Almanac Memoir: My Grandfather Played Hurling

Although he has been gone for some fifteen years now, so habitual and familiar were my visits to his house that I still occasionally check myself from absent-mindedly turning my car into his street. I was fortunate that I had a close relationship with Neddy Dawson, my late grandfather. I was his first grandchild, and spent the first eight years growing up in a house only a block away from his. In that distant age, from the age of three I would traverse around the corner to his place on an almost daily basis.


He was a wonderful storyteller. At family gatherings it would take only a minimal amount of urging to set him on his away. And it did not matter how often we had heard a tale from his formative years in the countryside of County Limerick, we never got tired of listening and laughing along with him. He would also tell us of his time on the front line in World War 2, these stories more serious, but told with a lightness of touch – possibly to disguise the horrors he had witnessed.


My favourite photograph of my grandfather dates from the early 1930s. It was before he was driven from Ireland (a different story altogether), and shows him standing in a field with his brother Paddy, both of them with one hand on their hurley, the other hand on their hip. My father once told me that Neddy and his four brothers had represented Co. Limerick in hurling, that most Irish of sports. I cannot recall my grandfather telling a story in which hurling featured. But I do remember the hurley he kept beneath his bed, just at arm’s length, ready to be brandished should any intruder be unfortunate enough to pick the wrong premises in which to trespass. The hurley in the photo, and the hurley which he kept beside his bed are one and the same. Although he never said so, that stick must have meant so much to him, having accompanied him on his escape from Ireland, to the pre-War years in Birmingham, through to his post-war emigration to Australia with his young family.



Neddy Dawson (left) with his brother Paddy and their hurleys, circa early 1930s



When Neddy passed away at the grand old age of 92, I souvenired from his room his scally cap (which, alas, is too small for me to wear) and his hurling stick. I also have his brother Roger’s hurley. Almost a century old, those sticks have lived on a shelf in my shed for over a decade, awaiting the next step in their storied existence. The handles are smooth where Neddy and Roger gripped them with their large Irish farm-boy hands. The toes of the hurleys are worn and dented, and one of the sticks is badly cracked. One is held at the bottom by two ancient steel bands, a practice that is still common in Ireland, similar to taping a cricket bat, I guess. Each time I enter the shed, I take a hurley in my hand and grasp it, placing my hands on the handle which my grandfather’s hands once held.



The hurleys (or hurley sticks) today



If only these hurleys could tell stories in the manner of my grandfather. Imagine what they have seen and heard, and the journeys which they have undertaken! Were they used in front of a large crowd or only in a paddock outside Limerick? How often did they hit the sliotar beneath the bar for three points? I have considered sanding them, staining them and framing them for display. But would that not cheapen them, destroy their essence and charm, and reduce them to a common piece of sporting memorabilia? I am torn. Nonetheless, these hurleys remain a cherished piece of my family history, and a tangible link to Neddy.


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Beautifully told, Smokie! Take care of that hurley just in case it speaks one day. Any chance of a follow-up about Neddy being driven out of the Emerald Isle?

  2. You learn something new every day. I always thought hurling meant some idiot throwing up after having too much to drink.

  3. Love it Smoke. I gather your grandfather is the bigger bloke?

    Get a furniture restorer to give them some restoration touches, don’t stain them, maybe a French polish, then frame them up and take them straight to the pool room. When people look at them they’ll tell their stories.

  4. I love stories about simple objects in which we’ve made considerable personal investment so that they take on an enchanted value. Just like this one. Fantastic family history artefact.

    I recall the first time I saw hurling on tele. I was astonished at the skill, pace and remarkable bravery. I’ve seen gaelic footy live but would love to see hurling too. One day.

    Thanks Smokie.

  5. Mark Duffett says

    Lovely work, Smokie. Resemblances often aren’t noticed within families, but I reckon yours looks pretty strong.

  6. Roger Lowrey says

    Love the story Smokie. Great yarn.

  7. Love your worsts Smokie.

    I wouldn’t take to the Hurley’s with the sandpaper!!

    The aged patina is the keeper of all the untold stories

  8. Brilliant Smokie. Put one under the bed to protect you from burglars – and whisper stories to you in your dreams. If you can part with one – I need a new putter.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful Smokie.

    Hurling is a fantastic game to watch on TV and I’m always disappointed that it (and gaelic football) don’t ever seem to appear on the myriad of sports channels on Foxtel.

    Love the picture of Neddy, very much looks like you.

  10. That’s a fine photograph and a fine story, Smokie.

    I wonder what that character is up to under Paddy’s left arm there.

    In 2002 I was lucky enough to be in Ireland – but only for about a week.
    I visited a friend from Australia who lived in Dublin with her Irish fella and various Irish housemates.
    I remain everlastingly grateful that they took me to Croke Park to watch the hurling.I’m certain that the combatants that day were Co Clare and Co Galway. Searching now – it must have been an All-Ireland Quarter Final of 2002.
    Stunning game.
    Stunning crowd.
    Stunning atmosphere.
    A wonderful, wonderful madness of people and culture and stories.

    [and I’m with Kate]

  11. DBalassone says

    Cracking yarn Smokie, begorrah!

  12. Thanks for your comments, one and all.

    Neddy would be highly amused at my words (but proud of me, as he always was!)
    When SBS first started, they regularly showed both the Gaelic football and hurling All-Ireland finals. Neddy would sit up all night and watch them.

    As it goes, I will be in Dublin in two weeks time when the hurling final is on. Tickets are very hard to come by.

  13. Great read, Smokie. Well done.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Every second winter Sunday arvo, hurling and Gaelic football was played at Mofflin Reserve, Elizabeth Vale in the early 70s. I soon learned that a seat alongside the goalpost was not a very smart place to be.

    Ripper, Smokie.

  15. Paul Daffey says

    Good one, Smoke. I love the hurling. I, too, want to hear about your grandfather’s departure from Limerick.

    One of my greatest sporting memories is going to the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick City to see Limerick host Cork in an early round of the Munster championship. So much colour, so much feeling.

    I can still feel the emotion after everyone had turned to the Tricolour flag for the rendition of the Solder’s Song before the game. I can still see Sean Og O’hAilpin, a teenaged bank jockey rom the Northside of Cork City, haring down the wing to send the sliothar into attack.

    At the end of that year, my work colleagues from the Irish Times gave me a hurley and a Kilkenny top as my parting gifts. These days, the hurley is parked up against the book shelves. My kids pick it up more than I do. I’ve got to tell them more stories about the hurling matches I was lucky enough to see during my time in Ireland.

  16. Nice to re-visit this Smoke. Did you ever get your grandfather on tape?

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