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The community of Ballymacnab and much further afield were deeply saddened to hear of the death of one of their great club members Arlene Donnelly in the early hours of last Tuesday morning. Arlene had battled with illness for just over a year with such great dignity and courage although she was just 31 years old. Life had thrown several difficult challenges to Arlene during the latter years of her life and she had faced them all with determination and bravery despite her young age.


Arlene Donnelly was one of those club members who was always the first to put up a hand when something needed done. When there were tickets to be sold, a function to be organised, a team to be coached or a meeting to be held Arlene Donnelly could be counted on to be first in line when the jobs were to be handed out. The thing that set Arlene apart from so many others was that Arlene’s job was always done without so much as a word or question, the quiet and unassuming manner in which Arlene undertook anything she did was a characteristic of Arlene that was unique.


Arlene joined the committee of St Brenda’s when still a senior playing member and always found time for her camogie playing commitments, her camogie coaching commitments and her committee commitments. Arlene’s mother Jacinta was also a very special worker on our committee and Arlene no doubt inherited her mothers own style of getting the job done with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss. Sadly Jacinta also departed this world prematurely just a few short years ago and so it is a double tragedy for the Donnelly family to lose Arlene also at such a young age.


Arlene joined Ballymacnab Camogie club as an underage player and won several underage titles. She was a talented player who was versatile in that she could play in most positions on the field but it was as goalkeeper that Arlene really made her name. Arlene was just 18 when she was given the arduous task of wearing the number one jersey for St Brenda’s and she went on to wear that jersey for the next decade and more when she made the position of goalkeeper her own. Arlene was not just a good goalkeeper, she was a great reader of the game and perfected the art of keeping her backline in order without ever creating too much fuss or panic. When games were tight and cool heads were needed Arlene Donnelly was just the girl for the job. Arlene won three senior championship titles with St Brenda’s in 1995, 1998 and 1999 and an Ulster Club Shield title in 2006 and last played for the club in 2007. Despite her failing health Arlene always continued her great interest in all things to do with Ballymacnab Camogie, right up until the very end. Arlene’s goalkeeping talents also saw her onto the Armagh County team. It was a testament to her popularity to see so many camogie players from other clubs come to pay their respects.


Arlene also had graced pitches all over the country as one of well known inter-county referee Una Kearney’s umpires. It was a proud day for Arlene and the Ballymacnab club when in 2002 she umpired at the All Ireland Senior final with three other local camogie greats, Paula McGuigan, Bebe Devlin and Laura Gribben in Croke Park. During her illness Arlene’s many friends had remained constant companions and their support, loyalty and dedication to Arlene spoke volumes about their enduring friendship. Una read a heart rendering reflection at Arlene’s requiem mass that brought a tear to many eyes in St Patrick’s.


While on the field of play Arlene was always a great number one, off the field of play she was also number one in all of the other many jobs that she did for the club. She was part of the management team that brought the first All Ireland feile title to Ballymacnab in 2001 and whilst still only 23 at the time Arlene added her own particular contribution to that great chapter in the Ballymacnab camogie story.


Arlene had a great way with children and young people as was evident from her career path. She spent a number of years working in Foley Primary School as classroom assistant for Emma Cosgrove and the wonderful relationship that Arlene forged with Emma was very evident both inside and outside the school gates. Arlene always had great time and attention for Emma no matter where and when they met and this enduring friendship with Emma and her family was testament to the special person that Arlene was. In more recent years Arlene worked in Clady Tiny Tots, again displaying her caring and personal skills in so many ways to so many children. The large number of past and present children from Clady Tiny Tots and their parents,  that attended Arlene’s very large funeral again showing the high esteem with which Arlene was held by all those that became acquainted with her in a personal capacity.


Arlene was a wonderful friend who had a wry sense of honour. Known for her short quips that would add a giggle to manys a conversation, Arlene never strived to be the centre of attention at a party but was sure to be there till the last to enjoy it. Despite her life having been cut short Arlene certainly packed a lot into it in terms of sporting activities, work activities and social activities. Never known to have a bad word to say about anyone, Arlene was a special kind of person who would be friend to many and enemy to none.


One of the blessings that Arlene did enjoy in recent years was the love and companionship of her fiancÚ Damian Smith from Tullysarren. Damian brought great joy into Arlene’s life and it is indeed a tragedy that he and Arlene did not have the chance to share their lives together. The high esteem with which Damian and Arlene were held within the Tullysarren community was displayed by Damian’s many friends and club colleagues from the O’Connell’s Tullysarren club who were present and worked at Arlene’s wake and who provided a guard of honour at Arlene’s funeral. Damian may have lost a great friend and companion in the loss of Arlene but he will always remain close to the hearts of Arlene’s many friends in St Brenda’s.


Arlene’s funeral was one of the largest ever to be held in St Patrick’s Church Ballymacnab with the church unable to hold all of the congregation. St Brenda’s senior team and past players and committee provided a guard of honour for Arlene as her remains left her home at Ballinagalliagh, as she was brought into Ballymacnab Chapel and as she was taken to her final resting place alongside her mother Jacinta after her requiem mass. This was the largest turnout ever for a St Brenda’s guard of honour comprising players from the 1990’s decade who had played along with Arlene, past and present committee members who had served with her, past senior managers, the current senior team players and the 2009 All Ireland Feile winning team, reflecting Arlene’s association with our first feile title. The large number of club members that ranged in age from our club president Brendan Harvey to our under14 team, provided a sombre and dignified farewell that was befitting to a fantastic player and committed clubperson that had given so much of her young life to Ballymacnab camogie.


Arlene Donnelly had helped Ballymacnab Camogie in so many ways, on and off the field. She had saved æThe Nab’ from her number one spot so many times, she had placed the ball just where we needed it when taking a puck out, she had made the right suggestion at club meetings when ideas were needed and she had said just the right thing that turned a shy and nervous young player into a confident and talented one. Arlene may not be there when St Brenda’s seniors next take to the field but her spirit will be there in so many ways through the words that she has spoken or the laughs that she has shared. She was such a dedicated player and club member that it was fitting that Arlene went to her final resting place wearing a St Brenda’s number 1 jersey. Arlene was always number one as a player, a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a niece, a sister-in-law and a great friend to all who knew her.


To Arlene’s grieving father Jim who himself has been a great friend of Ballymacnab camogie over the years, and to her brother Seamus, St Brenda’s extend our deepest sympathies and condolences. We have lost a great friend but you have lost your only daughter and sister. Our sympathies are also extended to Arlene’s niece Emma, of whom she was so proud, to her fiancÚ Damian and to the wider Donnelly family circle. The name of Arlene Donnelly will always be remembered and spoken of within Ballymacnab camogie with nothing but the highest regard and the highest esteem. The bravery and courage which she showed was both inspirational and motivational and the many great memories and the legacy which Arlene has left behind to her many camogie friends will last forever. Arlene had fought many great combats with us over the years, all with distinction but her last battle which she fought with the greatest courage and dignity of them all has now ended.

Ar dheis DÚ go raibh a h-anam


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