THE GAA in general, and especially the GAA in Cork, has lost one of its ablest and hardest-working officials with the untimely death of Jim Forbes, resident of Carrigaline and native of Drimoleague, earlier this week after a short illness.
Described by Cork County Board Secretary Frank Murphy as ‘an amazing man at all levels of the association’, Jim’s family was steeped in all things Gaelic. His father Ned was the local schoolmaster and involved in many organisations, particularly the GAA, as was his brother Vin.
Having been educated in Farranferris, Jim left Drimoleague to work in Cork city with margarine-makers James Daly and Sons of Shandon Street. This is where he met the love of his life, Maura, and they were to make their family home at Crosshaven and later in Carrigaline. Jim immediately set about re-organising the GAA club in Crosshaven and his amazing career as a GAA official had begun.
The South East Board was his next step and he took over as treasurer, a position he held for 32 years. Having stepped down in 2010, he immediately took on the position of PRO, which he still held at the time of his death.
As a board officer, Jim showed his genius as a tremendous innovator and set up many new projects, being the first to introduce summer camps for children and full-time coaching in the primary schools. The production of fixtures directories and match programmes for Páirc Uí Chaoimh also came under his remit.
In his position as treasurer, he was to be seen almost every Sunday standing at the gate of some pitch taking the admission fee. It was a role he continued in his time with Rebel Óg and his familiar figure at gates all over the county will be sadly missed.
It was inevitable that a man of his abilities would seek higher office and his candidature for Cork County Board officership became something of a saga as he just couldn’t seem to break through that glass ceiling. Perseverance paid off and in 1989 he was elected as youth officer. His fondness and aptitude for communications saw him elected PRO of the county board in 1997 and this was followed by the vice-chairmanship in 2000.
His term as chairman began in 2003, at a time when Cork GAA was in turmoil following the strike by the county senior hurlers the previous year. As Frank Murphy pointed out, Jim was ‘the right man in the right place at the right time’.
Not only did he bring peace to the GAA in the county through his superb diplomacy, but he oversaw the winning of two All-Ireland senior hurling titles in 2004 and 2005. Jim was the first West Cork man since the legendary JJ Walsh of Bandon in 1909 to hold the position of chairman of the county board and having served his term, he then moved on to the Munster Council, holding the position of PRO. It was for his work in this role that, in 2010, he was honoured by the Gaelic Writers’ Association as their PRO of the Year.
His amazing work did not go unnoticed at national level and under president Sean Kelly he was appointed chairman of the GAA’s Awards and Social Committee. So successful was he in that position, initiating such schemes as the Presidential Awards that he was retained during the term of president Nicky Brennan as well.
Moves were actually made to get Jim to run for president himself but he declined the offer. Despite rising to high office in the association, Jim never lost touch with his club, division and county, and he continued to serve in various positions, including rúnaí of the fast-growing Carrigaline club. Jim never lost the common touch all his life and had time for everybody. No job was too big or small if it was for the GAA.
Jim’s great interest, of course, was in the youth and he was a founding member of the new Rebel Óg board in 2010. He took on the onerous position of chairman of the new Central Committee of Rebel Óg, which caters for the best teams at all underage levels right across the county. The success of that committee was down mainly to Jim’s common sense, approachable nature and downright hard work. It was a position he took great pride in right up to his untimely death.
Somehow, during all that contribution, Jim managed to be a very active referee in the South-East and at county board level and he was also a selector with Cork U21 and junior football teams that won Munster and All-Ireland titles.
Jim and Maura raised a family of three children, Fidelma, Aoife and Killian, who wore the Carrigaline colours, and he was devastated at the death of his constant companion Maura three years ago. He always said that it was his GAA friends and activity that got him through that dark time in his life.
Many tributes have been paid to this great Gael who could never find enough to do for the GAA and whose innovative ideas and schemes have greatly benefitted the association at all levels.
Frank Murphy stated: ‘Jim was an amazing man at all levels of the association, an institution here in Cork. He was vice-president of the board at the time of his death and his contribution at all levels can never be over-stated.
‘A man of great innovation, he brought many great ideas to the association. Jim always led by example. He played a full-time role in the loan scheme for Páirc Uí Chaoimh and it is estimated that he raised over €670,000 in that position.
‘He played a huge role in all facets of the GAA in Cork and it is impossible to list the full range of activities he was involved in. The quality of his work was second to none. He was a most pleasant man and a wonderful friend. We spent many pleasant hours in the company of himself and Maura. He was a loyal friend, a great Gael who has left an indelible mark on the GAA.’
Chairman of the Cork County Board Ger Lane was also fulsome in his praise of this great Gael.
‘Jim Forbes was a really decent man, who gave his life to the GAA. He held various positions in the board and always brought his own ideas to those positions,’ Lane said.
‘PR was his strong point and he did a wonderful job in bringing peace to Cork GAA following the players’ strike. That was his great achievement as chairman.
‘He was the first to hold an open night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, despite opposition, where the public were invited to meet the players and it was a huge success, continued to this day.
‘He was a familiar figure at gates around the county, no job too big or too small if it was for the GAA. He has done a tremendous job as chairman of the Central Committee of Rebel Óg. He is a huge loss to the association, especially here in Cork and his contribution can never be equalled.’
Chairman of the Western Region of Rebel Óg Aidan O’Rourke has worked side by side with Jim on behalf of young players for many years and had this to say: ‘Jim was an outstanding GAA man, the amount of work he undertook for the association was absolutely incredible. If you had a problem all you had to do was pick up the phone and ring Jim, you were guaranteed his attention.
‘He was courteous, helpful and well-informed, always ready to listen and to help. He was a fabulous Gael and showed great foresight in all he did. He also showed great common sense.
‘His passing has left a huge void in Rebel Óg. I suppose everybody can be replaced in some way but GAA men like Jim are a dying breed. They gave their whole lives to the association, all voluntary and all for the good of the GAA.
‘We have now lost two great GAA men in Cork in the past six months, the late, lamented John Corcoran and now Jim Forbes. Truly, ní bheidh a leithéad arís ann.’
The sympathy of all Gaels goes to the Forbes family on the death of a truly great GAA man. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.