Monday, June 12, 2017

Remembering Joe McTernan and the Canoe Club — an Appreciation

My memories of Joe McTernan are inextricably linked with the young Kilcullen Canoe Club, writes Kilcullen's Olympic canoeist Brendan O'Connell.

The second eldest in a family of six, Joe grew up in a house in Kilcullen's market square, beside the famous and very successful pub and restaurant ('Hack On to McTernan's') operated by his late father Joe McTernan Snr.

When the Canoe Club was relocated from O'Connell's Bakery at Mill Race in the early 60s it went to a small site which was owned by young Joe's father, at the end of what was known as Gertie Bardon's Lane. The Club was at the time able to purchase an old hut from the Army on the Curragh. This hut had been used to imprison IRA anti-treaty prisoners during the Civil War, and German Luftwaffe pilots and crew who survived crash-landing in Ireland during WW2. My first memory of Joe getting involved with the Club was during the erection of the hut on the site when he spent all his spare time there helping people like Jock Kelly, Fr Cathal Price, and Harry McCarney with the work. Thereafter Joe began canoeing with the Club and it became his lifelong passion.

After national school Joe went to Newbridge College and I can recall on one occasion his mother coming down to Jock Kelly, who was coaching Joe and the other youngsters, and begging him to try and encourage Joe to study for his exams. Jock decided the best thing to do was ban Joe off the water for two weeks. I can still remember all the other youngsters, including myself and Jock doing our training, and there was Joe sitting with his elbows on his knees watching us. He spent all the time shouting to Jock 'only 12 days left' and so on with a 'count down' that continued until he was allowed back on the water. So much for the study!

When he finished school Joe went to work in the family business and as soon as his shift would finish he'd always head straight to the Club. He travelled the country to all of the canoe races and really got to know so many people. Though his illness prevented him from excelling in the sport, his dedication and enthusiasm were remarkable. He was always a brilliant Club man and served on various committees down through the years.

It is fair to say that both Joe and his father were great benefactors to the Canoe Club. Joe Snr gave the original site at no initial cost and allowed the Club pay for it on extremely generous terms over many years.

Unfortunately as Joe's illness progressed he was unable to come to the Club so he retired from active participation. I recall on one of my visits to him whilst the new clubhouse was being built circa 2007, enquiring whether he had any old photos or memorabilia? I can still see that little knowing grin as he said 'I might have'. He went upstairs and arrived back with an apple box full of old photos and memorabilia including results, training schedules, race announcements, old canoeing magazines — he even had the postcards I had sent him from my own canoeing trips abroad. He had thrown out nothing and kept everything and had clear memories of events long forgotten by myself.

It is ironic that Maureen Barker and I were due to visit Joe last week to record some of those memories. We are very sad that we missed that visit.

Rest in Peace, Joe.