JOHN Mangan of Glendowan, Churchill, who passed away last week, aged 77, was known to a great multitude of people from near and far.
Many will remember him from meeting him in the Courtyard Shopping Centre in Letterkenny where he regularly sat selling the scratch cards for the Irish Wheelchair Association for whom he was a prominent fundraiser.
Many more will remember him from seeing him or perhaps talking to him at GAA matches throughout the county and further afield.
Many of us will remember him not just for those reasons but as a neighbour living in the Glendowan area, initially in the townland of Corderry and later in Mossfield.
John’s father, Dominic was from Roscommon and his mother was Mary McGinley from Corderry and they lived in Coventry for most of their married lives. When Coventry was bombed during the second World War the Mangan family returned to Ireland for a few years. John was raised in Corderry by the Mc Ginleys – his grandmother Ellen, his aunt Sarah and uncle Willie – and he never did return to Coventry to rejoin his mother and sisters.
One of his few surviving male peers remembers him as an agile, lively young boy who could cover the distance from Corderry to Mc Connells Shop (as it was then) in no time at all. Unfortunately while still a child John was struck down by the polio epidemic that occurred in Ireland in the late 1940’s and which adversely affected a small but significant number of young Irish people at the time. He had to spend most of the following decade in Letterkenny and Dublin getting treatment.
In 1961 he was affected by T.B. and received treatment for two years for that affliction. This was followed by further rehabilitation treatment In Dun Laoghaire which helped to minimise some of the worst effects of the polio and enabled him to drive a car. When he was able to return to Corderry he had to spend the remainder of his life in a wheelchair.
John was not confined by his wheelchair because he never allowed his affliction to limit unduly his enjoyment of life. He was a resilient and feisty man and he made the most of his situation. He married Betty Gillen and eventually came to live in Mossfield where Betty and he raised three children Rosemary, Gary and Jackie; sadly Betty passed away five years ago
From a young age he developed a passionate interest in Gaelic football despite the fact that there was no football team in the locality for more than half of his life.
As I recall, my first encounter with him occurred in 1960. As a young boy I was herding sheep in the moorland near McGinleys one particular Sunday late that summer and although I was some distance away I could hear this exciting commentary on their radio. The legendary Micheal O Hehir was giving his usual mesmerising performance as commentator on the All-Ireland semi-final between Offaly and the great Down team of that era. John and I became acquainted on that afternoon as we shared in the excitement of the Down victory and we subsequently became friends for life.
Arguably John’s greatest passion was in following the Donegal senior team and he never wavered in his support for more than 60 years through good times and bad. John was no fair-weather supporter and he endured plenty of miserable days sitting in his wheelchair in various football grounds watching Donegal.
However, he was fortunate to live long enough to be in Croke Park to see Donegal win two All-Ireland titles, something that many great Donegal supporters never experienced including neighbours of his in Glendowan such as Liam Coll, Barney Gallagher and the Harley brothers.
One of my abiding memories of the 1992 final is seeing John hurtling across the hallowed ground of Croke Park in his wheelchair accompanied by his son Gary as they joined in the ecstatic celebration of that historic victory.
When Glenswilly GAA club was formed in the early 1980’s John became an enthusiastic supporter. He celebrated with us when we won our first county title at junior level in 1984. It brought him particular joy that three of that team were Glendowan men like himself but they were fortunate in being able to do what John himself never got the opportunity to do. I sometimes wonder what he might have achieved if polio had not deprived him of the opportunity to play football. And despite the fact that John, when engaging in banter with me, would appear to disparage soccer as a game, he was a loyal supporter of Finn Harps over the years but particularly in the early years under the management of Patsy Mc Gowan.
In my last conversation with John Mangan on the night of his passing, when he still seemed hale and hearty, we talked inevitably about the performances of Donegal these past few months. John spoke positively about the current young, developing team. He talked of how hard it is to win an All-Ireland title.
Once again, but sadly for the last time, he expressed his appreciation and admiration for what was first achieved by Brian Mc Eniff and the Donegal team of 1992 and then 20 years later by the team of 2012 under the direction of Jim Mc Guinness and his management team. It gave him particular pleasure that the latter victory featured Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher from Glenswilly in major roles.
John Mangan, in his time, epitomised all that is best in a football supporter, passionate but fair in his opinions of his own team but also of opposing teams. With supporters like John, is it too much to hope that the current group of young Donegal players might go on to emulate their illustrious predecessors and that John would be watching and celebrating from his heavenly vantage point.
John never received any medals or awards for his contribution to sport but he received many testimonials from people far and near this past week. One such tribute was paid by Declan Bonner in his column in last week’s Donegal News; John would really have appreciated that.
Our sympathies go to John’s children, Rosemary, Gary and Jackie and to his extended family on his passing.