The late Patsy McCabe

The following is an edited excerpt of the tribute to and obituary of the late Patsy McCabe, who passed away on February 22.

Described as “unique”, “a one-off”, “a character”, “a musician”, “a teacher” and “a raconteur” – and as “a proud Belcoo man” – no matter where he was in the world, he would introduce himself as “Patsy McCabe, Belcoo”.

There isn’t a townland in Ireland where Patsy didn’t know someone, or where someone knew him.

Patsy was born on January 28, 1940, second child to Patrick and Annie. His older sister, Marena, was born in 1938, and younger sister, Gertie, in 1943.

The family home was on the shore of Lough Macnean, and young Patsy had an idyllic childhood.

His formative years in Belcoo gave him a deep love for all the idiosyncrasies of rural Irish life of that era; of local characters, neighbourly friendship and help; of storytelling, céilidhing and of course, music.

He developed a sense of belonging and identity of which he was immensely proud and which he never forgot.

At age 11, he left his beloved Belcoo and attended St. Colman’s College in Newry. Here he met Eamon McGuinness – a lifelong friend who became the brother he never had.

After St. Colman’s, upon his mother’s wish, Patsy joined the seminary in Maynooth and began his studies to become a priest.

After his mother’s death in 1963, Patsy left the seminary with a degree in History and Irish and pursued a career in teaching.

He taught in St. Colman’s High School, Ballynahinch from 1965 to 1967, before moving to Belfast and taking up his post in the Christian Brothers' School, Glen Road in 1967, where he inspired young minds until his retirement in 1993.

Music was always a major feature in and of his life, a passion and skill he shared with his late sister, Gertie.

He performed with the legendary Gay McIntyre for many years and in Irish Traditional music circles, he is best known for accompanying Sean McGuire for more than 20 years.

Patsy appeared on some of the world’s greatest stages, including the National Concert Hall, Milwaukee Irish Fest, and the Opera de Monte Carlo.

He had an ear for language, words and the vernacular. He understood the musicality of words and his sentences were melodies, his stories were operas.

He was also infamous for his colourful language! His swearing was curiously eloquent. It was as if he used it for its lyrical quality, or for punctuation, but it was never to offend or cause hurt.

Patsy had an eternal love for knowledge, education and academia, but similarly, he had the same love and respect for the practical.

He was as proficient at fixing the engine of a vintage tractor as he was at accompanying Monti’s Czardas on piano. He was gifted as an academic, as an artist, and as a mechanically-minded, practical person.

Patsy could be found anywhere. He had an insatiable propensity for being on the move and visiting his thousands of friends.

Going for a pint of milk could result in an epic adventure. A tune, a vintage car or tractor could lead to instant distraction.

He was mysterious, handsome, dashing, exotic – Patsy could get a tan from a postcard.

He was erudite and intelligent. His voice was refined, lyrical and authoritative, yet as broad as the lakes of Fermanagh.

His eyes sparkled and twinkled. He was entrancing, sophisticated and addictive.

Moreover, he was warm, witty, good-humoured and had a boundless sense of fun.

He always had a saying, a dictum, a go-to phrase to simplify everything.

“Níl a fhios ag a nduine cá bhfuil iall na bróige ag teannadh ar an duine eile,“ approximately translated as “No one knows where the shoe hurts only the wearer”.

Patsy was a loyal and faithful friend who was always there in times of need. When he was in your company, he could make you feel like the only person in the world.

He had a special bond with children. Patsy would engage with them on their level, talk with them, never at them or to them.

Despite the insouciance and bravado, Patsy was a man of contradictions; frugal yet incredibly generous. He could be the centre of attention, yet remain aloof.

He could appear frivolous and carefree, yet he had incredible depth and sensitivity.

His life was littered with juxtapositions. He could bring comic relief to moments of sadness, yet he could be moved to tears by moments of utter joy.

He brought help when there was need. He brought comfort in times of grief. He could find fitting words when explanations failed.

Patsy’s life seemed eternal – at least, that’s what we all hoped. We were wrong.

He passed away peacefully on February 22, 2022. In true McCabe style, his date of passing is a palindrome and ambigram: 22022022.

He was more than just a person, he was a phenomenon. He was embedded in the landscape of our lives.

Patsy is pre-deceased by his sisters, Gertie (2017), and Marena (1947); his parents, Annie (1963) and Pat (1956).

Sincere condolences to Maureen, his companion and partner, who cared so lovingly for him during his illness; to his lifelong friend, Eamon, they were brothers in life; and to his cousins, relations and innumerable friends.

We gathered in grief, united in love, for Patsy’s funeral mass in Mullaghdun, for a service that was as special as the man himself.

A requiem mass filled with reflection, memories and music which culminated in a celebration of a life that celebrated life.