Passing of a hero who lit up the grey fifties

Every generation has its heroes. The people to whom we all look up to for various forms of inspiration. These could be political, literary, sporting, or just in the field of sheer bravery. In most cases we use them as a form of escapism, as a distraction to take our minds off the realities of life. And in Ireland in the post-war period, there was much need for such distraction. The greyness of the fledgling state was mirrored in the lives of its citizens.

Indeed, much of the world, hit by the hot flushes of war and suffering the greyness of the aftershock felt the same way. However with the rebuilding programme occupying mainland Europe, life in Ireland, and in particular in the west of Ireland, was certainly drab, with most people having no option but to grin and bear it.

However in Galway two men possessed unique talents that introduced a certain jauntiness into the hearts of every Galwayperson. Two young men, from the same town, whose skills were honed into a synchronicity that earned them the monicker of the Terrible Twins.

I write about their impact this week, because on Monday, the last member of that rhyming couplet passed away. And with the passing of Frank Stockwell, came down the curtain on an era of sporting brilliance that is still being talked about to this day.

Stockwell and Sean Purcell inspired their beloved Tuam Stars to a record seven Galway SFC titles in a row from 1954 to '60, and Galway to the 1956 All-Ireland final where Stockwell, lining out at full-forward, scored 2-5 in their glorious win over Cork.

It was the sort of achievement that if completed today would have propelled Stockwell into the superstar arena. The moves that were worked out over years on the fields of Tuam paying off on that glorious day in Croke Park.

Maybe he didn’t know it, but each time he and Purcell lined out for Galway they were carrying with them the hopes and aspirations of all the capped supporters on the terraces. How they performed in each match would influence how their fans would feel for the week. And if they did know it, they carried the responsibility well. And bore it with great humility.

Tuam has suffered a lot of losses over the years, both industrial and social, but at the back of it all it has an incredible ecclesiastical, sporting, and cultural history. In their song ‘All The Way From Tuam’, The SawDoctors open with “l'm from the town drenched in football and rain, that fathered the terrible twins.” It was a tribute to the pair that they got in before St Jarlath and the High Kings when Leo, Davy, et al, sat down to pen the words.

Stockwell and Purcell were Tuam royalty. Their exploits half a century before their demise sufficient to earn them that elevation.

The loss of Frank this week will see many a tear shed across the country but nowhere more than in the rural heartland of Galway where he did so much to make life bearable for his fellow county people. And then where he settled down to live the rest of his remarkable life.

One is sure that as we read this, the angels above are ducking as passes are interchanged above their heads from celestial cloud to celestial cloud.

Declan Varley [email protected]

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