“Is that ‘The Hesh’ singing?” asked an elderly man in SS Peter and Paul’s Cemetery, Portlaoise, last Wednesday (October 4).
In fact, it was a recording of Frank Sinatra, rendering his classic ‘I did it My Way’—a philosophy that was also embraced by Joe (‘Hesh’) McCormack.
His family played the song as their adored dad, granddad and great-granddad was laid to rest beside his beloved wife Theresa.
The elderly man’s question was understandable, because in his day Joe McCormack sang many a song and played many a tune on his accordion.
As Fr Tom O’Connor recited the graveside prayers, a gentle rain began to fall on his listeners, many of whom Joe had tried to help during his political career.
Tears fell, too, but mixed with sadness was joy at the memory of a personality who in his 83 years had brought so much colour and vivacity to his native Portlaoise and far beyond.
Earlier, at his Requiem Mass in SS Peter and Paul’s Church, the offertory gifts symbolized Joe’s life.
These included a hurley and Laois jersey, a family photograph, a copy of the Irish constitution, the Irish Independent newspaper, an election poster, an accordion, a Leeds Utd jersey and, perhaps most poignantly of all, a collar belonging to his dog Lucky.
Fr David Vard CC, who along with Frs Paddy Byrne and Paddy O’Reilly celebrated the Mass, spoke of Joe McCormack’s commitment to the downtrodden.
A peacemaker, he had loved his family, loved his wife, loved his town. The love of Portlaoise and Laois was with Joe until the very end.
Fr Vard added: “Today we are celebrating the life that he gave to others. I would say he’s probably up there already, arguing for us down here.”
“His love of his family, his late wife Theresa, sport, Portlaoise and Laois was with him to the very end, Fr Vard said. He fought for others and one can imagine him arguing with God for those down here.
“He also showed great respect for those he argued with and always wanted the best for this town. Even at one stage an airport. It might have seemed mad at the time, but it would certainly be handy now, with all the traffic.”
Teresa King, his granddaughter, told the congregation of Joe’s commitment to his family. Describing him as a lovely and generous man, she ended her tribute by reciting one of his poems, ‘Death, the final victory.’
She read a poem of his titled 'Death the final victory'
'Lay me down in my resting place
That place of love and grace were i have often strayed
To pray for friends therein laid
My dear beloved friends.
It has been a long and hard race
Now its time to take my place
In victory I come to you
Lay me down in my resting place
Where I have so longed to be
With you my beloved friends for all eternity
I did my best for all to see
I left it behind as a legacy
And now I can do no more you see
In victory I come to join you
Lay me down in my resting place
In my native land forever
I hope that I will rest in peace after my great endeavour
I loved my friends and expecially the poor
I could not do very much more
They are waiting for me at heavens door
In victory i come to you
Lay me down in my resting place
With God's help and through his grace
My soul will go to a better place
To a beautiful place called heaven
I hope to see my beloved poor friends
In the splendour of all that is holy
If I am so deserving
Then in victory I come to join you'
Larry, his son, said Joe was a good man No-one could have asked for a better father, and he had made the family so proud when he was elected Portlaoise’s first ever Mayor.
Larry noted his love of and pride in family. “There was only one Hesh and we were proud to call him father,” he said.
Joe McCormack, who resided at Borris Court, died on October 2. He had been unwell for some time.
Mourning him are his children PJ, Ann, Mag, Larry, Martin, Carmel, Veronica, Anthony, Mary and Thomas; brothers Jimmy and
Colm; sisters Mary and Theresa; grandchildren and great grandchildren; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law; sons-in-law and daughters-in-law; nephews and nieces; relatives and friends.
What the politicans said
Minister Charlie Flanagan, and TDs Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley paid tribute.
The Minister for Justice and Equality told the Leinster Express that himself and his father Oliver J Flanagan had both been friends with the former town Mayor of Portlaoise.
“I would like to pay tribute to Joe Hesh McCormack who I knew all my life. He was a great character and was an old style politician. He spent all his life fighting for better conditions for the poor, vulnerable and underprivileged, not only in Portlaoise but for the county of Laois.
“He highlighted many issues and brought many to the attention of the Government.
“I enjoyed old style political banter with the Hesh but he was never a man to hold grudges.
“After a meeting the Hesh was always first up to say 'nothing personal' and we got on with our business. I enjoyed him - we were friends,” he said.
The Mountmellick native concluded by remarking on how proud the Hesh was to be from Portlaoise.
“He was a townie and very proud of it. He wore it on his sleeve,” said Minister Flanagan.
Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley also served alongside the former Mayor.
“I served on Portlaoise Town Council with Joe 'Hesh' McCormack up to 2004. Joe was a passionate public representative and a colourful character.
“He always held firmly to his position on any issue, in particular on religious matters. Hesh is part of a well respected Portlaoise family and I extend my deepest sympathy to them on his passing,” said the Sinn Féin TD.
Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said Joe McCormack will be sadly missed by his large family and all in Portlaoise town.
“Joe was a well known colourful character who was a major part of life in Portlaoise town throughout his life.
“He had some great sayings which will live on long after his death and he will be remembered and spoken about fondly by all who knew him personally, and those who knew him by reputation for many years to come.
“He was a gentleman and part of the fabric of the town and will be sadly missed,” he said.
Tributes have been paid to the late Joe 'Hesh' McCormack by the chairs of Laois County Council and the Portlaoise Municipal District.
Portlaoise does not have a Mayoral position anymore but the equivalent is the Portlaoise Municipal District Cathaoirleach, Cllr Mary Sweeney.
She paid tribute to her predecessor on behalf of her colleagues on the Municipal District.
“I wish to extend my sympathies on the death of Joe McCormack, he was a larger than life character, a councillor who gave his energy and time to help the people who he represented in this area. He gave many very memorable public rallies which were always hugely attended.
“He was also a genuinely nice man who, along with his late wife, reared a large family.
“He was an active politician in the area who made an awful lot of practical sense - he was a man of the people.
“I would like to offer my sympathies to his family on behalf of the Portlaoise Municipal District,” said the Fine Gael councillor.
Cllr Padraig Fleming is the Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council. The Fianna Fáil councillor told the Leinster Express he knew Hesh McCormack from local and national politics.
“I was very sorry to hear of his passing, and I send my sympathies to his family. I got to know him when I was Director of Elections for Fianna Fáil in the 1980s, when he contested locally and nationally. He was a man of strong opinions, and he worked hard for the people.
“He was a charismatic kind of guy, a great speaker who was aware of all the big issues. He added great humour to his speeches with his turn of phrase.
“He had plenty to say, a bright intelligent man and a good public representative,” he said.