It is with deep regret and sadness that we announce the death of our joint Vice - President Mick Reilly. He had been closely invloved with the Club at all levels over many years. The Club would like to extend our sincere and deepest sympathy to his family and friends. May he rest in peace.
NO ORDINARY MAN
In conversation with Tiernan Dolan...
Growing up in Longford in the 1950s and 60s was an ordinary and predictable affair.
Fair Days, the coming of the Circus to the Fair Green and Longford Town playing at the Greyhound Track provided much of the local excitement. For the dreamers amongst us, we eagerly awaited the Victor or 64 page Commando comics from Donlons of Dublin St.,or Stranges of Ballymahon St. As we read the heroic and exaggerated exploits of those comic superheroes who saved Longford from Hitler, little did we realise that a real life living soldier from those times lived a quiet life amongst us. His name Mick “Spiv” Reilly.
Mick had been serving his time as a bicycle mechanic in Pearse's Garage-they had a shop on Main St., and after two years, Mickey Donlon, Abbeycartron, the head mechanic could send you down to the main garage. In those days, the whole town used bicycles and you could hire them from Hackett's of Water St., or Dennistons. The fee was two days for a shilling and many would head out to Tarmon for a swim.
In the early 1940s when the war was at its worst, Mick and a Hackett man took the bus to Cavan and an other bus then to Omagh where he signed up to join the Britsh Army, not to save the world but simply for the money. After that,the time flew past taken up with 6 weeks of intensive basic and being moved from Omagh to Belfast , then Lincoln and Great Yarmouth and eventually by truck to Scotland.
From Scotland Mick sailed on the troop ship, Orion to Algiers. The seas were rough and he fell out of his bunk many's the time. The ship was sunk on its return trip with the loss of all on board. Coming under intense fire from diving enemy planes which were “ spitting out bullets a mile a minute”. It was at times like that ,that Longford would flash into his mind. “You'd be having regrets if you were by yourself but if you were with a crowd of lads, you'd be OK”.
When Mick's first Battalion the Sheerwood Foresters was broken up, he joined the 5th Northamptonshire Regiment. Continuously on the move af a frantic pace, he moved from Algiers to Egypt and then to Tripoli where preparations were being made for the invasion of Sicily.From the intense heat of north Africa, Mick was plunged into the even more intense heat of white hot battle.
“The Germans and Italians were firing at us in every shape and form as we kept our heads down in the landing craft. I thought we'd be safe when we hit the beaches but the bullets still came and believe me many were killed there. At times you'd be scared but you didn't have much time for thinking. But I lost a terrible amount of friends at that place and you'd miss them terribly . In all , it took us six weeks to take Sicily. We had only bread and water and you slept wherever you lay your head”.
But resting was out of the question and following Sicily, they headed for Italy. One memory that has stood out for Mick is the Battle of Monte Cassino which lasted from mid January to Mid May 1944.Suffice to say that it was a horrible and bloody affair with a massive loss of life. Mick recalls “that was the worst in Italy, the armour and guns were unbelievable. I went missing in action there and ended up with the artillery group. I was reported missing, presumed dead. Back in Longford, Fr Wall prayed from the pulpit for me. My poor mother was heartbroken. My father had served in the 1914-18 war and he understood but it really hit her. But later after I made it home to Longford , the same priest married us in the Cathedral in 1948....that was a bit of a laugh alright !!!”
The memories now come flooding from the quiet Longford man; there was Rome where he and a few fellow Catholics received royal tratment in the Vatican, escorting mail trains to France, there was the unbridled joy at the end of the war and his part in liberating fellow comrades from Prisoner of War camps, serving in the army of occupation in Austria and the joker who ran up the Russian flag , causing the locals to flee in panic and the subsequent court martial of that same joker.
Mick was demobbed in Manchester and came straight home to Longford where his mother waiting. Sadly she passed away shortly afterwards. Mick never returned to England and never had any desire despite numerous offers. He joined Longford County Council and became actively involved with Longford Town and served both outfits with distinction. Mick is the present joint Vice President of Longford Town FC.
One memory Mick holds dear is a young Fr Kelliher collecting lost balls for De Town when they played at Abbeycartron and also when Fr Kelliher served as ball boy at an important match against Derry City.He now looks forward to having the former ball boy call on the First Friday on every month.
It speaks volumes of the man when Mick says that he never, ever experienced any negative attitudes to his serving in the British Army. Indeed former members of the Irish Army paid Mick the highest honour possible, when they helped him from his wheel chair and stood shoulder to shoulder and soldier to soldier as he placed a wreath at the war memorial on the Market Square on the 11th of November last year.
It was a moving and emotional moment for all present and a fitting tribute to an extraordinary Longford man.
And we, as children thought our heroes existed only in comics......