Clancy's passing brings to mind stories of old
Athletics:‘Are you John Joe Barry?” he was asked, after answering the phone, at some God early hour, at his small apartment in suburban Philadelphia.
“I am,” he replied, half wondering what trouble he was in this time.
“And were you ever known as The Ballincurry Hare?”
“Now look here, Buster,” he said, “I’m already late for work and I’m half-way out the door and if this is some kind of joke your timing is away off.”
Just before slamming down the phone, he was somehow convinced the man at the other end of the line was from RTÉ, in Dublin, and that someone had told him he was dead.
“Look, call me in my office in 20 minutes, and I’ll do my level best to prove to you that I’m alive . . .”
This little tale from Irish athletics history – one of those you couldn’t make up – features late on in John Joe Barry’s self-penned autobiography The Ballincurry Hare, a gem of a sporting book now sadly out of print.
It was sometime in early 1976, and Barry, once the most exciting middle-distance runner in Ireland, was working in an auto dealership, in east Philadelphia.
By then Barry’s life ambition, no less than his athletic one, had fallen desperately short, an alcohol addiction at least partly to blame.
As it turned out the man at the other end of the phone line was Fred Cogley, one of RTÉ’s main sports presenters. He’d tracked Barry down, four days after every newspaper in Ireland had written up glowing obituaries.
What happened was that previous Sunday, at noon mass in his old parish of The Commons, Tipperary, a prayer was read for the recently deceased JJ Barry.
Someone got confused somewhere along the line, and on the Monday, one Dublin evening newspaper declared Barry – who had lost virtually all contact with Ireland – as dead.
On the Tuesday, all the dailies followed suit, with a particularly poignant tribute written up in the Irish Independent by Tom O’Riordan, who to this day insists he got confirmation of Barry’s death from a “good source”.
“It was now the Friday,” Barry wrote of Cogley’s phone call, “and I eventually convinced him that I was who he thought I was and that I was actually talking on the telephone and that I could not be possibly dead.”
Cogley was so taken by the tale that he arranged to fly out to America, the next day, to interview Barry for RTÉ. On arrival, he presented Barry with a “roll of newspapers that would choke an elephant, all of which had given me one hell of a send-off”.
Indeed Barry lived on for many years, eventually returning to Dublin, where he died on December 9th, 1994, the tributes on the second attempt not so glowing.