Thursday, March 13, 2003

Paddy Byrne - Castledermot

Our local sporting heroes of yesteryear are seldom if ever recalled at a time when unprecedented publicity is given in the Irish media to the English soccer league and its players. Have you ever wondered why it is that so much newsprint is given over to games involving English soccer clubs. Every young Irish lad and lassie is able to recount the deeds of Beckham and company. We no longer take pride in the sporting achievements of our own but instead seek vicarious pleasure in the activities of the soap opera which is now English premier league football. I was reminded of this while attending a function a few weeks ago when I was introduced to a lady who was originally from Castledermot. I normally associate places with famous people from the past and on that occasion I referred to Castledermot as the home of the great Paddy Byrne. Paddy was one of South Kildare’s most famous Gaelic footballers who plied his skills in the years leading up to the beginning of the Second World War. Paddy Byrne like all the other great sportsmen of his time is only remembered today in the record books of the GAA. In his day however Paddy was a remarkably skillful footballer who played not only for his native county but also for Leinster. To my surprise my mention of Paddy Byrne’s name brought a smile to my fellow guest’s face and the response “he was my father”. I have to say that I was delighted to meet her and to add to my store of knowledge of this once great sporting hero whose exploits brought pride and distinction to his village of Castledermot. Gaelic football in Castledermot has a history which stretches back to 1889 when a Gaelic Football Club was founded with the local curate, Fr. T. Ryan as the Club’s first President. This was just five years after the G.A.A. had been established following a meeting in Hayes’s Hotel, Thurles in November 1884. The onset of World War One had a debilitating affect on Gaelic games in South Kildare and both the Castledermot and Athy Clubs went into decline around that time. The Athy Club reformed as the Young Emmets and reached the 1923 Senior County Final with the assistance of at least one Castledermot player. That was Tom Forrestal whom I had the honour of meeting and interviewing in 1990. Naas trounced Athy on that occasion on the scoreline of 2 goals 5 points to no score. Maybe this hammering encouraged Tom and his Castledermot mates to reform the local club which had disbanded some years previously. In any event, 1925 was a significant year for Gaelic football in Castledermot for the new club enlisted as a member a 21 year old local man who had not played competitive football before. Paddy Byrne was destined to become Castledermot’s and indeed South Kildare’s most famous Gaelic footballer. Paddy was chosen for the County Junior team in 1927 and won a Leinster Junior medal when Kildare defeated Offaly in that year’s Leinster final. In the semi-final Kildare defeated their old opponents Kerry before succumbing to Cavan in the final. Cavan was to feature largely in Paddy Byrne’s sporting disappointments throughout his career. At club level Paddy won an Intermediate County final medal in 1928 when Castledermot overcame the might of Carbury. As a result the Club was promoted to senior level where it competed without success before being re-graded in 1931. The following year Paddy Byrne and his colleagues on the Castledermot team won their second Intermediate football final. Paddy was first selected to play on the County Senior team in 1929 where he joined Paddy Martin, an Ellistown man who also played with Castledermot. Martin had been a county player since 1923 and he continued to play for Kildare up to and including the 1936 Leinster Final which was lost to Laois. As far as I can find out Paddy Byrne’s first game with the County Senior team was the 1929 National Football League Final played in Croke Park and which Kerry won by 1-7 to 2-3. Paddy Byrne was a regular team player on the Kildare County Senior team for the following nine years. During that time he played in four Leinster Finals, winning medals in 1930, 1931 and 1935. The only Leinster Final in which Paddy Byrne played and lost was the 1936 Final when our neighbours Laois beat us on the score of 3-3 to 0-8. Paddy scored four points that day, but all to no avail as the Laois goal tally proved too much on the day. Following Kildare’s success in the 1930 Leinster Final Paddy and his colleagues played and lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Monaghan on 24th August of that year. The following year Kildare again came out of Leinster, beat Cavan in the semi-final and qualified to meet Kerry in the All-Ireland Final. Paddy Martin and Paddy Byrne, Castledermot players, were joined on the Kildare team for the All Ireland Final by a young player from Kilberry by the name of Paddy Myles. Myles had played brilliantly for Kildare juniors when winning the 1931 Leinster Junior title and the senior team mentors picked him to play his first senior County game in that years All Ireland Final. Kildare lost the final to Kerry by three points and while Paddy Byrne and Paddy Martin would continue with their County footballing careers, the All Ireland Final of 1931 was Paddy Myles’ one and only time to play with the Kildare senior team. The disappointment of the 1931 Final was forgotten by the time the Kildare County team blazed a successful trail through the early rounds of the 1935 championship. Again Paddy Byrne was in the Kildare forward line and contributed four points in the Leinster Final defeat of Louth. Cuddy Chanders, Paul Matthews and Tommy Mulhall of the Athy Gaelic Football Club were on the team that day, as they were when Kildare defeated Mayo in the All Ireland Semi-Final. Kildare was expected to win the All Ireland against the under-rated Cavan team and so travel as All Ireland champions to New York the following year. Cuddy Chanders, against whom no goal had been scored during the championship, was sensationally dropped for the final and the replacement goalie as might be expected in all the best melodramas let in three goals and Kildare lost the 1935 final by two points. Paddy Byrne had lost his second All Ireland. The lack of All Ireland success was in some way compensated for by Paddy’s success with the Leinster Provincial team on which he played from 1932 to 1937. He won Railway Cup medals in 1932, 1933 and again in 1935. No other Gaelic footballer from the South of the County has ever achieved such success. When Paddy retired as a player in 1938 he continued as an executive member of the Castledermot Club. Indeed he served several spells as Secretary of the Club and in later years as Vice President. Paddy Byrne, Gaelic footballer, described in the newspaper reports prior to the 1935 All Ireland Finals as “the most accurate forward in Ireland” died in 1990 aged 86 years. His feats on the football field are all but forgotten today but his achievements will live on in the record books of the Gaelic Athletic Association and whenever great players are mentioned the name of Paddy Byrne of Castledermot will always be recalled with pride.

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