether of Ulster colleges championship football with famed St. Colman's College Newry, it was quite a wake-up call at local level. Gerry was not, as many said on the day of his passing, an iron man. He was made of steel. He was not the tallest player in defence for the great Clan Na Gael team of the late 40s and 50s but he was the strongest and most determined and that was saying something when his clubmates were such as Jim B Seeley, Brian Seeley, Eamon McMahon, Ray McGibbon, Harry Hoy, Paddy "Budgie" McKenna, Joe O'Hagan, Gerard McCrory and a youthful Padge Scullion. Some are still with us; sadly too many have gone from us and we mourn their passing too.
As centre half back and captain of Clan na Gael Gerard was one who led by example. He guarded the area between the 20 metre and 45 metre line like the keeper of the Bastille. He and the late great Sean Quinn of Armagh were the two best half backs I have ever seen.
In those days it was customary to only select a player in his club position for a place on the county team. Gerry was more than a centre half back, he could and should have played in any position in the half back line. Indeed he was in the mould of great Kerry defender Paddy Bawn Brosnan who was reputed to greet his opponents with the words, "Is your mother a widow?"
Gerry never greeted an opponent with anything other than a silent determined look. He let his sturdy well built frame and outstanding defensive skills do the talking for him. It is not a contradiction in terms to say that there was an eloquence about the way his football skills did the talking.
It is true to say that the ultimate honours at County level escaped him but he was a panel member of the great Armagh sides in the early 1950s; he proudly held two Ulster Senior Championship medals and medals Doctor Lagan Cup. However, he treasured the many awards with his club, Clan Na Gael which he captained for many seasons and was there when they won the first year ever unofficial Ulster Club Championship in Corrigan Park, Belfast. Add to this the many Lurgan league titles and Championship medals.
When Father McAteer C.C. St. Paul's Lurgan, paid tribute to Gerry last Friday at this funeral. He referred to those of us in the congregation who had met his steel on the field of play. However, he was a very fair player despite his stubborn defence and everyone respected him for that.
We watched with admiration as his beloved grandson Daniel carried his No 6 blue jersey to the altar steps in front of his coffin. We prayed for his gentle soul with Father McAteer and listened to the dulcet devotional tones of St. Paul's male voice choir expertly led by Mrs Ethna McLoughlin. Gerry was a life long member of the choir. We heard Father McAteer speak about the first reading from the book of wisdom and how the souls of the virtuous are with God and how Gerry lived the concepts of those sublime words through his wisdom all his life. He spoke of his dedication to family, community, gaelic games and his fishing in the quiet streams of Donegal.
He faced his last life threatening illness with the same steadfast courage and went gently to his God with the same spirit he showed in life.
On a personal note, I shall miss our Tuesday morning chats in the middle of the town about the good old days in the Lurgan league and his time with the county in the 1950s. Needless to say we talked a lot about the contemporary GAA scene at club and county level. He had much wisdom to impart to me about all that.
Of course, his family will miss him most. We offer deepest sympathy and condolences to his daughters Denise, Catherine and Maura who did him proud in the Clan na Gael club, as Armagh County and Ulster Provincial camogie players and his son Timothy whom I was proud to teach in St. Paul's Junior High School, his fine grandson Daniel, his brothers Maurice, Liam and Phil, sisters-in-law, sons-in-law, nieces, nephews and family circle.
I was deeply moved by his beloved grandson, Daniel carrying his Clan Na Gael jersey. I would imagine that grandfather Gerry would approve of words from the poet, Patrick Kavanagh, also a GAA man from Monaghan.
From : To a Child by Patrick Kavanagh
"Child there is a light somewhere
Under a star.
A window that looks
Inward to God."
Gerry was a light that constantly shone for his family and friends. Go dneaiah Trocaire dia ar a anam dilis.
By Brendan McStravick, formerly of Armagh GAA County Executive and still Clann Eireann
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