Warm tributes to 'gentle giant' Burnley bobby Pat

Warm tributes were paid at the funeral of Burnley policeman Pat Morrisroe in December who had died at the age of 92.

By Dominic Collis
Monday, 24th January 2022, 3:45 pm
Pat in 1976

Pat served as a constable in Burnley for 30 years in the Burnley Borough and then Lancashire Constabularies and was a well known and respected officer. He died in hospital on November 29th after suffering poor health over the last year.

Pat was born on October 11th 1929 in the small townland of Bockagh on the Mayo Roscommon border near the town of Ballaghaderreen, then in the Irish Free State, the youngest boy of the family with eight brothers and sisters.

The family faced adversity when his father died with Pat only five years old. His older brothers and sisters travelled to England to seek work and support the family allowing Pat to be educated at St Nathy's College in Ballaghaderreen.

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PC Morrisroe

He left home himself to join An Garda Síochána (Irish Police Force) in 1953 with which he served for seven years. During his time with the Garda he developed his boxing skills winning the Garda and junior Irish heavyweight championships.

His coaches were confident he would have made the Irish Olympic team in 1960 but in 1958 he saw an advert to come to join the Burnley Borough Police and earn £1,000 a year.

His plan was to save some money for a few years and then set off to emigrate to Australia. In the event the pay was much less than advertised but more importantly he met and fell in love with a local girl, Sheila Winkley, and they were married in 1961. They set up home first on Briercliffe Road and later on Casterton Avenue and went on to have three sons, David, Liam and John and two granddaughters Ellen and Elizabeth.

Pat was disappointed not to be able to continue his boxing in Burnley but the local force had a strong tradition in Cumberland and Westmoreland wrestling and he took to it with aplomb.

He won the British Police championships four times, the last time in 1976 when he was 47 years old and faced a 23 stone opponent in the final. At 6ft 2in tall Pat was indeed an imposing figure but always displayed patience and empathy and was universally known as a gentle giant.

His fellow bobbies were always happy to be with him whenever there was trouble but more often than not it was his softly spoken Irish brogue which calmed the situation.

For many years Pat was responsible for serving warrants and summonses. Pat's trick was to wait in the back street when his partner knocked on the front door and he caught several people who jumped over the backyard wall!

He always had a great sense of fun and once got into trouble for wearing joke big ears driving round town in his panda car when he was reported to the station by a concerned member of the public!

Towards the end of his career he served as the officer in the magistrates court. Even in his late fifties he was able to foil an escape attempt from the court although he crashed into the court doors in the process breaking his nose.

Former Chief Superintendent Michael Griffin said of Pat: "He was a very popular character with his colleagues particularly when dealing with difficult situations. He stood no nonsense but was fair in his dealings. He was patient and quietly spoken, a true gentleman and friend."

As well as his wrestling Pat was recruited to compete in tug o war competitions in local village shows. Pat was a skilled darts player too and played at several pubs around Burnley including the General Williams where he upset the odds winning the local championship in 1998 with his great friend Myles Moore.

In retirement Pat and Sheila travelled extensively, often visiting their son Liam in France and Pat's brothers and sisters in Ireland. They also spent many happy summers at a holiday home in central France, last visiting in 2020. He was a dear uncle with many nephews and nieces and continued to visit them until very recently

Pat was absolutely devoted to his wife and family, he declined opportunities for career progression which might have uprooted the family. He and Sheila were happily married for almost 60 years until she died in December 2020.

Pat was a devout Catholic and an active parishioner of St John the Baptist, Ivy Street, throughout his 63 years in Burnley. His funeral was held there on December 8th concelebrated by Fathers Livesey, Loudon and Emmanuel with an address given by Gary Gluyas of the National Association of Retired Police Officers.