Donegal and Derry mourn the passing of Joe ‘Timer’ Cassidy - a Foyle Harps legend

Donegal and Derry mourn the passing of Joe ‘Timer’ Cassidy - a Foyle Harps legend
On Tuesday morning as the mortal remains of Joe ‘Timer’ Cassidy left Cluain Barron in Ballyshannon, the sun did something it hasn’t done much this ‘summer’. It came out.

On Tuesday morning as the mortal remains of Joe ‘Timer’ Cassidy left Cluain Barron in Ballyshannon, the sun did something it hasn’t done much this ‘summer’. It came out.

If it wouldn’t show for a God loving family man like Joe, it wouldn’t show for anyone.

Joe (85), who spent a lifetime working for the Donegal Democrat as a printer, was a Derry man who lived in Ballyshannon. He was never anything but a Derry man, despite the fact that he made Ballyshannon his home, since 1945.

He passed away on Sunday in Aras MacSuibhne Nursing Home in Laghey, surrounded by those he loved; Annie, the love of his life close by too.

Joe will be missed as much in Derry as in Ballyshannon. Mentally he never left the town he loved so well and his weekend returns by bus to his family, with pigeon boxes tucked under his oxter, are the stuff of legend.

In his early years Joe, the eldest boy in a family of eleven, had more reason than pigeons to return home each Friday. His pay packet would be handed over to his mother and that support and devotion to his mother and his family, was sacrosanct as far as Joe was concerned.

The priest at his funeral, Fr Declan Boyce, told us how “Joe knew every drunk in Derry”. It was an odd remark, designed to catch our attention in St Patrick’s Church in Ballyshannon. It worked. A life long Pioneer, Joe always had a pound for the boys down on their luck as he alighted from the ‘Donegal bus’, and over the years, those too fond of a drink knew well of Joe’s kindness and his travel plans. They were always there and Joe looked after them.

The story summed him up. Joe was a giver.

Born September 6, 1927, to John Leo and Sarah Cassidy. The Cassidy family are hugely respected in the city. Quiet, dignified people, like his siblings, Joe had a quality about him, an understated elegance, on and off the football field.

Derry people who might read this will wonder when mention will be made of Joe’s real claim to fame. At 5’6”, Joe was a football legend. In Derry early in the week word spread that “Timer” was dead. Not that Joe Cassidy had passed on, but everyone knew who they were talking about because of his football skills.

“Timer” was the name bestowed on Joe by the city’s football loving public to a man who never was late - in the tackle or in life.

He had pace, balance and power. He had a natural fitness about him, he never took a drink or smoked, it added to the natural talents God had given him.

Even as a 70-year-old man on the circular green in front of his house in Ballyshannon - known locally as ‘the Bull Ring’ - Joe’s timing to a ball was still meticulous.

Younger men, and women, watched in awe if not bemusement from the neat front rooms of their homes as “Timer” put on a wee show every now and then when his grandchildren called with a ball under their arm. He would give ‘would be Wayne Rooney’s’ lessons in the fine art of passing, ball control and skill. Effortless, even at his age.

Derry people of a certain vintage will know that Joe, a central peg of the great Foyle Harps teams, could have and would have made it cross channel. He really was that good. The scouts knew it too, and they came knocking on his mother, Sarah Cassidy’s door, looking for ‘Joe to go’.

But no. The most important thing to Joe was his family and the weekly money from the Democrat. He put them first and gave up the chance to ‘make it in the big time’. It was a huge decision, but Joe never regretted it. Looking after others was always in Joe’s DNA, long before people traded the phrase DNA for decency.

But my, if he was even only half as good as they say he was, he must have been something else with a ball at his foot?

Those who know what they are talking about have said this week that “Timer” was the prince of the park for Foyle Harps and later would captain and star for Sligo Rovers.

He was disciplined in everything he did and Fr Boyce again reminded us that on or off the field, Joe never, ever resorted to foul language. He didn’t need it, he was far smarter than that and his lexicon stretched far further than four letter swear words.

If Ballyshannon people knew less of Joe’s life as a football star for Foyle Harps, they got to know him for other reasons.

Joe did something no one else at the time did in Ballyshannon - and to my knowledge very few do now. Joe kept pigeons, racing pigeons.

Every evening if you lived in Cluain Barron you’d see the fly past - a flock of pigeons curling, swerving, pirouetting through the dusky sky - and the shout would go out - “there’s Joe’s pigeons”.

As a slow air tailed to a finish at his grave side at Abbey Assaroe on Tuesday, it was appropriate that two beautiful pigeons were sent skyward to fly up and over his grave.

Not enough to be gifted with talented feet, Joe was also given a beautiful singing voice. He loved to sing, to listen to music, and he was a life long member of the local church choir.

At his Requiem Mass concelebrated by Fr Boyce, Fr Gerard Daly and Fr Herbie Bromley, his old friends from The Resurrection Choir, did him proud. He would have approved of their musical selections.

Devoted to his wife Annie and their children and his grandchildren, Joe was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. He had a gentleness to him that they all have inherited. He also had that Derry sense of humour; he could see the funny side of most things.

But there were dark days too. The loss of his beloved daughter Marie, just 25, in 1988, was the hardest cross he, Annie and the family had to bear. No parent should have to go through this, but the Cassidys did, with typical dignity. Like Joe, Marie will never be forgotten.

At work Joe was a legend. Young pups in the print room would defer to Joe’s real knowledge of the game of football at break time. When work had to be done, Joe was on time and always a perfectionist, turning out sharp, clean, tidy work. He could turn his hand to anything on a print room floor. He spans a unique time in the Democrat’s history, joining in 1945. When Cecil King Senior bought the business in 1948, Joe was there, and he took every step of the road with the King family as they modernised the paper and the print works.

He took huge pride in any Democrat publication, from the weekly newspaper to cloak room tickets for bingo. All jobs were treated as equally important. It was an honour for colleagues past and present to form a guard of honour for a man all had huge time and respect for, as mourners entered St. Patrick’s church on Tuesday.

From Sunday to Tuesday last the neat family home on the Bull Ring ‘never cooled’ with callers offering sympathy. Joe’s ‘fame’ as a father, a footballer, a husband, drew people from far and near.

Predeceased by his daughter, Marie, his brother John, sisters Molly and Peggy, he is survived by his wife Annie, daughter Ann, sons John, Joe and Paddy, sons and daughters-in-law, grandchildren; brothers, Robert, Paddy, Thomas, sisters, Sally, Olive, Lilly and Theresa.

May he rest in peace.