A younger generation filled the pews in the front rows of the church just to the right of the coffined remains of a school pal of 50 years ago. They were the nephews and nieces of P.J. Hyland, all members of the extended Hyland family of whom P.J., as the only brother to four sisters, was the father figure. It was a role which might not have seemed all that suited to a man who in public was quiet and reserved, almost to the point of shyness, but who bloomed in the company of family and friends. And he had many friends, for P.J. Hyland was a man for whom friendship was an important part of passage through life. His friends were the friends of a lifetime, many gained in youthful school days and those privileged to share his friendship were the lucky ones.
He was a kind and thoughtful friend, proof of which was evident in his concern for another school pal whom he encouraged to be part of a Christian Brothers school class reunion organised a few years ago. P.J. went out of his way to ensure that his friend would share in the celebrations, even if for whatever reason he was initially reluctant to do so. His thoughtfulness on that occasion touched me and showed another side to the P.J whom I had known since our own school days.
The Hyland family goes back several generations in Athy and as I stood at the graveside I marvelled at the happy coincidence which found the Murray, Prendergast, McElwee and the Hyland family graves located in close proximity to each other in St. Michael's cemetery. But then it was no coincidence for the four families were all related by marriage at a time when the cemetery caretaker was P.J.'s grandfather, Peter Hyland, who in April 1942 was granted the unusual gift of a free burial site in St. Michael's by his employers, the then Urban District Council. The gift followed his retirement some years previously after 44 years service as cemetery caretaker and on choosing his own burial site he evidently arranged for the Murray, McElwee and the Prendergast families to lie close at hand. On Peter's retirement the position of cemetery caretaker was filled by his son Thomas, who was P.J.'s father.
P.J. Hyland was a year older than myself but we shared classrooms in the local Christian Brothers schools up as far as first year in the secondary school. Like many others in those days P.J. left school as soon as he was legally entitled to do so and started work with McMahons who were then doing contract work in Minch Nortons. He subsequently spent many years in the Wallboard factory and I was living in Dublin when the factory closed down and P.J.'s photograph appeared in the national newspapers with the story of the closure of Athy's largest factory. He would later join his brother-in-law Wag O'Keeffe in managing the Jet service station at Blackparks, a position from which he retired a few years ago. A longtime member of the C.Y.M.S., he was its Chairman in the latter years of its occupancy of the former Social Club premises which were an adjunct to the old Comrades Hall in St. John's Lane. He remained the C.Y.M.S. Chairman during and after the Society's move to Mount St. Marys. He tried over several years to revive the fortunes of the once active C.Y.M.S. but in the end the society had to close its doors. It was a sad occasion for those who remembered the heady days of the C.Y.M.S. stretching back to its original premises at Stanhope St. P.J. was very disappointed by the demise of the C.Y.M.S. but still hoped that at some future date its revival would be possible. It was not to be in P.J.'s lifetime.
One of the great, if not the greatest love of his life, was Gaelic football. I remember P.J. as a very stylish centre fielder, whose leap for the high dropping ball was marvellous to behold. He had the grace and majesty which one usually associated with the legendary Kerry footballer Mick O'Connell. Graceful in movement his unhurried style is forever etched in my memory. He was a good club player who plied his football skills for a long time in the interests of the club with which his name will always be associated. Athy Gaelic Football Club founded way back in October 1887 has had many great supporters over the years but few have matched the intensity of P.J.'s feelings for the club whose efforts on the field have not been matched with many great successes over the years.
How P.J. would like to have lived through the late 1930's and early 1940's when the sporting prowess of Athy Gaelic Football Club was in its ascendancy. It was then that great footballers such as George Comerford, Paul Matthews, Tommy Mulhall and Barney Dunne, to name just four of the lynchpins of that time, plied their footballing skills. Athy Gaelic football was an important part of P.J.'s life both as a player and a supporter and inevitably because of the club's lack of success it was an attachment which did not bring too many occasions for celebrations. No great success marked P.J.'s years on the Athy senior team but he basked in the reflective glory of Athy's last championship final win achieved during the 1987 season.
In the Hyland household at Leinster Street marriages in recent years gave Round Towers and Rheban a foothold where previously the only team recognised was Athy. P.J. liked to “rattle the cages” of the Round Towers and Rheban allegiances of his nephew-in-laws, forever probing, forever questioning the relative merits of footballers from the respective clubs. Gaelic football was his great interest and with his passing Athy Gaelic Football Club has lost one of its keenest and longest serving supporters.
Another sportsman of a different generation, this time a man whose successes in greyhound racing made him a legend in his lifetime, also passed away. Paddy McEvoy was 89 years of age when he died and during his active sporting life he achieved some remarkable records. Paddy was the subject of an Eye on the Past about five years ago when a double feature, Nos. 432 and 433 was required to document the successes of the man who on his retirement in 1993 as manager of Wimbledon Stadium was described as “one of greyhound racings greatest trainers.” It was a tribute richly deserved for Athy-born Paddy had trained the winner of the English greyhound Derby not just once, but three times, a record unrivalled to this day. It was a wonderful gesture for those associated with greyhound racing in this area to provide a guard of honour as Paddy's remains were brought from Rigney's Funeral Home to the church on Monday evening. In the same way the members of Athy Gaelic Football Club provided a guard of honour for P.J. Hyland, an honour which highlighted the contribution of both men to their respective sports.
Jim Flood of Fontstown died a few days earlier, again like Paddy McEvoy at a good age, which in Jim's case was 92 years. I had the pleasure of talking to and interviewing Jim a few years ago at the time when he was just 87 years old and I remarked what an extraordinary memory he had of people and of past events. Jim, who was born the year before the Great War, was an extremely active man and I last saw him walking the Dublin road at Fontstown a few weeks ago as I drove to the capital city. He lived to see the enormous increase in traffic which passed his house at Fontstown each day and drew comparisons with his school days of the 1920's, when as he related it, there was only one car on the road. It belonged to Captain Hone who drove down to Kilmead every Thursday to pay his workmen.
I was privileged to have had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing Jim Flood and Paddy McEvoy, both of whom shared their stories and their experiences with me. The privilege of sharing school days and a friendship with P.J. Hyland is one I will treasure.
May the good Lord be kind to P.J., Paddy and Jim.