Gallant John Joe


In the month of November on a cold stormy day
I left my old home and to town made my way
I met with a young man on the road I did go
And he told me the news of the death of John Joe

John Joe O’Reilly has left us behind
He was called by the good Lord to his faithful and kind,
He brought him to Heaven, that proud land to show
A true son of Breffni, is the gallant John Joe

Brave clann O’Reilly, oh proud is your name
You’ve reared many sons of great honour and fame
But not even the princes of long, long ago
Could compare with our sportsman, the Gallant John Joe

His record’s a proud one without blemish or stain
Since he played his first football with famed Cornafean
Till he’s laid in his cold grave where the wild flowers grow
A true son of Breffni is the gallant John Joe

He led Cavan to victory on that memorable day
In the final against Kerry in New York far away
The next year in Croke Park when our boys beat Mayo
Once again they were led by the gallant John Joe

In each corner of Breifne, there’s sorrow and pain
Such a true-hearted sportsman, we’ll ne’er see again
New players may come and old players may go
But we’ll ne’er have another like the gallant John Joe



John Joe O’Reilly (1919-1952) was captain of the Cavan team which won All-Ireland Senior Football Championships in 1947 at the New York Polo Grounds, and again in 1948 when they beat Mayo. , having also played on three losing sides in the final. He won 11 Ulster senior football medals and four Railway Cup medals. His father had played in goal for Cavan and his brother, Tom, played on the 1947 All-Ireland winning team.

A Commandant in the army, John Joe O’Reilly, picked up a serious injury during a football match in 1952 from which he never recovered. He died in the General Military Hospital in the Curragh in 22 November 1952 at only 34 years of age. In 1984, the GAA’s centenary year, he was named at centre half-back on the Football Team of the Century. In 1999 he was again honoured by the GAA by being named on their Gaelic Football Team of the Millennium.

The song in his honour was written by Tommy Gilronan



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