It was the end of an era recently as the community came together to pay their final respects to the late Joe Byrne Snr of Deanscurragh, Longford town. Aged 92, he was well known throughout the county from his time as an ambulance driver for 27 years.
Joe was born in Ballagh, Newtownforbes in May 1925 and was one of John Joseph and Ellen (nee Quinn) Byrne’s three children. Predeceased by his brother, John and sister, Teresa, he was the last of that generation of the Byrne family.
He enjoyed a carefree childhood and delighted in the rural landscape but from an early age was keenly interested in cars and all things mechanical. At 16 years of age he was delighted to take up his apprenticeship with the old WC Pearse garage on Richmond St and so began his working life.
A good humoured and witty man who made friends easily there was a change of career for Joe then some years later when he joined the famed Breaden’s bakery as a van delivery and salesman. It was the perfect role for him out and about and meeting people.
Joe’s life changed for the better when he met local woman, Elizabeth Toher in 1951. They got on very well and so began a relationship that saw them married in 1955 and for the next 62 years they were rarely apart. One rarely saw one without the other. They lived first on Dublin St and it was a boisterous house to say the least as their four sons, Joe Jnr, Patrick, Michael and James, started to find their feet and voices.
It was a very close knit family and both Joe Snr and Elizabeth went out of their way for their children. And as the years went on the couple were delighted to welcome eleven grandchildren and six great grandchildren into the family. Joe delighted in the company of young people and loved to hear the tales or adventure and woe from the grandchildren. He was fiercely proud of them all as they made their way in the world and would have been delighted to see them all play such a prominent role in his funeral mass.
Another change in career came for Joe when he decided to join the new Midlands Health Board ambulance service. Again he was the perfect candidate for the job. He knew the roads but best of all he knew the people and on so many occasions he was a reassuring presence for families and patients as they made their way to hospital.
His grand-daughter, Aisling Byrne, delivered a wonderful eulogy for her late grand-father at his funeral mass and touched on the huge esteem in which Joe was held from his time with the ambulance service. He brought his own unique sense of humour to the role and one story in particular best exemplified that. There was one Longford town man who was prone to drinking a little too much and he then tended to ‘collapse’ so that the ambulance could bring him home.
Usually the emergency calls came well into the night and usually after Joe Byrne had gone to bed. Well the call duly came through one night but Joe had had enough and hatched a plan. Whilst the man was lying prostrate on the ground, Joe simply told the nurse: “There’s no point going to the hospital with this lad. We’ll go straight to the morgue.” With that the man was up and walking and he never sought another lift home with the ambulance!
When Joe was with the ambulance service telephones were still relatively few in the country. On another occasion he took a woman from Aughnacliffe to hospital in Mullingar and she was immediately referred to one of the Dublin hospitals. Like all Irish mothers she was more concerned however for her family at home and was keen to get word back to them. That evening after Joe Byrne had returned the ambulance to the base in Longford, he got into his own car and went out to Aughnacliffe to update her family on the woman’s condition. It is a story that reflected many of the great characteristics of the late Joe Byrne.
He enjoyed the simple things in life and in latter years that was often a drive in the car with Elizabeth for the paper or an ice cream cone. He loved Newtownforbes, he loved Longford and its people and he was fiercely pound of where he came from.