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Tribute to Johnny Harte - A Carrig Treasure

Johnny Harte,
our Inaugural President

The passing of Johnny Harte, on the 11th March 2018, stripped Carrigtwohill Parish of one of its greatest sources of historical knowledge in the locality. Born in Ballintubber in 1925, he had three siblings, Willie and Ellie, who predeceased him, and Dan who is thankfully still hale and hearty, having shared both his brother’s enthusiasm for Carrig’s sporting success throughout his life.

The Early Days

He was born in an era very different to the hi-tech. world of today. It was a world with which he was eminently at ease. In his childhood he liked nothing better in the evening than the neighbours and friends calling to the home of his father John Joe and mother Margaret to exchange fireside chat and banter on matters local. He recalled, in recent times, that when his parents got their first radio in 1938, his reaction was “mother, there’s a stranger in our midst!” Johnny was primarily interested in home grown entertainment and was suspicious of the outside influences.

Working life

Throughout his working life Johnny worked with the land and its cultivation and maintenance. It was an alliance with which he was eminently at ease. He began his working life on Dan Buckley’s farm in Clyduff .From there he found his true niche in the field of horticulture, tending to the gardens and grounds for the Murphy family of Midleton Lodge (now the grounds of Midleton Park Hotel). He worked in a similar role for the Harrington family, Rushbrook. He worked for a few years in the 1960‘s with Roh Fab in the building industry. He reverted to his natural environment, when he became gardener and ground maintenance manager to the Thompson family Ballintubber, for a 16 year period.

He then became head Gardener at the newly developed IFI Plant. Here the gardens incorporated greenhouses with an array of exotic tropical plants, which were a source great wonderment to the many visiting dignitaries, and a source of great pride to management. Johnny took great personal satisfaction on this new challenge which greatly expanded his knowledge of plant life by the time he retired in 1990.

Side by side with his work commitments, he also lovingly nurtured his own impeccably maintained vegetable garden, at his new home in Woodstock, following his marriage Pauline Fenton of Killacloyne in 1959. Through all these activities he developed an encyclopaedic knowledge and understanding of his environs. The hard physical labour involved, he also always cycling to and from work, played a pivotal role in developing the fitness and stamina for his athletic career. After Johnny ended his formal working life in Nitrogen Eireann Teoranta (NET), his expertise continued to be much in demand in his later life, both in an advisory role but also hands on with many people, on horticultural matters, not least in the gardens of his own family.

Knowledge and Respect for his Environs

He was a regular and invaluable source of knowledge for students and others, seeking information on all aspects of local history including local graveyards, holy wells, primary water sources and family ancestry of Carrig parish. His knowledge was matched by his willingness and desire to ensure this knowledge would be available for future g enerations. One of the ways he did this was through the many informative articles written in earlier additions of this magazine. All of this was recognised by the Carrigtwohill & District Historical Society, when he was the unanimous choice as its inaugural President, when it was formed in 2013.

His empathy with his environment and local history was evident from an early age. In 1938, final year students in all National Schools in Ireland participated in the National Folklore collection. Johnny was an enthusiastic participant. He interviewed his Grandfather William Harte (81) and wrote in depth about the food people eat in olden times. He contributed a second comprehensive article on the location of old graveyards in Carrig Parish following an interview with William Buckley of Clyduff.

Throughout his life, Johnny always had a project on the go. Right up to the year before he passed away, he was taking steps to ensure that the stream which flows past his house had unhindered passage and no flooding would occur. He acted as advisor to County Council engineers who often acknowledged the wisdom of his advice in solving issues. Johnny also came from an era where material was at a premium and people had to improvise to solve problems. Necessity dictated that everything had a second and sometimes third life. Johnny was a master exponent of the art of recycling. To this day old gates, mesh, pipes, timbers and countless other bits and pieces have been adapted and recycled to great effect to provide effective passage for water runs and completing other works of maintenance.

Sporting Interests

In his sporting career, Johnny was a central part of a golden era in Carrig sporting success between 1946 and 1956. Johnny won nearly twenty Cork, Munster and All-Ireland titles and Open races, in a glittering track and cross-country career. His brother Willie, on the track, and school classmate Willie O’Brien in the cycling arena, were equally successful in this period. Carrig hurlers won three county titles in a row in 1948-50 and Mattie Fouhy and another of Johnny’s classmates, Willie John Daly won three All-Ireland hurling titles in a row with Cork hurlers. All these successes fed off each other in a small closely-knit rural community. Johnny and his fellow sporting heroes gave Carrig a sense of pride in place through the depressed post war era.

Johnny always recognised the invaluable contribution to his success of his great personal friend, coach and mentor Patsy O’Brien, who masterminded many of the great successes of Carrigtwohill AC in this era. He also supervised all the physical training. Patsy was ahead of his time and very well read on modern training methods. Johnny recalled with a smile the Cork County cross-country team championship of 1955. “Patsy read somewhere that altitude training was good for building up stamina, so he decided to give it a go. The week before the race the team drove to Leamlara to do their physical training. As it was uphill all the way from Carrig, Patsy figured Leamlara was as near to altitude as you could get.” He was right as the Carrig team won the title by the narrowest of margins.

Johnny’s love for sport in Carrig never diminished and there was no prouder Carrig man when Carrig defied all the odds to win the County Senior Hurling Title in 2011, for the first time in 93 years, a feat which eluded many great teams in his lifetime. He also gave dedicated service to the local Point-to-Point committee over many years, as a diligent steward on race day.

Competitive Instinct

Although Johnny was as modest and gentle a human being as you could meet, once on the racetrack a fiercely competitive streak took over. Cross country races are run over rough terrain where walls and ditches are natural obstacles to be surmounted. It was the survival of the fittest and a battle of wits. Any legitimate advantage you could take was fair game. He recalled, with a twinkle in his eye, one particular title race which he won. He was in the lead coming to the last fence but could hear a number of challengers closing behind. He put his hand on a projecting stone to help him over the final ditch but realised it was loose and would come away if pressure was applied. With split second thinking he left it in place and scrambled over the wall. When he looked behind he smiled, the next runner hadn’t been so observant, grabbed the loose stone and fell backwards knocking all the other challengers, while Johnny strode to victory. You just love it when a plan comes together!

Family Man

As the 1950’s drew to a close, so also did Johnny’s distinguished athletics career. By now Pauline was the love of his life and after their marriage, his dedication to family life was his abiding priority, as Mary, John Joe, Kathleen and Paul and all his beloved grand children Jack, Niall and Colm will attest. Johnny and Pauline suffered the dreadful heartbreak of losing Michael, in a tragic accident, as a young boy. A lifelong devotion to their faith gave them the strength to carry on at that time. When Pauline passed away less than a week after Johnny, they were once more reunited. One suspects he just waited at the pearly gates to escort her to their rightful place in the next life. May they rest in peace.

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