Lives Lost to Covid-19: Tommy Cawley, the bull man of Bellmullet and a winning jiver
Tommy was a kind, gentle, friendly and compassionate person and a great neighbour
Lives Lost: Tommy Cawley 1949 -2021
This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. You can read more of them here. If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email email@example.com
When Tommy met Winnie he was 15 years old and never mind that she was only 14, they spent the rest of their lives together in complete happiness with each other.
Winnie was from Lurgacloy on the Erris Peninsula in north-west Mayo. Young Tommy was from Muing, not far away near Tallagh Hill, immediately north of Belmullet. In 1974, they became Mr and Mrs Cawley, a union that was unbroken until this month and then only by Covid-19.
“He was such a gentleman,” Winnie says. “He was full of loving and sharing and caring. He leaves such a legacy of love for us all and for his grandchildren.”
When they met all those years ago and began courting, Tommy was working at Geraghty’s Garage in Belmullet, while Minnie worked in a toy factory.
“It just took off from there. We made our lives here in Belmullet and never left Ireland,” says Winnie.
Apart from the garage work and working also for the Council, Tommy’s great love was animals and not long after they married, they built their own home on Tallagh Road and had a modest farm on 11 acres of land.
“He loved animals from a very young age,” says Winnie, “cows, calves and sheep. He had a great head on him for doing anything he put his hand to.”
In farming terms, Tommy’s enduring passion was for bulls. Ferrying his bull to cattle farms all over north-west Mayo, or calling to marts around the country, Tommy and his truck and his bull trailer became known to many. He was the Bull Man of Belmullet.
And he was more than that. He was a man of sincere faith and served as a eucharistic minister at the Church of the Holy Family, in Carne, near his home. He was a life-long pioneer, he loved country and western music, he loved parties and he loved dancing.
Sometimes several of his passions converged unexpectedly.
“One day he went up one to Geesala with a bull,” recalls Winnie. “He pulled up with the bull and wasn’t there music and dancing and all going on and didn’t he end up jiving and the next thing, there’s an announcement over the loudspeaker and wasn’t he after winning the jiving trophy.
“I thought he won it for the bull but it was the jiving! He was an entertainer.”
If Tommy Cawley hadn’t been known as the life and soul of any social occasion he would surely have earned renown for his devotion to local politics.
From the early 1970s, he was deeply involved with Fianna Fáil and at election time, worked with Councillor Tim Quinn. At his funeral, his daughter Helen recalled election nights at home, watching the results come in on TV.
“Get the biro,” Helen recalled her father commanding, “get the piece of paper and start writing down the numbers.”
Father Kevin Hegarty said Tommy was “a kind, gentle, friendly and compassionate person . . . a great neighbour, there for people in need”.
He was also a democrat by conviction. “He had great respect for democracy. He believed passionately in the ideals of the Fianna Fail party but there was no bitter fanaticism in the way he expressed his views.”
In June 2019 for his 70th birthday, the family put up a marquee and threw a party to celebrate.
“And you’d be wondering if people would come,” says Winnie. “Well, we opened the door and, oh my God, 350 people came. Every single one of them. He was a great party man.”
On more than one occasion, Tommy would be the older man for a group of Straw Boys who, with Winnie playing the role of Captain, would arrive at wedding parties to dance around the bride and groom to protect them from evil – an ancient tradition still alive in north-west Mayo.
During Tommy Cawley’s brief recent illness, Dr Keith Swanick and hospital staff in Castlebar cared for him. McDonnells of Belmullet ensured he was given a dignified final send off, his coffin covered by the Tricolour.
There’s no finger pointing,” says Winnie. “We have the finest of people and the finest of businesses here in Belmullet . . . He was a gentleman and an entertainer and he never had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Tommy Cawley’s death will also be felt keenly by his seven grandchildren -- “his pride and joy”, said Helen, “for whom he had big cuddles.”