‘An entertainer and raconteur’: Mayo bids farewell to Paddy Prendergast

Last surviving starting player from 1951 All-Ireland winning team died at the weekend

It was an unpleasant irony that the late Paddy Prendergast, who died at the weekend at the age of 95, found himself as much a victim of social media and innuendo as the current players thanks to the historical defamation that lies at the heart of the alleged Mayo 'curse'.

This fabrication arose in recent times and suggested that as long as any member of the 1951 All-Ireland winning team were alive, Mayo would not win an All-Ireland - all because their homecoming had disturbed a funeral in Foxford.

Tony O'Connor, chair of Prendergast's home club, Ballintubber, and father of current Mayo players Cillian and Diarmuid, is also a GAA historian - chairing the club history committee, which produced 'Face the Ball, Ballintubber,' a McNamee award winner on its publication 20 years ago.

A friend of Prendergast, who interviewed him on many occasions, he debunks the ‘curse’ simply and effectively.


“They were a very religious group of players, who got Mass every morning when in collective training. So the idea of this curse is a load of rubbish. A group of players more likely to respect a funeral you couldn’t imagine.

“Poor Paddy. It was basically hurting him that this was going on. As he said himself, if there were any truth in it, ‘I’d roll over and die’ but he said there wasn’t an iota of substance to it. It was grossly insulting and very unpleasant.”

It was in some ways a lonely position to be the last man standing of the starting team of 1951 - former GAA president Mick Loftus is the sole survivor of the panel - but he was the antithesis of lonely.

"I met him regularly," says Martin Carney, who shared his distinction of having played for both Donegal and Mayo. "Paddy played for Donegal with my father in the 1940s. Both he and John Forde, a soldier based in Finner, were Mayo men playing in Donegal. He was a lovely man, a real gentleman."

Forde would join him in the Mayo full-back line along with captain Seán Flanagan.

Work in the Guards took Prendergast to Donegal where he also played Railway Cup for Ulster but a fateful letter from a Mayo player Liam Hastings, inviting him to play for his own county, brought about his move and a career with three All-Ireland finals, including the back-to-back successes in 1950-51, which continue to be the county’s most recent.

Magnetic presence

“Paddy was charismatic,” says O’Connor. “He was an entertainer and raconteur and a story teller - larger than life with not only a physical presence but a magnetic presence about him as well. If he walked into a room people gravitated towards him and he held his audience spellbound. His memory was as clear as anything. A fantastic character.”

His introduction to Mayo in a challenge against Galway was testing. Unable to drive, he had to endure the agony of a long-distance bus traveller in the Ireland of the 1940s arriving in Ballina for the match and “no-one asking had he a mouth on him,” according to Tony O’Connor.

Within the first few minutes Ned Keogh had scored two goals off him. According to Keith Duggan’s melancholic contemplation of Mayo football House of Pain, team captain and lifelong friend Seán Flanagan asked him what he was doing. “To be frank, Seán, I have no idea,” came the response.

Afterwards, Flanagan took him aside, says O’Connor, “and sat him down with an A4 sheet of paper to discuss the ‘geometry’ of full-back play” and the converted centrefielder obviously impressed during this tutorial - what Mayo News sage Seán Rice once described as the captain’s “chilling scrutiny” - as he would go on to man the square for the great years to come.

That full-back line, “safe as the Rock of Cashel” in the words of The Irish Times correspondent Patrick Mehigan, was the foundation of the two All-Ireland wins.

A gregarious man, who lived most of his life in Tralee, Prendergast loved coming home, playing cards and fishing on Lough Carra.

“He never blamed the wind or the sunlight if he caught nothing,” says Tony O’Connor. “He used to say, ‘you know, the fish are better educated these days’. He leaves a huge void in our club and many other places.”