To train a winner of the English Greyhound Derby is a mark of greatness within the ranks of those whose sport is greyhound racing. To have done so on three occasions gives one a special place in the pantheon of sporting greats. It is an achievement which today can only be claimed by an Irishman - Athy man Paddy McEvoy, formerly of Woodstock Street and Geraldine Road. Born one year after the Easter Rising of 1916, Paddy, the son of local boatman James McEvoy, known locally as “Valley” McEvoy and his wife Margaret attended the Christian Brothers School in Athy. Classmates of his in the 1920’s included Tony and Des Whelan of Barrowhouse, Frank Carolan of Leinster Street, Tommy Prendergast, the younger brother of Paddy or “Darkie” Prendergast of horse-training fame and Mick Mullery. Now 84 years of age Paddy is living in retirement in Athy with his charming wife Patricia after a lifetime’s involvement in the training and breeding of greyhounds.
Paddy’s great grand-parents were some of the Landsdowne tenantry evicted from their Luggacurran holdings during the evictions in that area of the late 1880’s. Like so many more of those evicted they eventually moved into the town of Athy and lived in the house (now demolished) immediately next to the Catholic Curate’s thatched cottage in Woodstock Street. It was here that Paddy as a very young boy heard gunshots reverberating from the nearby military barracks as the IRA launched an attack during the War of Independence. Another memory from the old days in Athy is the jingle which in the 1920’s and later was part of the folk repertoire of the time.
“Oh Doctor dear Doctor dear Doctor John
Your Cod Liver Oil is so pure and so strong
I’m afraid of my life she’ll go down in the soil
If my wife stops drinking your Cod Liver Oil.
I got her a bottle for her just to try
The way she drank it you’d swear she was dry
I got her another, it vanished the same
Oh how can I ever keep up with this game.”
The doctor in question was Dr. John Kilbride, medical officer of health for Athy who spent four years in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the first World War. He was an energetic man whose concern for the local people was such that his was the prominent voice in promoting the need for better-class houses and improved town water and sewerage facilities in Athy at a time when disease regularly took it’s toll on the local community.
On leaving the Christian Brothers school Paddy joined local building contractors D. & J. Carbery of St. John’s Lane where he was apprenticed to carpenter Mick May who lived at St. Martin’s Terrace. Coincidentally, the Carbery firm had been set up following the eviction of Dan Carbery (Snr.) from his farm holding in Luggacurran at the same time as the McEvoys. On qualifying as a carpenter Paddy joined Mick May to work with a firm in Kildare town and later still joined the Board of Works in the Curragh, finally ending his carpentry career with Bord na Mona.
Paddy’s boyhood friend was Tommy Prendergast, commonly known as “The Red Lad” to distinguish him from his older brother Paddy Prendergast who was called “Darkie”. Tommy’s father was a horse trainer and animals including greyhounds were always part of the young Prendergast boys’ lives. So it was inevitable that the canal worker’s son from Woodstock Street joined his friend Tommy Prendergast in coursing greyhounds in the fields around Prussellstown. Paddy enjoyed the sport and soon acquired an interest in greyhound racing, getting his very first racing dog when as a school-boy he swapped his pet rabbits for a greyhound. Unknown to him his future was now to be intrinsically linked with the training and breeding of greyhounds, one of the most ancient of sporting animals whose association with the ancient Egyptians was noted as far back as 10,000 B.C. But first of all Paddy had to spend some years earning a living as a carpenter, and finally ended up working for Bord na Mona, erecting huts for workers during the Second World War.
Paddy’s record as a trainer officially started in 1938 while he was still employed as a carpenter. His first notable success was with a dog named “Shake Yourself”, previously owned by Sadie Lynch, formerly Sadie Young of Castlemitchell, wife of the local Provincial Bank Manager. The dog which was to be the first of many great greyhounds trained by Paddy McEvoy over the next forty five years, was of a nervous disposition. Paddy decided to breed from the dog and a succession of some brilliant greyhounds resulted. One of the better hounds from the litter was “Negroes Fire”, subsequently owned by Fingletons of Ballinclea which won many races on the track. Both bitch and daughter shared what was then a unique double when both won races on the same night in Harold’s Cross. Paddy’s success as a trainer and breeder did not go unnoticed and one day in 1945 local G.P. Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill brought a Brigadier Murray to Paddy’s house in Geraldine Road. “Would Paddy agree to meet Brigadier Critchley of the Greyhound Racing Association in the Hibernian Hotel in Dublin?” The all-expenses-paid trip to Dublin resulted in a job offer which the young part-time greyhound trainer could not refuse. The Racing Association was to open greyhound breeding kennels in Maudlins, Naas and invited Paddy to be its first manager. It was an offer too good to miss and so Paddy moved from Athy in 1945 to take up full-time employment in the sport to which he had been first drawn as a result of a boyhood friendship with Tommy Prendergast.
The kennels in Maudlins bred many dogs for the English market, but the success expected of many of the better dogs deserted them soon after they went across to England. Paddy was asked to investigate and quickly discovered that the dogs bred and reared in the best conditions possible in Ireland were not properly fed when sent abroad. The matter was soon resolved but Paddy was encouraged by Lord Brabazon and others to bring his skills across the Irish sea and so in 1950 he obtained his Private Trainers Licence and established his kennels at Longcross in Surrey. The next stage of Paddy’s career was about to start. He was not long there before he had his next winner, with the oddly named “Little Isle Cuchalainn”. Within a year he had a runner in the Greyhound Derby Final with “Rapid Choice”. Success, however, eluded him on that occasion but “Rapid Choice” was to provide Paddy with his first big successes in Britain when he won The Key at Wimbledon, the West Ham Summer Stakes and the Wembley Gold Cup, all in the same year. Paddy’s success with “Rapid Choice” was particularly pleasing for him as the dog had been bred by him at the Maudlins Kennels in Naas.
In 1953 the blue riband of greyhound racing was to fall to Paddy McEvoy of Athy when 10-1 chance “Daws Dancer” won the 23rd Greyhound Derby at White City, London. In winning the Derby that year Paddy’s dog emulated the immortal “Mick The Miller” as only the second dog to leave Ireland and win the British Greyhound Derby in the same year. “Mick The Miller” achieved his Derby success in 1929, the third year of the running of that famous race.
Paddy’s McEvoy’s star was now in the ascendancy, but as we shall find out next week, even greater success awaited him in the years ahead.