Shock as Kerry's best-loved son dies of a suspected heart attack
There was widespread shock in sporting, political and social circles at the sudden death yesterday of the Kerry football legend Paidi O Se, winner of eight All-Ireland medals and one of Kerry's best-loved characters.
A family friend said Mr O Se complained of feeling unwell when he got up yesterday morning at his home in Ard a Bothar, Ventry, and returned to bed, where he passed away a short time later, of a suspected heart attack.
It is understood his wife, Maire, made the grim discovery when she went to check if he was feeling all right. Mr O Se had not been ill before that and, it is understood, he had played cards with friends in Paud Quinn's pub in Ventry on Friday night.
He is survived by Maire, a secondary school teacher in Dingle, and their three grown-up children, daughters Neasa, and Siun and son Padraig Og.
The normally bustling pub in Ventry closed yesterday as neighbours, friends and relatives gathered at the family home. Paidi's close friend, Derry Murphy, said the entire county was in mourning.
"He was preparing a winter training programme for both of us. I am in deep shock," he said. Kerry County Board chairman, Patrick O'Sullivan said: "I'm heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken."
Former GAA president Sean Kelly described Mr O Se as one of the biggest and most successful personalities the GAA has ever seen, and he excelled as both a player and a manager.
Mr O Se's former team-mate and pal, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan, said that when Paidi was growing up in Ventry he had only one ambition and that was to play for Kerry.
"It was his dream and it came true for him. Paidi marked me in training for 10 years and every bone in my body felt it. He toughened me up, that's for sure," the Kenmare man added.
Mr O Se was also a successful football manager in Kerry, as well as leading Westmeath to provincial glory for the first time in their history.
On Friday night, the Sunday Independent Gaelic football columnist had been in exuberant form behind the bar of his Ventry pub, which had become a stopping-off point for the rich and famous visiting the southwest.
Former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, former US president Bill Clinton, actors Tom Cruise and Martin Sheen and singer Dolly Parton are among the international figures and celebrities whose portraits grace the pub walls.
A family friend told the Sunday Independent yesterday: "He was in top form last night, I was with him in the bar. There was a card night and he was in top form."
Mr O Se won eight All-Ireland medals and played in 10 finals, as well as winning 11 Munster football championships, four National League titles, four Railway Cups, five All Stars and two County Senior Championships.
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Famed Kerry manager Mick O'Dwyer recalled: "He was playing for the Kerry minors when I first came across him in the early Seventies. Even back then you could see he was something special.
"Wearing that Kerry jersey meant so much to Paidi. He'd fight to the last for the green and gold. It was his lifelong ambition to represent his county. To go on and win eight All-Ireland medals speaks for itself." Pat Spillane described his old comrade as a "warrior". Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said he was "arguably the best defender to grace Croke Park. He was a one-off – truly unique".
Paidi attended St Brendan's in Killarney, from which he was expelled ("they caught me drinking"), and went on to take his Leaving Certificate at St Michael's in Listowel.
He joined the gardai and served for four years, stationed in Limerick, where he played rugby for Young Munster for a year. The same year he took the lease on Kruger Kavanagh's pub in Dunquin. When he bought his own pub in Ventry, Charlie Haughey arrived by helicopter to take part in the opening.
Years after the 1975 All-Ireland "eclipse" of Dublin he recalled: "To this day, winning that All-Ireland medal is my greatest thrill. The oldest person on the team was Brendan Lynch and he was only 25. Nobody gave us a chance: we were just a team of 15 bachelors from Kerry up for the day. I think that's one of the reasons for the success of the team. Most of us started out together, coming through minor football. We made some mistakes but we learned from them and we fought back and we showed our critics what we were made of."
Last night, an online book of condolence was opened on Paidi's website, Paidiose.com. Visitors to the site can leave a message of sympathy for Paidi's family and are invited to leave their favourite Paidi memory on the website.
Mr O Se's body is to be waked at his home in Ventry tonight and will be in repose throughout Monday.
According to the details of the death notice, published last night, his remains are to arrive Ventry Church on Tuesday for 12 noon Requiem Mass and funeral afterwards to Reilig Caitlíona, Ventry.