King of the Carn


“Ní neart go cur le chéile”

IMMENSE.  It may just be one word but during Fr Kieran Doherty’s homily at Thomas Cassidy’s funeral the word kept creeping up again and again.  Immense. The Carntogher/Slaughtneil stalwart passed away last Wednesday at his home after a brave battle with illness.  Known locally as 'Tosser', he was a husband, a father, a true Gael and a pillar of the locality. He will be a huge loss to his wife Anne Marie, his children Cathaoir, Éilis, Éanna, Aoife, Brona, Seán and Fearghal.  To his brothers and sisters, the entire family circle and the community. Fr Doherty described Thomas as a ‘devoted family man’ with ‘a very strong faith’.  During the wake and at Friday’s funeral they came in their droves to bid their final farewell.  It was fitting that parts of the mass were ‘as gaeilge’, something Thomas was extremely proud of. As Niall O’Kane explained, “Thomas was the cornerstone of the Carntogher Community Association and he was a founder member of Naíscoil Charn Tóchair the first rural Irish-medium Pre-school in county Derry. “Thomas recognised the importance in combining all aspects of our Irish cultural identity and heritage – our language, our sport, our music, our dance, and in reconnecting us with the environment.  “Thomas always led by example and was always the first person to be there when help was required and the last to look for any recognition for his efforts.  Thomas’ approach is best summarised in the Irish proverb “Is í an dias is troime is ísle a chromas a ceann” - the best are the most modest.” He and Anne Marie frequently hosted young Basques visiting to learn more about Irish culture.  Over the weekend tributes came in from his friends David, Xanbier, Joseba and their families.  “Water comes, water goes - but what you have left us will live forever.” In the maroon and white of his cherished Slaughtneil, Cassidy won an intermediate football title in 1982, a hurling championship in 1993 and managed the senior hurlers to the 2000 success.  At the final whistle in 1993, Thomas turned to his team mate and friend Francie Burke and said: “That’s my swansong.” The playing days may have ended but the story was only beginning.  His legacy will be the selfless work promoting camogie and hurling.  Slaughtneil’s rise to the top has Cassidy’s stamp all over it. In his homily Fr Doherty said: “Robert Emmet’s would not have the strength they have, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are without people like Thomas.  He was prepared to put himself out, to go any distance to bring young people to matches - prepared to encourage and to motivate.” These thoughts were echoed by Slaughtneil Chairman Sean McGuigan.  “He had a dream and he put his head down and got on with it.  He was a genuine, loyal, hardworking and special man who has left a deep hole in all our lives.  We are challenged now by him to continue this vision in promoting our games for generations to come.” Derry Chairman Brian Smith added: “I would class Thomas as the ultimate gentleman of the GAA.  He gave his energy, he gave his time, his company (T Mackle) gave us financial support but he never wanted to be out in the front line of seats.  To me that is really what a GAA man is.” Maura McCloy (Derry Camogie) reflected on the family’s camogie involvement at club, school and county level.  “They grew up with it.  I have worked with the girls, they are a fantastic family.  For Thomas nothing was a problem, he was a true gentleman and he never wanted credit for anything.” Paul Hughes of St Patrick’s College Maghera noted:  “The South Derry area reminds me of the values of Ireland of 30 years ago where family, faith, sport and hard work are really very important. “I don’t think Thomas Ó’Caiside could have been a better embodiment of that.  If we can all bring something of what Thomas brought to it, well then we are in a better place, in our community, in our sport and as a group of people.” As part of the Féile competitions, Anne Marie and Thomas hosted U14 teams from throughout the country.  On Slaughtneil’s social media Trim’s Karl Fleming spoke of his stay in Thomas’ home last year.  “He went above and beyond what was expected of him and ensured everyone was well looked after.” Just over Roughan Bridge from Emmet Park lies another piece of the legacy – Drumnaph Nature Reserve and Farmhouse.  “Thomas welcomed us to Drumnaph three years ago with a bag of turf for the fire,” commented resident Kelley Hann-White. “Since then he and his family have helped us countless times.  He dedicated his life to Slaughtneil and An Carn and inspired so many with his hard work and dedication – slann go foill Tomas.” The sign at the gate of Emmet Park bears the Irish saying Ní neart go cur le chéile - there is no strength without unity.  It is also emblazoned across the front of the club’s camogie jerseys.  It epitomised everything about Thomas and his life. Fr Doherty reflected on the Cassidy family’s thoughts about Thomas. “He was the epitome of loyalty, honesty and hard work. Leader and mentor, he was selfless and never wanted the recognition he deserved.  He had higher ideas than himself. His efforts cannot be fully known, they are resistant to definition.”  The banter with the men over the counter in Mackles.  Looking for clues with the family in the An Carn treasure hunt.  Along with Anne Marie – welcoming children from Spain into their home, in search of Irish culture. Taking teams of youngsters across Ulster to sow the seeds of success – rain, sleet or snow.  Where do you stop?  A constant giving of himself but never queuing up for a pat on the back. After carrying the Four Seasons Cup up the middle of a packed Slaughtneil hall on Sunday night, captain Chrissy McKaigue paid his tribute to Thomas.  He had saved his words for that special place – where Cassidy introduced him to the game of hurling – all those years ago.  With the Ulster title in hand, it was the ultimate tribute. The Cassidys, Slaughtneil and Carntogher have bid farewell to one of their own - but the imprint of Thomas Cassidy will stand the test of time.  

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