COUNCILLOR Blackie Gavin, the well-known plumber with Mayo County Council, is an avid sports enthusiast and has the distinction of having completed 13 gruelling marathons, here in Ireland, in the UK and the USA, writes Tom Gillespie.
He has also the distinction of being the last councillor elected to the last Castlebar Town Council and he is now cathaoirleach of the Castlebar Municipal District of Mayo County Council.
Blackie was born in the family home on the corner of Charles Street and Lucan Street in Castlebar.
“Bridie Doherty from Tucker Street was the midwife and Dr. Richard Tobin was the doctor,” he told me.
The family includes oldest brother Pat (Castlebar Post Office), sister Mary (Donegal), and brothers Paul and John, Noel and Brian, who are based in the south side of Chicago.
John, he said, went to the US with Castlebar Mitchels on their second trip to the States and stayed there. He had played with Castlebar Celtic and represented Ireland at youths level.
The Mitchels presented a plaque on that occasion to Gaelic Park in Chicago and the plaque is still on display in the bar.
Noel also played with Celtic and the Mitchels. His youngest brother, Brian, had worked in Baxter before emigrating.
Blackie said: “My father was Kerr and my mother, Dot (nee Keane), is from Westport. Her brother, Chris Keane from Pearse Terrace, was a great soccer player who was capped for Ireland and had trials in England.
“My mother worked for many years in Marty O’Grady’s in Westport before going to Castlebar. She is still a real Covie and a fantastic woman. She reared the seven of us in hard times.
“My father passed away in 1996 at 62 years of age. He worked for Lavelle’s Bakery, who had the motto ‘Lavelle’s bread, the best in the west’, and travelled down to Achill Island delivering bread for 24 years. He also delivered in Newport, Mulranny and all over Achill Island.
“I was talking to Councillor Michael Holmes (cathloireach of Mayo County Council) recently and he told me: ‘Your father used to bring the radio from my mother to be repaired by Dermot Fahy in Ellison Street in Castlebar’.”
Blackie continued: “My father would give a lift to people in Achill coming to Castlebar for hospital appointments or if someone wanted to get a watch fixed my father would drop it in to Eddie Egan’s in Castlebar and bring it back on his next journey to the island.
“If some of the hotels were stuck for sausages or bacon or whatever, my father would go out to the bacon factory and throw a box of stuff in the van and deliver it to them. He had a great love for the people of Achill.
“My father had a couple of years driving for the Western Health Board after Lavelle’s closed.
“He loved going to Ned Cunningham’s (pub) on Charles Street.”
Growing up there were all big families on Richard Street, Lucan Street, Charle Street, Thomas Street, Staball, Barrack Bridge and Springfield.
He continued: “I remember where McCormack’s Estate is now was McCormack’s field, with a wall around it. Johnny’s, we used to call it, and the river went through the field. We used to play football there. We played football on the street too. We threw our jerseys on the road to make the goals.
“All the neighbours on the street were wonderful. We had Willie Begley, the shoemaker, there. We had Delia Garvey’s little shop on Lucan Street. All the neighbours were fantastic when we were growing up.
“After dinner I would take the skins and all the waste to Tom Gallagher on Lucan Street to feed his chickens in the back yard and he would give you some small token. They were tough times but the people were great.
“We used to go down to Achill to give my father a hand and people were great if you did a message for them. They were great for looking after one another. There was a great sense of community.
“I remember my father had a Morris Minor and we used to go back to Westport to Pearse Terrace. We would all be in the car. We were happy going to Westport. We thought we were going off to Spain, and going back to Bertra was heaven. We were never outside the county much. But I remember one time as a young fellow we went to Salthill in Galway. We thought we were in a different country.”
Blackie went to St. Patrick’s National School and to St. Gerald’s College in Castlebar, where he did his Leaving Certificate.
He started with Castlebar Urban District Council (UDC) in 1977 on a scheme at Lough Lannagh. “There was a group of us from around the town involved,” he said. “We started making the paths through the cemetery and a bit of a path around Lough Lannagh. That was where the development of Lough Lannagh started.
“I started full time with the council in 1978. The town engineer then was Albie Malone from Westport, Mark Turner was the town foreman, and Bernie Scahill was the town plumber. They have all passed away now but they were great characters.
“We did all types of work helping the lads that were there. We collected the bins, swept the streets. We would help Bernie Scahill if there was a burst water main. We did everything. It was the best training that I ever got in my life.”