Jack Charlton’s passing touched the hearts of everybody in Ireland.
We embraced Charlton. Not because of the never-before-seen heights he reached with the Republic of Ireland but for his blue-collar attitude that resonated with so many.
While his passing touched so many in Ireland, the people of Ballina will have felt the pain of Big Jack’s passing more than most.
Charlton was a homeowner and frequent visitor to the county Mayo town alongside his wife, Pat. His association with the town goes back as far as the late-1980s with the former Leeds defender, a lover of the salmon-rich waters associated with fishing in the town.
Mayo GAA legend David Brady remembers walking two miles from his home just to meet the then Ireland manager. According to Brady, Charlton was seen as a god in Ballina to begin with before eventually being accepted as a member of the community.
“We are very proud of the history we had and the relationship we had with Jack from a Ballina perspective.
“Once the rumour started that Jack Charlton was in town, I remember walking two miles from my house up the town to get a look at Jack after Euro 88, Italia 90. But he was god in Ballina when he came first. He soon turned into Jack. He was accepted as one of us. It was lovely to see the way he embraced Ballina but the way Ballina embraced him.”
A local legend himself in the town, Brady regaled a story of how he and Mayo great Liam McHale once raced pigs with Jack whilst on his yearly trip to the Ballina Salmon Festival.
“From meeting him first hand, I did race pigs with him down the Ballina Salmon Festival after a Connacht final.
“Myself and Liam McHale, we were supposed to be racing the pigs but they raced us more. I think it was a Monday or Tuesday night.”
However, it wasn’t racing pigs that sticks out in Brady’s mind when it comes to Charlton’s association with the town.
What sticks out in Brady’s mind is the sight of the towering figure celebrating with locals on the night that Ballina Stephenites finally scaled the mountain of club football to win an All-Ireland title.
“What happened with Jack, the memory that came to me straight away was he was outside Moy Heights.
“We were coming back from the All-Ireland club final. We stopped briefly and there was Big Jack across from the railway station at the entrance to where he lived. With hundreds of other people, but Big Jack being 6’6, with the peak cap waving the flag. He felt he was part of Ballina. He was Ballina. This was the local GAA team coming home after winning the All-Ireland.
“I do remember on the bus we were going, sweet mother of Christ. It was an epiphany to say there is Jack Charlton now waving at us with a big happy head on him. A beaming smile, waving a flag, we are the ones he is welcoming home after all the memories we had as young fellas.
“We wouldn’t be in Dublin as such but we saw it on television and the news for Italia 90 and Euro 88. It was lovely. Jack was Jack then. He’d be in the local pub having his pint. He’d be down where I lived going trout fishing.
“He would be fishing uptown in the rich pool. It was nice. I think Ballina did very well in recognising the part he played as Jack Charlton and as a member of the communities as well.”
Just days after his passing, the Ballina community bound together to unveil a large-scale mural commemorating Charlton.
The Ballina Stephenites All-Ireland winner believes it’s important for the community to recognise and capitalise on what the town meant to Charlton.
“It was massive, yeah. I don’t know really, who drew it or who initiated or who thought of it. Again, that’s not the important thing but we will mark it and again it’s good.
“It’s good for Ballina to be associated with Jack Charlton. A man from the northeast of England. A World Cup winner, you know what, it could be good for tourism. It could be the Jack Charlton Salmon Festival in years to come.
“You’ve got to take the positives out of it from the community and yes, I think we should develop it and also capitalise on what Ballina meant for Jack Charlton.”
One such method of Ballina capitalizing on Jack Charlton’s contribution has been the erection of a statue in his honour.
Brady believes that would be a lovely testament to a man who embraced Ballina and vice-versa.
“Well look, if the man lived there, he was part of our community. It would be a dear enough statue if you want to have it six foot six or six foot seven.
“What I think it would be, it’d be a lovely, lovely testament to the way he embraced Ballina and the way that Ballina embraced Jack Charlton.”