Gus Byrne served Wexford with pride

Published 25/05/2016 | 00:00

The late Gus Byrne
The late Gus Byrne
Mayor Ger Carthy and other local councillors at the front of the funeral procession as it makes its way along John Street.
The late Gus Byrne

oNE of Wexford's best-known local politicians Gus Byrne has died after a short illness at the age of 81.

A member of the local authority for 36 years, Gus was known as the gentleman of the chamber and never raised his voice against any other member.

He was the Mayor of Wexford on two occasions, in 1985 and 1994. First elected in 1974, he topped the poll in 1979, beating then Labour leader Brendan Corish into second place.

Gus came close to winning a seat to the 22nd Dail in 1981 in an election which saw Fianna Fail winning 77 seats.

A keen cyclist, he was a very fit man throughout his life and took part in races at home and further afield.

As mayor, Gus's proudest moment was when he granted the freedom of the borough to President Mary Robinson, practising his hastily-polished Irish on the way to the ceremony to make a flawless, pitch-perfect presentation.

One of a family of seven, Gus was born in Westgate in 1934 to Joe and Molly. He was educated at the Presentation and the CBS, in Wexford, however, his formal education was cut short when he mother died when he was only 14 and he went to work as a bicycle mechanic in Selskar.

He loved football and played for the Young Irelands, however, after suffering an injury, someone lent him a fixed-wheel bicycle, which started his love affair with cycling with his brother Dermot, and the two would often ride to cycle races many miles away, competing in and often winning them, before riding home.

He paid great attention to fitness and nutrition a long time before it became fashionable and even when he wasn't out cycling would remove a rear wheel and pedal away with the rear of the back on a stand to maintain his stamina.

Gus left the bicycle workshop to join FineWool and at this time became involved with the Menapia Credit Union, which furthered his interest in politics, He was promoted by FineWool, and had to give up working as a part time fireman, but found himself without an income or a job at age 40 when the company closed down.

Such was the state of the economy in Ireland at this time, that Gus thought he would never work again.

It was a very difficult time and Gus took to working for Alf Cadogan, putting up television aerials for which he was paid in kind.

Never one to take things lying down, Gus got a job as an ambulance driver, to which he devoted himself for 25 years. He was known for his acts of charity and would always ensure that older or infirm people were helped into their homes and fires lit and meals provided if they lived alone.

While he worked hard, he never considered it work.

A compassionate man, he was able to quickly assess emergency situations and helped save many lives during his time with the ambulance service.

Gus retired from the service in 2000, but still remained active in voluntary work, giving his name to the 'Gus Byrne Perpetual Trophy' for water safety.

His civic life was hugely important to him and he was responsible for many of the improvements we see in Wexford today, from simple things like a filter lane for traffic at Wexford Bridge, to buying up land for future development, Carricklawn being an example.

He loved Wexford and loved seeing it develop and after visiting council housing on a foreign visit, brought his vision back to the town and Corporation houses that were to be built in Mount George, with larger than average kitchens.

While he was competitive, he was always ethical and dignified, and avoided the shrill sound of combative politics.

During a eulogy to his father, John said that every house Gus visited, he opened with the refrain: 'God save all here', with the response: 'And God save you kindly.'

However, he was never overtly religious and lived his life his only way, something that he passed on to his own children, never interfering, but always there.

Gus met his beloved wife Nancy, a school friend of his late sister Dymphna and brother Leonard, almost 55 years ago, the family living in various parts of the town before moving to Thomas Clarke Place.

He is the beloved husband of Nancy and father of Anne, Deirdre, John, Sinead, Nuala, Fergus and Conal and brother of Dermot. Gus is sadly missed by his loving wife sons, daughters, brother, sisters-in-law Chrissie, Miriam and Phil, sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchild, nephews, nieces, extended family and friends.

Family and friends travelled from Manchester, London and Liverpool and from throughout Ireland to join the large attendance bidding a fond and sad farewell to Gus at his Requiem Mass at Rowe Street, Council colleagues, officials, and representatives of voluntary organisations Gus was involved with throughout his years in Wexford were among those mourning his passing with his large extended family.

A garda car, followed by two ambulances, led his funeral cortege, while members of Fianna Fail and part time fire fighters respectively provided guards of honour at his removal and mass.

His family members said they were deeply touched by the numbers of people expressing their sympathy and support at their loss, with uniformed ambulancemen and paramedics in the ranks of mourners.

His Requiem Mass took place on Thursday followed by burial in Crosstown Cemetery. He will be sadly missed.

Wexford People

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