Sporting heroes are so often far away faces on TV screens, people whose achievements we admire but whom we will never meet. And, often, they’re people whose lives appear to be one dimensional, whose deeds in the sporting arena seem to be the beginning and the ends of their lives. It’s pleasant, then, to be able to write this week about a local sporting hero whose life and achievements on and off the pitch were recently honoured by more than seven hundred people in his adopted hometown of Clondalkin.
The occasion was the retirement function for Mick Carolan, local man to us and local man to the people of Clondalkin, Tallaght, Ballymun and surrounding areas who flocked to the event. It was obvious that those who came to honour the retiring Chief Superintendent of the Garda Siochana were there because of the high esteem in which they hold him.
Mick is everything that so many of the televised heroes of today are not. He’s a man who has poured his talents and time back into the community of which he is a part –both as a Garda and as an individual. His community police work, his phenomenal fund-raising for charity, his position of respect and affection among such a cross-section of people from all over the country was very evident at that event.
But my own earliest recollection of Mick goes back a long way further. To an afternoon in Geraldine Park in Athy when he lined out with the Lily Whites. One of three Athy men on the team, the other two being Brendan Kehoe of Offaly St. and Mick O Shea of Duke St.
Mick Carolan, of course, was imported to Athy from Levitstown but he was a local to us. From his early days playing in juvenile competitions in Castledermot he showed a flair that outshone those about him. He has recollected the pride he felt in marching from the Square in Castledermot to the football field to play in local competitions. And that was a pride he brought with him onto the senior field when, as a teenager, he first appeared for Kildare.
To the best of my knowledge, Mick’s first appearance for the senior team was in the 1958 NFL Divisional final, played in Carlow, against Tipperary when the Lily Whites had a comprehensive victory by double scores , 2-16 to 1-8. On that afternoon Mick lined out at corner back. A week later he appeared in the number 6 shirt (A position he was to make his own) in Newbridge , against Wicklow in the O Byrne Cup . This time Kildare got home by a single point. Seven days later Mick was on the Kildare team that beat Tyrone in the league semi-final in Croke Park He lined out with men whose names that still carry weight – men like Pa Connolly, Toss McCarthy and Kieran O Malley. That team went on to be narrowly beaten by Dublin in the league final of that year. Quite a start to the career of the tall young Levitstown man.
In the championship of that year Kildare exited in the first round – to Offaly and by one point, let’s hope history does not repeat itself this year.
In the league campaign of 1959, Kildare were away to Kerry and Mick Carolan was berthed at number 6. On that afternoon, my brother Tony made his debut between the posts for the Kildare senior team. I remember the excitement of that day – of months of trials and preparation and training coming to fruition. Not only did I have heroic figures to admire but one of them was living in the same house in Offaly St. Of such stuff are dreams made !
But to return to Mick’s life and times. While football was his passion, the Gardai were his work. Having completed his training, he embarked on a career that saw him rise through the ranks and move between the uniformed and detective branches.
At his retirement celebrations, the stories of his escapades on and off the field were recounted by colleagues and friends. A sitting judge, a former Minister for Justice, the Commisioner of the Garda Siochana, men who had served with him in the ranks, people whose lives he had touched, members of his family were among those who contributed to a fascinating “This is your life”, illustrated with old photographs and new.
And Mick himself, in a passionate and highly-articulate speech at the end of the evening had his own memories to share. He looked back over a life of work as a policeman and spoke with care and compassion about the people he had dealt with. It was evident that the thing that most drove his life and still drives it was his compassion for humanity. Time and again speakers referred to his ability to meet and treat with all on one level and in his own words he spelled out a philosophy that eschewed back-biting and character-assassination. He went so far as to say that he thought these were the most harmful and dangerous characteristics in a society.
It was obvious that Mick is a man who has thought out his beliefs very strongly, who has a philosophy which hasn’t just been picked off the shelf but which has been forged in the cauldron of a life spent dealing with people’s problems and troubles.
As the Chief Commissioner, Pat Byrne, said on the night , Mick Carolan is an example of what a good policeman should be.
And football wasn’t forgotten. Many who attended that retirement function were there because of their admiration for the sportsman – indeed Mick continues to be involved with the Ballymore-Eustace under-age team. He referred to his times playing for Kildare but, again, his memories were coloured by a philosophy.
“We played many games and we lost some that we might have won but, looking back, would it have made any difference to our lives if we had won them ?” he asked. This was a man who had learned to get his priorities in an order, a man who played sport at a time when it was played for its own enjoyment, a man who gave his all at county and club level but who could distinguish between the essential and the enjoyable.
Perhaps that is the most important and heroic thing a person can do in their life, find a set of beliefs and follow them.
Mick Carolan was always a committed footballer and an honest and clean player and the lessons he learned on those wet afternoons in Geraldine Park and Tralee and Croke Park ran much deeper than those of us who watched in admiration might ever have imagined. It’s a pleasure to know that one of our own, a local hero, has gone on to make such a hugely positive impact on so many communities, and a pleasure to write an Eye on the Past about someone whose life continues to have such positive consequence.
Long may it continue.