This is not a piece I ever wanted to pen. On Sunday last, 31 st March, we lost Bernard Fitzgibbon the president and ex-chairman of the Tyneside Irish Centre. He went peacefully during his sleep and is now no doubt reunited with his beloved wife, Doreen, and other members of his large family in a Tipperary heaven.
Born in the shadow of the Galtee mountains, Barney came over to Manchester at a young age and by the 1970’s was establishing his civil engineering business in Newcastle having moved up this way for work with his late brother Maurice.
He gave employment and “put bread on the table” for dozens of lads coming to the North East on contracts for local authorities and the utility firms. His stories of those days were legion and no doubt will be retold a few times yet. He remained engrossed with the industry and I recall his relishing Ultan Cowley’s lecture on “The Men who Built Britain”. He couldn’t understand how I could have a university degree and didn’t know the difference between green Murphy and grey Murphy. His wealth of business experience was invaluable to me when we worked together as chairman and secretary of the Irish Centre 2006-2016.
The fact we are still there with a sound roof, a lift and proper drains and services is mainly due to him. He was also a wonderful ambassador for the centre and for the Irish community and developed a huge network of friends throughout the UK and Ireland. He was a stalwart patriot but hated extremism or sectarianism: he had family in the North of Ireland too. As Anglo-Irish relations recovered in the last ten years, he was delighted to represent us at the Embassy in London and to meet President Higgins and the Queen herself on an historic visit to Buckingham Palace.
Barney never forgot his home in Tipperary and his passion for the GAA and love of hurling remained as strong as ever. We never ventured up the slopes of Slievenamon, but together we did visit his old haunts in Cahir, Ballyporeen, Mitchelstown and Clonmel. He knew and loved every inch of the place and its history and people. But then he also knew every highway and byway in Newcastle and Northumberland. Indeed everywhere we went he met people who were proud to call him their friend. I am glad to think I was also one of those.
Requiem Mass in Sacred Heart RC Church, North Gosforth on Monday 15th April at 1pm. Meeting afterwards at the Tyneside Irish Centre, Newcastle.