From the Big Apple to Callan: a family treasure returns as Pat ‘the Diamond’ Hayden’s hurley comes home

From the Big Apple to      Callan: a family treasure returns as Pat ‘the Diamond’         Hayden’s hurley comes home
Once the 30 young under-14 chaps had been bedded in their allocated homes the adults gathered in the residence of one of the adult hosts.

Once the 30 young under-14 chaps had been bedded in their allocated homes the adults gathered in the residence of one of the adult hosts.

The hosts had arrived in numbers to meet and greet the Kilkenny lads. The internal embrocation was plentiful.

One lady approached the most legendary (in those times) of the visitors with a bottle of Paddy in hand.

“You’ll have another?” she enquired.

“I will me girl,” answered the Legend.

Having delivered a good traoscháin of the golden nectar, our lady asked, “What will you have in that?”

Our hero replied: “Begob me girl, there are two things in life that I always needed naked. One of them was me whiskey.”

The place erupted!

That was back in 1979 or 1980. The location was a place called Raharney, the hurling end of county Westmeath and the youngsters involved were the John Lockes under-14 team, which included John Power, Bosco Bryan, Liam Egan, the Comerford brothers, along with a Dwyer, a Lynch or two and more.

The legend referred to was one of the greatest full-backs in the history of the game up to that time. However, his fame had spread far and wide because of his stature in the game, and probably because of the nickname he was branded with - ‘The Diamond’.

At the time, heroes were a scarce commodity. Hurling was not afforded the kind of reverential acclaim it gets (some managers feel that it is an unnecessary intrusion) nowadays.

The GAA needed characters at the time. They had just what the doctor ordered in the likes of Ring, Mackey, Tommy Doyle, Rackard and Joe Salmon. An insignia of greatness in those times was when you were simply known by your nickname, or your surname only.

Patrick Hayden, from Barrowcore, was known by no other name but ‘The Diamond’.

This was a first for the John Lockes juvenile club - travelling away for an overnight stay.

The adults in charge at the time were Harry Bryan, Joe and Bernie O’Dwyer.

Bernie, alas, was killed in a car crash a few years afterwards. She was one of the greatest club officers that I have ever known. Br Jacob brought a few in his car, as did Fr Liam Dunne (the tremendous Wicklow priest who did great work in places like Castlecomer, Callan and Freshford.)

I gave my ould Volkswagen Beetle (SIP 103) to ‘Diamond’. He put seven (small lads) into it!

A few Saturdays ago, I was invited to attend a private event at the home of Denis and Mary Meaney in Goresbridge.

Astonishing occasion

The occasion was truly astonishing in the sense that a very successful blue chip Legal Senior Counsel, Martin Hayden, a son of Callan, would take possession of the hurl his father Pat ‘Diamond’ Hayden used in the All-Ireland final against Cork in 1947.

Now there are not too many people around today who saw what history refers to as the greatest hurling final of all time - this was a game where the great Terry Leahy from Urlingford scored six points, including the levelling point and the winner in added time.

The ‘Diamond’ was full-back on that great team, and when Peter Pender got knocked out as a result of a clash with the iconic Christy Ring, he was moved out to centre-back to mark Ring. The only remaining living member of the team, Fr Ned Kavanagh was put in as replacement at number three.

This is a story about a hurl, but in talking about it one cannot disassociate the hurl from the player.

Let’s highlight the saga of the hurl initially, and goodness where it might lead.

For starters, the hurl is the real deal. It is signed and dated: “Paddy Hayden, 1st Sept 1947, Croke Park, Dublin”.

John Byrne, an uncle of Denis Meaney and the sports editor of the New York Irish Echo was a very close friend of ‘Diamond’ Hayden. After the All-Ireland final Byrne, who was a close friend, was given the hurl by the ‘Diamond’ as a memento of their friendship.

The ‘Diamond’ Hayden was a very generous human being. If he could help someone, that somebody needed assistance, or wanted something that was in his power to give away, he would not hesitate.

He earned the pseudonym of the ‘Tramp Hurler’ from a GAA official in another Leinster County, because he was discovered to have played in four different counties in their hurling championships.

Why did he do it?

Quite simply, because someone asked him to give them a hand. He once admitted to me that he played for Bagenalstown in the Carlow camogie championship.

Believe it or not, and he verified the fact, even though he had a strikingly dark complexion and a plentiness of body hair.

So how did he get away with it?

“I put on a black long wig, and a skirt,” he said to me at the time. “Back then camogie players wore very thick long stockings so my legs were well covered.”

So why did he do it?

“A great friend of mine in Bagenalstown asked me.”

That was the ‘Diamond’ Hayden. Obliging to the last.

His sister Biddy, a very decent camogie player in her day, God Rest her, would often say that “he would give his a**e away only for ’twas tied on to him”.

One must pay due recognition to the fact that Hayden did not line out for the Kilkenny senior team until he was 33 years of age.

The Hayden family was an integral part of the farming community around the Barrowcore area. More pertinently, they were very close to the Hennessy farming family, for whom many of them worked in gainful honest employment.

Hurling brotherhood

Bill Hennessy was a hurling man, whose love for the game and its players knew no bounds. Bill and ‘Diamond’ were a form of hurling brotherhood that were congenitally bound at the hip.

Bill was instrumental in getting the famed Eire Og club of Kilkenny to encourage ‘Diamond’ to come play with them.

From such a manoeuvre, ‘Diamond’ Hayden blossomed into one of the greatest full-backs of his era, winning many honours with the club.

Winning an All-Ireland final was not too regular an occurrence at the time in Kilkenny. Cork dominated, as did Tipp, while there was an odd flurry from Dublin and Limerick.

Kilkenny had won 12 All-Ireland titles up to 1946. Of that dozen they gathered seven between 1904 and 1913. They won four more in the 1930s, so there were big gaps between 1893 and 1946 when no All-Irelands were reaped.

However, 1947 dawned with more than a sporting hope that this could be Kilkenny’s year. The records will show that the Corkonians were put down, Jack Lynch denied a colossal seventh All-Ireland medal on the bounce.

The Kilkenny heroes were deitised, none more than Pat ‘Diamond’ Hayden, the unknown who rose from a townland to the heights of national notoriety fame.

One of the most envied public demonstrations of acclamation was the nomination of the Sports Star of the Week in the Irish Independent on Fridays. Hayden was on the Indo on Friday after the All-Ireland final- his cup overflowed with hero worship.

Long after those halcyon days of the late ’40s and early ’50s the ‘Diamond’ was feted wherever he went. He had a terrific disposition, a winning personality and a wit that bordered on acerbic, but was mostly entertaining.

He was at ease with princes and paupers. They were all the same to him. He established a tremendous rapport with the hurling followers on a nation-wide canvas.

He never had an enemy on the field of play. His relationship with Wexford’s greatest, Nicky Rackard, brought crowds in their thousands. It was box-office stuff.

They were great friends as well, and often they would have a session post-match. At a presentation do on a Friday night before a National League game in Enniscorthy, both of them ‘gave it a lash’ (you will know what I mean).

All-Ireland time was especially memorable. The clashes from far and wide would gather. ‘Diamond’ would be my relief whenever I needed to train the John Lockes or go on business. He held court behind the counter, and newsmen were like wasps around a jam pot when the first week in September rolled around.

I well remember one occasion when ‘Diamond’ was in my bar, and through the door came Terry Leahy home from New York. Leahy had Paddy Grace in tow, and not too long after their arrival Tom Walsh (1957) came down the street into the bar.

Val Madigan (1937 in Killarney) came in from the Minauns and as the stories were retold, elasticated, and the lies went way beyond credibility, the singing started. A worse congregation of singers has never been gathered, but nobody cared!

Late that night there was a knock on the bar door. Fearing that it could have been the Garda Siochána I tentatively opened the door.

I damn near fainted. “Is the ‘Diamond’ there?” enquired the door knocker, who was none other than Jack Lynch. “Come in” said I, and he certainly did. Terry Leahy rose to greet the new arrival with, “Hey Lynch, Heffernan done you”.

The reference alluded to the fact that as Jack Lynch lined up an equalising point in the ’47 final that a timely hook by Jimmy Heffernan forced Jack Lynch to slice the ball wide.

For the night I dished out drink, sandwiches, listened and memorised for posterity. On reflection I will always remember Jack Lynch’s enquiry, “Is the ‘Diamond’ there?”

Back to the present day. We spoke to Denis Meaney and his sister Mary. There was no great prize for guessing the first question - how did the hurl come back from New York to Goresbridge?

“In 1994 my uncle John brought it back to me, fearing that it might get lost in America,” said Denis. “Pat Molloy was deeply involved with the Tullaroan Museum and I agreed to put it on display among all the iconic memorabilia.

“There it stayed until the Museum unfortunately closed its doors. I eventually retrieved the hurl some two months ago; Mary and myself agreed that it should go back to Pat Hayden’s only living relative, his son Martin.”

This was a wonderful surprise for Martin.

“Of course,” he said. “Dad was like that; generous to a fault. I thought that the hurl had gone the same road as the jersey, the boots, even some of his medals.

“If someone admired any bit of his hurling memorabilia, Da would just say, ‘sure you can have it’. I am truly astonished to find that’s the case where some of his medals are displayed. I would have seen that case down with Biddy (an aunt) in Barrowcore when I was down visiting during the Summer.”

Would he have been aware of his father’s status as a marquee hurling star when he was growing up in Callan?

“Certainly not”, he said. “By the time I was born Dad had long finished with the game as a player. Any folklore about how great he was or otherwise was all by word of mouth, and as you know, Callan was a hotbed of hurling because of its proximity to Tipperary.

“From my perspective there was no other subject down for discussion but hurling. I heard the stories, but never from him.

“As a young boy, I loved playing the game on the Fair Green, and I remember all the young lads like John Power and the Comerfords coming into the shop after school to talk to Dad. I would still have memories of him coaching them across the counter. Tremendous memories for sure.”

His father was a truly remarkable man, especially if one is to believe some of the stories!

“I heard the camogie story before, but all I can conclude is that you would have to question the abilities of the referee to see what was in front of him, because there was no way that you could disguise Dad to look like a camogie player no matter what you put on him!” he said smiling.

“And then there was the one about him going with the Callan Fianna Fáil cumann to Dublin for a visit to the Dáil. Minister John Wilson is reputed to have taken Dad off the Callan bus because the boss (the then-Taoiseach Jack Lynch) had heard he was in the vicinity.

“The Boss re-emerged from Leinster House with Dad, both of them well-lubricated. He took Dad to the bus, giving him the remains of a bottle of whiskey and instructed the Callan lads to take the so-and-so home before he lost his good job!

“But, like all great stories, they get better in the telling,” he said. “I often felt that if only half of the stories were true it is a wonder that he lasted as long as he did.”

I hadn’t met the boy since he left our street in Callan. There is a great sense of joy, and pride whenever my wife Kitty and myself see his association with the legal profession within which he operates on the national papers or on TV.

We have our memories of the young lad, who lost his mam, and his dad while still at school. Of him with his head stuck in books of learning, burning the midnight oil whenever we chanced to look across at his bedroom window.

There are also memories of him going to college alone, returning to Callan and telling us of his progress; getting a job with the Diplomatic Corps in Madrid and of many other such achievements.

And, you know, he did it all on his own from the Christian Brothers School on West Street in Callan to the zenith of his legal profession.

Of course all who knew him would be very proud of him. As the stereotypical godfather would say, “The boy done good”.

As I write in my mind’s eye I can see a smile of absolute joy, pride and celebration on the faces of his Mam Maureen, his dad Pat and his Gran.

While this was the story of a hurl, a very famous hurl, but it embodied a far greater narrative than its return to its rightful home.

In time I would hope that James, Marcus, Alexander, Elizabeth and Anna might come to appreciate its historical significance in the pantheon of the greatest field game in creation.

Maybe I can finish with another little true story about the most famous son of Goresbridge and all points East.

Children being prepared for their Confirmation would be examined in their Christian Doctrine by an outside Inspector. In Goresbridge NS, a child was asked about the most famous man that she had ever heard about.

Expecting something like Jesus or Joseph, and given that the parish had supplied the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Bishop Keogh, and given that the parish had given the Minister for Agriculture, Tom Walsh, to the Government of the day, the child answered, with a swelling chest: you guessed it - “the ‘Diamond’ Hayden Sir”.

Out of the mouths of babes...