SEPTEMBER 4th, 1958 – that’s the date when I met Jim Forbes for the first time. It’s also the date that we both entered Farranferris College to begin our second level education.
Jim’s brother Vin was already attending Farranferris at the time, and Jim – from Drimoleague – travelled on the West Cork train to the Bandon Railway Station with so many other West Cork lads. In those days up to 80 per cent of the pupils in the school came from the west.
Jim was a clever student and at 13 years of age had no difficulty in meeting the new challenges, including learning Greek from An tAthair Sean (Seanie). Other lads who came in that year were Frank Crowley from Bantry, Dinny Harrington from Goleen, Vincent Hodnett from Ross, John Canty from Tracton, Jerry Hennessey from Ballineen and Seanie Barry from Rathcormac. Some of these lads went on to win Farna’s first Harty and Hogan Cups in 1963.
Little did I know back then that Jim would leave a lasting legacy on all he met, including me.
After finishing school, Jim worked in Bantry and soon moved to work in Cork City in Shandon Street. It was the early 1960s and Ireland was beginning to shake off the depression of the 1950s.
Things began to happen for Jim because he met his wife-to-be Maura, the great love and true friend of his life. After getting married they set up home in Crosshaven and an old friend of Jim’s, Neally White, introduced him to the local Crosshaven club. A man of Jim’s calibre was just what the club needed. He went on to put this old GAA stronghold on a new footing with some great ventures.
Since leaving Farranferris I hadn’t met Jim until one Sunday morning in March in the early 1970s when he came in through a gap in a ditch to referee a junior football league game in John Bowen’s Field in Ballygarvan. I was playing for Shamrocks then. We shook hands and a renewed friendship was born.
Jim was now getting to know the South East division in his travels as a referee. He attended board meetings and it was obvious from his contributions that we had among us a bright new talent.
At the end of the 1978 season the three main officers of the board – Joe O’Driscoll, Donie Coleman and Dermot O’Brien – did not seek election. New blood was elected by the clubs including the Crosshaven delegate Jim Forbes, who became treasurer. Another bright young talent named Edmund Forrest from Ballygarvan took the secretarial post with Ballymartle’s Carl Daly in the chair. A new era dawned. The divisional board began to promote itself as a fresh and articulate section of the GAA in Cork.
Jim’s very first year in office saw him oversee the organisation of the taking of ‘gates’ for the South East junior hurling final between Shamrocks and Tracton that produced three historic ties. The coffers were full to overflowing.
There was huge excitement surrounding these games and some controversy too. A lot of money was changing hands among the gamblers and live bullets were being delivered by the postman. The lid had to be kept firmly on the ‘frying pan’ and the Timoleague man brought all his astute skills to bear in ensuring that normality would prevail at all times.
When all was over he invited the victors and vanquished to a ‘thank you’ lunch in the Grand Hotel in Crosshaven, the day Pope John Paul came to Ireland, when both clubs were presented with cheques for €500 each. Jim didn’t forget to acknowledge the great contributions made by the clubs to those epic games in 1979. Forbes was up and running.
Jim moved house to Carrigaline and they raised three children, Fidelma, Aoife and Killian. As soon as Killian could kick a football he was seriously involved with the Carrigaline underage teams.
Like any father, Jim was thrilled and it was only a matter of time that he put in his lot with the club. Jim and Maura were proud parents when son Killian was a member of the Carrigaline intermediate football team that won the county title for the very first time.
The South East Division was progressing smoothly and the Actons sponsored monthly awards were a big hit. The awards were much desired but the strong social dimension to the project made them very special.
The tables were turned on him on one occasion when he was chosen himself to accept the accolade and as he approached the rostrum to accept, out popped the then GAA President John Dowling from behind the curtain, a great friend of Jim’s, to do the honours. This was one of the few occasions in which Jim was ‘caught’.
I suppose the greatest coup we pulled on Jim was when the Carrigdhoun Board decided to present him with a Hall of Fame Award when he stepped down after a most successful tenure as Cork County Board Chairman.
We considered many devious schemes in which to ‘lay a trap for him’ in order to get him into a function room filled with family, friends and admirers.
The final plan involved the then chairman of Cork County Board Bob Ryan and county runaí Frank Murphy.
They informed Jim that a wealthy Irish American planned a huge fundraiser for the Cork teams with a golf classic in Pebble Beach, California. Jim had some years previously run a golf classic in the States for the Cork teams, so he was the ideal man to meet this ‘wealthy Irish American’.
Bob and Frank lured Jim to a Cork hotel to meet this man. However, after waiting for a while there was no trace of him. Then a phone call came from me, purporting to be the American saying they were in the wrong hotel and to come to another. They got him across the city and in the front door and with the help of the manager cajoled him up stairs, opened a door leading into a dark room where Paudie Palmer stuck a microphone under his nose and said ‘Jim Forbes, this is your life’.
We had a great night and when all was done and completed, his sister Kathleen, who was based in Vermont, USA, stepped out from behind the curtain to put rich icing on the cake.
I was elected chairman of the South East Board in 1990 and little did I know that I would work closely with Jim for the next 20 years. When I reflect on it now, all I can say is that I was lucky and fortunate to team up with one of the greatest GAA entrepreneurs of his generation. In that time he worked from the grassroots all the way to the higher echelons of the Association.
His first episode in the county board was that of youth officer. He was making his mark and when he was elected PRO, a huge transformation too place in this faculty. Jim was soon the darling of the media and the benchmark was set for other units of the GAA. As vice chairman of the county board he spearheaded a new and improved system to programme all games especially league fixtures.
When he became chairman he sailed into stormy waters. Disputes and mistrust were prevailing so astute and prudent leadership was called for.
The South East Cork man was equal to the task and his great gift of interaction with people soon had heads together and a new era was founded. All-Ireland hurling titles and Cork hurling back on the crest of the wave were surely the fruits of his skilful initiatives.
Many pioneering and lasting undertakings were to materialise in Carrigdhoun. The very first summer camps were organised in Carrigaline and Innishannon where hundreds of boys and girls flocked to be part of this new movement. With support and sponsorship from his old friend Denis Burke (Bandon) of CIE, we had t-shirts and equipment. A great new crusade for youngsters was launched, which later spiralled county and country-wide.
Perhaps, as a follow up to this the idea of a full-time schools’ coach was given due consideration and put in place. Joe McGrath was chosen as coach and indeed it was an inspired choice as he devoted the rest of his life to great project.
South East schools began to win schools’ competitions. Clubs began to win underage county titles and so on up the ranks. The division today boasts senior clubs in hurling and football and all the teams can compete with the best in the county.
Despite all his travels and elevations to senior positions within the GAA, he never lost touch with South East Cork. He rarely missed a meeting. It was not unusual to see Jim presiding at a meeting in Croke Park on Thursday night and the following Saturday night taking a gate in Ballygarvan.
Early each season the senior officers of the board would have to assemble and draft a complete fixture programme for the season. Inevitably this meeting would take place in Jim’s house. We would sit around a table in front of a blazing fire. We relished the comfort and when Maura cleared the table to lay out fresh sandwiches and sweet cakes it was heaven.
Before we arrived, Jim would have most of the work done. We would work and talk into the early hours. There was always a huge welcome in Jim and Maura’s lovely home. Maura would always be there to greet or help if Jim was away. Jim would never have achieved his great goals without Maura’s support and enthusiasm. Her passing a few short years ago shattered us all, but it surely broke Jim’s heart. He carried that great pain of loss privately and within. He could never be the same again.
In recent years he chaired the Central Committee of Rebel Óg. He devoted massive time and energy to this post.
Jim left us without much notice, but that would be his way. He answered Maura’s call and now they are both reunited. No more grief and sorrow, they are in heavenly peace. Those of us who are left behind must suffer the great pain of his passing. A great cornerstone has been removed from the GAA.