Pat James Burke - a man who is remembered as a GAA great

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Pat James Burke - a man who is remembered as a GAA great

The death of Pat James Burke of Frosses last week was learned of with much regret over a very wide area.

Pat James was a former county footballer and was also widely known for his love of traditional music and dance and his house in Frosses was a magnet for musicians from far and near.

Born in June 1928 in Mullanbuoys, he went to school in Frosses and in his youth worked, like many others, on the farm in Hammerbachs in Drumbeg, before joining the Donegal Railway Company along with his older brother, Willie John, and he was stationed in Barnesmore.

With the demise of the Railway, the Burke brothers took the boat to England in 1954, to begin a new life.

At 26 years of age, Pat James was in his prime as a footballer and was a Donegal regular, but there was another chapter in store. He would be a founding member of a new club, Four Masters in Coventry, and would play for Warwickshire in an All-Ireland Junior final against Cork in Birmingham in 1955, the first All-Ireland final to be played in England. They lost, but two years later they were back in the final again after winning the British Championship and were unlucky to be pipped by Mayo by 2-7 to 2-5 with Pat James getting both goals for Warwickshire.

No doubt, if he had remained in Donegal, he would have had a long intercounty career. He featured in a Donegal Democrat list in Centenary Year, 1984, in the ‘Where Are They Now’ column. He was also included in the list nominated for right full-forward on the Centenary Team of the Year along with the likes of Paddy Coyle, Harry Laverty, Seamie Granaghan, Owenie Beag McBride, Kevin Sweeney, Hugh McGlynn and Joe Winston. His own choice was Seamie Granaghan for the position.

He returned to Donegal in 1972 after meeting his wife, Bridie from Ballynacarigy, Co Westmeath. By then four of his six children were born, as he settled back in Frosses where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

He became involved in the local community and ran a grocery store, while also playing in some local leagues and helping out with coaching as his sons began to play for St. Naul’s.

He took a great interest in the county team and along with friends Michael Thomas and Liam Higgins, travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to matches. “There was sometimes one seat left for us to fight about, and there always was an argument about the game on the journey home,” says son, Patrick.

But while there would be arguments, there would never be any cursing, because, as Patrick says, “he never cursed in his life. The nearest he came was to say ‘God boy’. He didn’t like to hear any bad language at games or in dressing rooms.

An accomplished player, it was said that he was maybe too clean.

A lifelong Pioneer, his other great interest was music and dancing and his house in Frosses became known as the ‘Corner House’ and Monday night was open night for musicians to gather for a session. He was in very good health up to a couple of years ago and enjoyed social dancing.

He was dealt a severe blow in 1982 when his wife, Bridie, died, but he coped with that along with his six children, ranging upwards from seven years of age.

He will be remembered as a gentleman in Frosses and was the centre of much of what happened in the village, opening festivals or making presentations in the local school.

Pat James was laid to rest after Requiem Mass in Frosses on Saturday. Predeceased by his wife Bridie, he is survived by sons John (former St. Naul’s club chairman), Paul, Michael, Des, Patrick (current Club Minor Board Chairperson); daughter Anne-Marie and partner Greg; daughters-in-law Tina, Anna, Kathy, Brenda and Kathleen; brothers Tommy and Fr. Noel; 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild.