A Letter from Ireland:

The One-Armed Wonderboy of Oriel.

From the region of Ireland once known as “Airgialla”, there emerged a soccer player whose skill and prowess at the game was not diminished by the fact that he had only one arm.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. How are things in your part of the world today? We’re officially a few days into Spring here in Ireland – with Saint Brigid’s Day just behind us on February 1st. There is a “grand stretch in the evenings” and the promise of Spring with daffodils starting to bloom by the roadside.

We had great fun last week with the latest episode of the “Letter from Ireland Show” – where we talked about gaining Irish citizenship and spoke to a very particular Irish-American who moved over here with her young family a few years back. Not to be missed – you can catch up with the latest episode by clicking here.

I’m having a cup of Lyon’s Tea as I write, and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into today’s letter.

The One-Armed Wonderboy of One Irish Tribe.

If we go back to a time before the Normans arrived in Ireland in the 1100s, Ireland was divided into a number of tribal territories – each with their local Chieftain and usually affiliated to a local “over-King”. “Airgialla” was such a tribal territory – located in parts of what are now counties Louth, Monaghan and Armagh to the north-east of the island. Maybe some of your Irish ancestors came from these parts?

The leading families in Airgialla (and these are still numerous surnames in the region today) were:

McArdle, Callan, McCann, O’Carroll, McCasey, McConville, Cosgrave, Creehan, Crehan,  Crilly, Cullen, Fagan, Finn, Flanagan, Garvey, Gillespie, Hanlon, Hare, Hayes, Keelaghan, Keenan, Loy, Lynn, McMahon, McNally, Quaid, Rogan, Scanlan, Sherry, Traynor, Wade.

Any of your Irish surnames there? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

The reason you may not recognise names like “Airgialla” today is because they were anglicised over the centuries. In this case “Airgialla” became “Oriel” and the spirit of that old Irish Gaelic Kingdom lives on with the word “Oriel” implanted in many placenames throughout the region today. One such placename is “Oriel Park” in the town of Dundalk – the main town in County Louth. For the past hundred years or so, Oriel Park has been the home of Dundalk F.C. soccer football club.

Now, alongside the surnames I mentioned above, there are many lesser-known surnames in the region – one example is the “Hasty” surname which you will find in the north of County Monaghan and the subject of our letter today goes by that surname. Jimmy Hasty was always soccer-mad – and he developed into a serious talent as he advanced into his teenage years. However, on the very first day of a new job in a local factory, he lost one of his arms in an awful accident. For many, that would be the end of a career on the soccer field, but somehow he re-trained his mind and body to compensate for this loss over the next twelve months. Against all the odds he not only got back onto the field – but became a successful striker with Newry Town. He was hard to ignore – both in terms of the many goals he put onto the scoreboard and the strange sight of someone who looked like they had “one arm tied behind their back” as he danced through the opposition’s defence.

On November 20th, 1960, he made his debut in Oriel Park with the local big team – Dundalk F.C. The fans were sceptical on the day – they felt they were looking at an invalid who would drag their team down to relegation. But Jimmy went on to score in that match – and over the following month Dundalk scored a further 21 goals, most of them made or finished by Jimmy Hasty. The fans view of their new “one-armed wonderboy” switched from scepticism to adoration – and over a career that confounded commentators wherever he played, Jimmy scored 103 goals for his team. It was an amazing record that has rarely been equaled.

Jimmy left Dundalk in 1966, got married and started a family. However, in 1974 – and still at the young age of 34 – he was shot dead by a local paramilitary organisation while walking down a street in Belfast. He was the victim of a “tit-for-tat” killing and being a prominent Catholic figure would be sure to make the news headlines.

Shortly after his funeral, a testimonial game was organised in Oriel Park to raise funds for his young family. While the charge on the gate was two pounds, many were seen to give at least five pounds and comment “now, don’t be trying to give me any change from that”. Jimmy Hasty of Dundalk FC is still remembered fondly to this day around all of the north-east. Here’s to Jimmy Hasty, the “one-armed wonderboy” of the Airgialla – a true inspiration to all of us!

That’s it for this week – If you would like to share your ancestral story – or the surnames in your family tree – do feel free to leave your comments below and connect.

We do look forward to you joining us again next week.

Slán for now, Mike & Carina.