THE long and happy life enjoyed by George Coulter is a perfect example of self-motivation deriving satisfaction and fulfilment.
Born in 1924, at what was then known as Primrose Hill in Armagh, he grew up in the region of Lurgyvallen – sometimes referred to as Plunkett’s Bay – on the periphery of the town.
An early interest in horticulture was gained through the extended family business. A year spent in England at the age of 20 broadened his experience in this field but failed to convince him of its merits, and on returning he inquired about employment near his home where ‘air raid shelters’ were being constructed.
The same work later brought him to Belfast, where an interest in athletics was renewed when joining Corrigan Athletic Club.
George won the Ulster 7 miles Individual Cross Country Championship in 1948 and his role with the NACAI (National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland) continued through membership of Armagh City Harriers, again achieving success, but also establishing long-lasting friendships with a prominent group of local athletes.
His next employment was as a bus conductor, and later bus driver, roles he fulfilled until 1973 with his renowned courteous demeanour.
He then became head gardener at Ballyards Castle and was appointed horticultural instructor at the estate before retiring in 1989.
This provided more time for his love of fishing, both locally but more often at favourite locations in Donegal.
George married Dungannon woman Carmel Hooks in 1957 and along with their four children and collective grandchildren, they shared the joy of 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries.
All this time he never lost sight of his wide range of sporting interests, another of which was the tradition ‘bullet throwing’ or road bowling.
His older brother Pat was legend in the sport and one commemorated in song and story and George also competed in tournaments, winning two significant events and proudly displaying his engraved trophies.
However it was Gaelic football and hurling that bore greater prominence in his sporting life.
His first ‘big game’ was the 1936 Ulster senior football semi-final when Cavan defeated Armagh – he retained the match programme ever since – and such was his memory of games and leading players that he took part in a GAA oral history project by Boston College at the age of 85, and was commended for his valuable contribution.
All three sons of George and Carmel naturally developed a keen interest in Gaelic games and road bowling but it was his grandchildren who achieved greatest success.
Christopher won All-Ireland Féile Skills in hurling at age 14 and later a Colleges All-Star award, Declan was a prominent player with the Armagh hurling team and represented Ireland in the Shinty International against Scotland in 2007 and 2008, while Conor captained the Armagh Harps football team to win the 2008 county minor championship.
It was also a wonderful thrill to be centre-pitch at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh last year to congratulate his grandson Conor for his part in Cláirsigh Ard Mhacha winning the county senior title for the first time in 26 years.
George Coulter died at his home in Milford on February 20 following a short illness. He was just four days short of his 94th birthday.
A lover of Irish traditional music and song, it was fitting that the beginning of his journey to St Patrick’s Cemetery in Armagh from Requiem Mass in the city’s cathedral was accompanied by a rendering of Raglan Road.
George is survived by his wife Carmel, sons Paul, Gareth and Stephen, daughter Maura, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and extended family circle.