*Gabriel Moylan aka The Champ. Photograph: Chris Copley

MEMORIES AND TALES have been told across the county of Clare since word broke on Friday morning of the death of a true character, Gabriel Moylan known to the masses as ‘Champ’.

Aged 78, Gabriel lived in Clarecastle his entire life. He was infamous to generations as the man who walked in shorts from his home to the town of Ennis with a yellow jacket on and umbrella in his hand.

This was a common sight from the end of February to the start of October, what is not well known is the fact that he had multiple yellow jackets rather than adorning the same one as it was among his favourite colours. His journeys in either direction were often interrupted by the many passing motorists stopping to salute the local celebrity.

Multiple conversations began with news of his death while WhatsApp groups have seen a flurry of notifications ensuing as the county came to terms with the loss of one of its true characters.

Educated at Clarecastle NS, he then attended Ennis Community College. He worked in Tesco as both a cleaner and security guard for several years before his retirement.

He was the youngest of seven children and is survived by his brother Eugene and is predeceased by brothers Pascal, Michael-Joe, and Frankie and his sisters Mary and Breda. Although he had no children from a former marriage, he treated his thirteen nieces and nephews as if they were his own children.

A love of the GAA was particularly evident with Gabriel regularly spotted in Cusack Park by the Francis Street entrance. A Clare jersey has hung from the top window of his house at St Joseph’s Terrace for some time with hurling one of the first discussed items when a conversation would begin with ‘The Champ’.

Keen to stay abreast of all things happening within the county, Gabriel read The Clare Echo every week while a copy of Anthony Daly’s autobiography was placed on the coffee table in his sitting room.

Admitted to University Hospital Limerick (UHL) on Friday last, Gabriel’s health rapidly deteriorated since then. A combination of different health issues had seen his health decline in the past year.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Gabriel’s nephew Martin McNamara detailed the pride he had at being The Champ’s nephew. “He was a very proud Clarecastle and Clare man. He was a local character, the thing is the local characters like him are a dying breed, they don’t really exist anymore and he was one of the last characters around”.

Hurling was one of his main loves, Martin explained. “He had a huge interest in two things in life, Clare GAA and the Clarecastle Magpies. He fundraised heavily for Clarecastle in the 1980s and 1990s. He kept up with what was happening in the club and was aware of all the different young fellas coming through the ranks”.

Indeed while lying in his bed at UHL, Gabriel watched the meeting of Clare versus Limerick in the Munster minor hurling championship.

Local life was important to The Champ. “He had a huge love for the Magpies, ‘Up the Magpies’ was one of his famous lines,” Martin recalled. He noted how his uncle struck a chord with different generations and pointed to the example of a Facebook page which was set up in his honour in recent years, the amount of people that looked to take selfies with him and the winner of a fancy dress competition in the past five years being an individual who dressed in shorts and a yellow jacket.

“He was a bit of a celebrity around the town,” Martin acknowledged. He said that people would have noticed Gabriel was less visible around Ennis with declining health over the past year. “He was an avid town goer, he used to go to town every day”. Such was his love for a trip to Ennis, Gabriel would rely on a taxi to get him to town where he would often have his lunch most days, when his days of walking became less common.

Although he supported many of the businesses across town, Gabriel was a regular to establishments such as The Market Bar and Restaurant, Café Aroma and Insomnia and his on his way he would be sure to salute and engage with the public. “All the people dealing with him treated him with a lot of respect, they treated him very well,” Martin said.

Other forms of nourishment came from the Meals on Wheels service operated by Obair in Newmarket-on-Fergus. Volunteers state that Gabriel was one of the most popular service users and he was sure to brighten their day, regardless of the weather. “That was a vital piece of contact for him. We are very grateful for what they do, they don’t just provide a meal, they provide interaction and sometimes it was only human engagement he might have had when it wasn’t always possible for someone to visit him on particular days, that was very reassuring to us,” his nephew added.

Locals in Clarecastle would have recognised that Martin was particularly close to his uncle. “I looked out for him on a daily and weekly basis, I would have looked after the house and I looked out for him. He was my uncle, it’s what my mother would have expected any of us to do because he was her brother, I would have done what any family member would have done. He was a gentleman who caused no harm to anybody”.

That Gabriel would be remembered in the pages of the local newspaper that he looked forward to reading each week would be a source of pride, Martin flagged. “He would thrive on knowing that an article would be published about him and that people from across the county were reading about him”. Indeed, he was quite proud to have appeared on the front page back in October 2020 as part of a new partnership between this paper and Meals on Wheels.

His funeral mass is to take place at 12pm on Sunday morning in Clarecastle Church with cremation in Shannon the following day at 12pm.

‘Rock on’ Champ.

Volunteer Shane Lynch dropping off meals and The Clare Echo to Gabriel Moylan.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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