John Joe Sheehan: The Kingdom’s unassuming inspiration

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By Eoghan Cormican

The Funeral Mass for the late John Joe Sheehan takes place at St Patrick’s Church, Rochestown tomorrow afternoon.

No burial will follow afterward. Instead, John Joe Sheehan’s ashes will be taken “home” to Kerry, a most fitting final act for a man whose love of the Kingdom waned not a jot during the almost six decades he lived away from the county where he made his name and in whose colours he enjoyed such success.

Following the close of his playing days, during which he won two All-Ireland football medals (1953 and ‘55) and two county medals (1946, with Legion, and 1950, with Castleisland Desmonds), John Joe lived and worked in Carlow, Thurles, and Mallow. His retirement years – numbering 27, in total, such was the fine age, 91, the former Kerry captain lived to – were spent in Rochestown in Cork city.

But irrespective of where he resided, trips home to the Kingdom were never missed.

They ran like clockwork, John Joe journeying back to Brennan’s Barbershop in Castleisland every six weeks for a haircut.

Of course, the “pilgrimage” to Castleisland every six weeks was about so much more than a haircut. It was for the chat, the catch-up with friends and familiar faces.

The eldest of his four daughters, Joanne, contacted the Brennan’s this week to relay the news that their most loyal customer – John Joe first got his hair clipped by a Brennan barber in 1950 – had passed on.

“I spoke to Tommy Brennan to tell him of dad’s passing. Tommy’s father, Tommy himself, and his son all cut dad’s hair.

“Tommy told me he first met dad in 1950, the year dad started playing for Castleisland. He recalled dad and Dermot Hanafin playing midfield together on the Castleisland team which won that year’s county championship.

“All those men we have spoken to this week, it is amazing how they can see those matches and see dad playing like it was yesterday.” 

His final visit to Brennan’s came on March 15. On the weekend the country went into lockdown, John Joe took one last stroll around the Kingdom.

In the company of Joanne, they crossed the border just past Ballydesmond. Cracked was a favourite family joke that the clouds open, the sun shines, and the angels sing when one crosses into the Kingdom.

Their 10-hour drive included stops at the house in Farranfore he was born in, the Currow field where he first kicked a ball, St Brendan’s Killarney, where his skills were honed, and his parents grave in Kilcummin.

“It was just pure luck,” Joanne recalls of the impromptu trip.

“The weather hadn’t been great in the days beforehand. But that day, the sun came out. It was the nicest day we had had in so long and we just said, let’s go for it.

“It was an amazing 10-hour trip around Kerry. He loved it. It was joyful to see.”

His wife, Marianne, will tomorrow wear the 1947 Corn Uí Mhuirí medal he won with St Brendan’s, while Joanne will don his Celtic cross from 1955.

“He was a very low-key kind of a man. He never really talked about how well thought of he was and the skill he had. Now, the stories are pouring out with regard to all the different games he played in, the difference he made, what a modest man he was, and how he took it all in his stride.”

Tomorrow’s private family funeral will be live-streamed. John Joe Sheehan is survived by his wife Marianne and his daughters Joanne, Lynn, Ciara, and Maeve.

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