BY THERESE O’SHEA
THE night of Wednesday, March 1st, brought much sadness to St James' GAA, as the club learned of the untimely and peaceful passing of a club stalwart and legend James O'Leary.
James was a life-long member of the club, a player, and a winning captain who, in 1981, brought huge joy and pride to the parish when he lifted the Nolan Cup, the club’s first-ever junior title. He also served as club secretary in 1979.
Southern Star reports from the early 80s acknowledged his ‘thundering clearances’ and his ‘thou shall not pass’ presence which made him an always-reliable and tough Number 6. Lovely pictures captured at the 2019 and 2022 celebration dinner dances show how the 1981 win always meant so much to him. James was a born rogue and acutely aware of his audience he would always seize the opportunity to remind people of the mighty win over ‘the Kilmacs’ in Union Hall in 1981.
He was St James's to the core, the most loyal of supporters through thick and thin. He relished the St James’ victories of 2005 and the two junior A football wins of 2019 and 2022, with the O’Leary legacy living on through his son Kevin who was an integral part of the winning teams. It was fitting that Kevin wore the number six on that special September evening in 2019 when St James’ won their first-ever Carbery Junior A title. Unsurprisingly James was immensely proud of Kevin's achievements with their home club.
There are so many wonderful qualities to describe James. A gentleman. A pure character. A friend to many who loved to see people get on well in life, the large queues of people that stood at length to pay their respects to James outside O’Sullivan’s Funeral Home in Clonakilty and at St James’s Church in Ardfield paying testament to the above.
Professionally James was a gifted fitter, hugely knowledgeable and skilled in his trade. He was a mentor to many over his 42 years in Carbery before he retired in 2020. James started his trade in Lisavaird Co-op. He then joined the maintenance team Carbery in the late 70s and he played with the Ballineen company’s interfirm football team in the 1980s, two teams he was so proud to be part of.
It would be near-impossible to estimate how many games James went to in his lifetime, but he loved his GAA and he loved his club. It is hard to believe James will no longer pull up in his van at matches. Now, in a few short weeks, the St James’ footballers will commence their journey in the all-new premier junior level and while it is it is heart-breaking to think James won't be there to support the team it is fitting that he now has the best grandstand seat in the house, watching on from up above, with friends, family and former clubmates as company for some post-match analysis.
Pre-deceased by his father Tim and mother Peggy, James is survived by his wife Mary, his son Kevin and his daughter Maria. As the oldest in the family of eight, he is sadly missed by his brothers Michael and Tim, sisters Kay (O’Donovan), Helen (Kelly), Ann (O’Leary), Maireád (McCarthy) and Enda (Orr) and the wider O’Leary family. To each of James’s family, relatives and his wide circle of friends, St James’ offer heartfelt condolences. Young and old, each one will have their own treasured memories of him.
St James’ GAA will forever remember James O’Leary. He will live long and fondly in the memory of his proud club.
A chara, you'll be missed.