First Published December 2021
(Main Interview First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2019)
IN MEMORY OF OFFALY’S MAN FOR ALL OCCASIONS
Like so many, I was stunned by the sad and sudden passing of P.J. MOLLOY last week. A young man, seldom without a smile, always with a few minutes for a chat, a well-known face and much-loved character around Tullamore, and indeed – thanks to his love of music and Offaly GAA – far further afield as well.
The thought that we won’t be running into him again at a concert in the Tullamore Court Hotel, or an event at The Well – to be honest – it hasn’t sunk in yet. I write that as someone who moves mainly in the world of music, but I’m full sure that anyone who knew P.J. through his love and support for Offaly’s football, hurling, and camogie teams – and of GAA in general – will feel the exact same way.
To simply say that P.J. loved music wouldn’t do him justice. It was, I believe, one of the things that he lived for. And he had a lovable, cheeky, rogue-like way of making himself a part of things, so much so that he was pretty much an official part of the Irish country scene himself, as much as any artist could claim to be. If, as an artist, you had P.J. looking for a selfie with you, you’d arrived. And once P.J. knew you, he wouldn’t forget you. I can still remember his excitement at Alex Roe’s journey to the final of Glór Tíre, and how much he enjoyed those ‘live’ shows down at The Quays in Galway. And he’d been the same way a few years before when John Molloy also did the midlands proud on the same show.
And, if you take a close look at the cover of Colin Kenny’s latest release, Rockin’ and Rollin’, you’ll see that it’s P.J. right there in the middle of the scene, captured forever on the dancefloor of The Cherry Tree in Birr supporting Colin and a host of other country artists at a charity event a few years back.
Two Offaly lads, you see – Alex and Colin – so P.J. wouldn’t let them down. And what his support of John – a Westmeath man by God’s grace – proved, was that if P.J. found a place for you in his heart or in his life, even the colours of your jersey wouldn’t get in the way of that. And while P.J. had a soft-spot for many of Irish country’s female stars, he was never shy about telling anyone that Olivia Douglas held a place all of her own in his affections. An Offaly lass, you see, so P.J. was always on Olivia’s team, too.
But Alex, Colin, John, and Olivia are just a few names on a long, long list of artists and people – from near and far – who P.J. would always find time for, a list too long to even begin and probably impossible to bring to a close.
But this week, as P.J’s story on this earth came to a close, how proud he would have been to know that Alex, Colin, John, Olivia – and the immensely talented Majella Killeen – took the time not just to be there to bid him farewell, but to sing him into the next life. Music brought a smile to his face so many times throughout his life, so it was only fitting that it was such a beautiful part of his funeral service in his native Walsh Island, too, both in the church and at his graveside. I have no doubt that P.J. was somehow looking on, and smiling brightly…
And, God knows, P.J. himself brought smiles and laughter to so many different nights, in so many different places over the years. What a way to live, and what a way to be remembered.
If P.J’s passing has any lesson in it, it’s that life is short. Too short sometimes. We need to sing while we can. That’s what he did. And that’s what he’d want us all to do now, and in the days, the months, and the years to come when we remember him.
I had the pleasure of interviewing P.J. for a special feature in the 2019 edition of the Tullamore Annual (published by the Tullamore Lions’ Club). And in P.J’s memory, I’ve decided to share that chat here in OTRT today…
First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2019
If you don’t know who P.J. Molloy is, that immediately tells us something about you. For one thing, you’re obviously not a G.A.A. fan, and definitely not an Offaly G.A.A. fan. And for another thing, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re not on Facebook. You see, if you’re even remotely aware of anything to do with the G.A.A. in the Faithful County, then you would most definitely have heard of , seen – or probably had a pint with at some stage – the bold P.J!
Wherever there’s an Offaly team in action, you’ll see and hear P.J. somewhere in the crowd, cheering the team on as if his own life depended on the result. And even if there isn’t an Offaly team involved, the chances are P.J. will still be there, proud as punch in his Offaly jersey, almost like an unofficial ambassador of sorts!
But if the G.A.A. fills up his days, then it’s all about a sing-song when night arrives. And P.J. is never one to shy away from his turn when it comes. And if there’s an audience, all the better. And the bigger the better. And if there’s no audience? Well there’s always Facebook ‘live’, and a concert straight from P.J’s kitchen or bedroom. And sure you’d never know who’d be listening in, as P.J. discovered last year!
When I sat down for a chat with Offaly’s man for all occasions, we began by talking about where P.J’s love of all things G.A.A. comes from…
“Well, it’s from coming from Walsh Island, which is the heart of Offaly football really. So I was brought up with football from a very young age, going to matches when I was seven or eight. And the love that started then hasn’t left me since.”
P.J. is often affectionately referred to as Offaly’s number-one supporter, how does he feel about that?
“Well I suppose there’s a lot of people who could be called Offaly’s number-one supporter, because there’s a lot of great supporters out there, all over Offaly. But if anyone wants to call me the number-one, then I suppose that’s what I am [laughs]. But I’m happy enough just goin’ to matches. I’m not looking for any attention. I just love everything that’s Offaly.”
But when the attention comes his way, does he enjoy it?
“Ah, sure we all do, don’t we, like! [laughs]’
Taking everything into account, all of the big matches, occasions, and events that P.J. has been involved with in some way, what’s been the most memorable highlight for him so far?
“Probably singing for Jennifer Byrne at her Rose of Tralee homecoming. That has to be one of the highlights for a good few years! Jennifer won the Rose of Tralee, as you know, and the night she won I made a ‘live’ video [on Facebook], tryin’ to sing! I won’t say I was very good, but I tried [laughs]. I sang the Rose of Tralee and the Offaly Rover, and it was shared all over Offaly News and everywhere. And sure didn’t Jennifer see it herself, too. So she asked me would I sing both songs for her in Ballinahoun, and I said I would. So that’s one of the highlights of the career, so far anyway! [laughs].”
Was he nervous singing for Jennifer at her homecoming?
“A little bit, yeah. But we still gave it a good shot anyway. It mightn’t have sounded too great, but we did it!”
To narrow it down to just sporting moments, what was the one that made it hardest to keep his heart in his chest?
“Probably Ireland winning the Grand Slam in rugby, that has to be one of the best moments, EVER, the last one, against England in Twickenham on Paddy’s Day. That was brilliant. God was Irish that day anyway! [laughs]. And Offaly winning their All-Ireland in ’98, and ’94, which I can just about remember. But definitely ’98. I wasn’t there at the final, unfortunately, but I was at the homecoming. That was a good night! [laughs]. Unfortunately I’ve yet to be at an Offaly senior football or hurling match that’s an All-Ireland final, but that’ll change. We’ll be back in an All-Ireland someday.”
When I asked P.J. about who he considered to be the best hurlers and footballers in the country, his response was as much a declaration of loyalty and a demonstration of his passion for the cause as it was an answer…
“I’m not going to make that call for Offaly hurlers or footballers, because I have great time for them all. And everybody, all of them, are equal on my playing field, so they are. But looking countrywide, Joe Canning has to be up there. And Gearoid McInerney, another great hurler.”
His passion for hurling was evident again in his answer to my next question. When I asked him what it was about Joe Canning that seems to make him such a special player, without even pausing for breath, to think, or to blink, P.J. relived the moment that made Joe stand out in his eyes…
“His ability to take scores under pressure. I think back to last year and the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipp, out under the Cusack Stand, straight over the bar from about sixty-five yards out. One of the best scores I’ve ever seen. Just brilliant. I have my few selfies with Joe, too, and I have his autograph as well. Somewhere!”
P.J. doesn’t just like to meet as many famous faces as he can, he likes to get his own face into a picture with those famous faces! And at this stage, I remarked that he must have selfies with nearly everyone except the president…
“Oh yeah! Well, that’ll be the next one you see. Actually, I have one with Michael D, come to think of it! [laughs]. So Donald Trump now might be the next one!”
While the G.A.A. is undeniably the love of his life when it comes to sport, if you see him out and about in a soccer jersey it’s probably going to be that of the blue half of Merseyside, Everton. P.J. explained his soft spot for the Toffees…
“Yeah, I am, not that we have too much to shout about. I actually don’t know how I became an Everton supporter, to be honest. I was jumping all over the place once, I was even a Swindon Town fan for a while. But I eventually settled with Everton. I’d be happy with a top-ten finish this season, but it’s hard to know. But I won’t lose much sleep over them, it’s G.A.A. all the way for me.”
After from selfies, jerseys are probably the next things that P.J. is famous for.
“I have…wait ’til I think now…eighty-eight jerseys, between soccer, rugby, football, everything. Mostly G.A.A. There’s a few strange ones in there now, that people mightn’t recognise the look of! Bantry Blues is one example. There’s a few that wouldn’t be too well known at all. Anywhere I go, I buy a jersey. I’m always on the hunt for them. I probably have eight or nine Offaly jerseys at this stage, and that’s not counting clubs in Offaly. I have probably twelve or fourteen of those.”
But does he have a favourite? He surely does.
“Dan Currams sent me his Offaly jersey from when he captained Offaly, for my 30th birthday. And it was signed by Dan, too. That’s one of my prized possessions now, to be honest. It was a lovely thing to do. There’s a few more like that. I have a Rhode jersey signed by all the Rhode lads, I have an ’82 jersey signed by eight or nine of that team as well.”
It was the day before the All-Ireland hurling final when we spoke, so the hurling season was just about to reach its climax. And naturally, with P.J. right there in the middle of it all. But how many matches would he actually get to each year?
“Let’s see, tomorrow is the All-Ireland final, so that’ll be fifty matches so far for this year. I go to club, county, minor, ladies, everything. Basically, from January to September I’ll be at G.A.A. matches, if not every weekend then every second week. I went to eighty-nine (yes, he said 89!!!) one year, and still couldn’t get an All-Ireland final ticket. Every week a match! Sometimes two or three a week! And I still couldn’t get a ticket for Clare against Cork, the first game. But I wrote off to the President of the G.A.A. and duly got an offer of a ticket for the replay. I still had to pay for it, mind! [laughs]. But I didn’t mind that. At least I was going to be there.”
So when he goes to something like the All-Ireland final, when Offaly aren’t involved, is he going along to support one of the other teams or just to enjoy the atmosphere and the experience of being there?
“I’d like to see Limerick win it tomorrow, because they haven’t since ’73. Galway won it last year. Now, I wouldn’t begrudge either team an All-Ireland, but just for the sake of hurling, I’d like to see Limerick win it. And to be honest, I think they have the players to win it as well. I’ll be up there for the atmosphere anyway, in my Offaly jersey on the Hill! [laughs].”
As a matter of interest, I wondered was there anyone who P.J. would really love to meet still, but hasn’t managed to cross paths with to date?
“There’s probably a couple. The likes of D.J. Carey, I haven’t met him yet now. Eddie Keher, as well.”
Out of everyone who P.J. has managed to nab for a selfie, who was he the most nervous about asking for one?
“I think Jennifer Byrne! I met her first the night of the Offaly Rose selection, and we got a photo on that night. Then she won the Rose of Tralee itself, so I was fairly nervous asking for another. She wasn’t goin’ to say no, like, I know that [laughs], she’s too nice. But I was still nervous. And with Michael D., too, I suppose. Maybe it will be the Pope next, if I can corner him in Knock! [laughs].”
Now, being a man who takes in so many matches each year, P.J. is probably as qualified as anyone to throw out some ideas about what might be done to improve the games. So, if it was in his power to do so, what changes would P.J. make to how hurling and football are played at the moment?
“Oh scrap that black card! I don’t think there’s any need for it. If you’re gonna be sent-off, you should be sent-off. But with a black card you’re allowed to bring someone back on. It doesn’t make any sense. And I’d cut out this short passing altogether, too. Just kick the ball, lads! Get it into the forwards and hope for the best. And leave hurling the way it is, cos’ there’s nothing wrong with hurling!”
The other big love in P.J’s life – and it might even be the equal of the G.A.A. in his heart – is country music…
“I started to listen to it when I was young, Big Ed, Country Roads on Radio 3, if you remember him? Big Tom was one of the best singers ever, I saw him ‘live’ two or three times. And I’m a big fan of Mike Denver as well, and Lisa McHugh, and our own Olivia Douglas, of course! There’s very few of them I don’t have selfies with, either [laughs]. I love goin’ out to The Well in Moate for a dance, or to the Ballymore Festival each year. Anywhere you can get an aul’ jive goin’! And Sabrina Fallon, Colin Kenny too, and Alex Roe, there’s a lot of great artists out there these days. Country music is just the heartbeat of Ireland really. Like, I don’t see any conversations in night-clubs, because you can’t hear a thing anyone is sayin’! So where’s the point in even being there? Country is the music a lot of us would have grown up with. Now, I don’t mean to sound like I’m eighty or anything [laughs]. But it was country music. It wasn’t rock, or any of that feckin’ night-club stuff.”
As we came to the end of our chat, I decided to put P.J. on the spot for the following day’s clash between Galway and Limerick, and then the Dublin and Tyrone battle for Sam. And I might be paying a bit more attention to his predictions in the future!
“I’m gonna say Limerick. They have a savage bench to bring in, Dowling, Casey, and two or three more great players. So yeah, it’s Limerick for Liam for me. By two or three points only, I’d say. It’ll be close. And Galway will win the minor, they’ll beat Kilkenny. And there’s not even any point in asking about the football. Dublin will win that by about ten points!”
~ Rest in peace, P.J…you’ll be missed by many…and fondly remembered by all who knew you well.