Thursday 15 November 2018

A tragic accident ended the life of Dublin hurler Paul Mulhere at just 25, but his memory lives on

 

Paul Mulhere in action
Paul Mulhere in action

Dermot Crowe

Paul Mulhere, the 25-year-old Dublin hurler, was last night stated to be still critical at St Vincent's Hospital after suffering a serious head injury during last Sunday's Division One National Hurling League victory by Dublin over Laois. - The Cork Examiner, Wednesday November 6, 1985

Only the truly dedicated made the journey to Croke Park that Sunday afternoon. A crowd of 1,800 watched Dublin win by 13 points in the National League against a Laois team that had beaten them by a dozen points in the Leinster Championship earlier in the year. Dublin, who had risen from Division 2, celebrated their first win in the top tier since their promotion.

Brendan Mulhere, Fidelma Byrne and James Mulhere hold a photo of their brother, Paul. Photo: Tony Gavin
Brendan Mulhere, Fidelma Byrne and James Mulhere hold a photo of their brother, Paul. Photo: Tony Gavin

Had it stayed at that, the match would have faded quickly from memory. The next morning's newspaper reports paid little heed to an injury suffered by the Dublin midfielder, Paul Mulhere. In attempting to block a Laois player Mulhere was accidentally hit in the follow-through, the hurl striking him on the head. There was no visible wound. The Dublin midfielder was wearing a helmet.

Mulhere, having been attended to for a few minutes, resumed playing before being taken off and he watched the rest of the match from the dugout. In the Canal End that day, Eamonn Potts, Mulhere's manager at Good Counsel, saw the incident and was sufficiently concerned to go down to the dressing rooms afterwards to check on his welfare.

"The place was nearly empty, as usual with Dublin hurling," recalls Potts, 33 years later. "I saw exactly what happened. Laois were playing towards Hill 16. It was a total accident, completely. In fact, Paul's eagerness to do his job was instrumental in the dreadful accident."

When a Laois player won possession, one of the Dublin hurlers - also a Good Counsel man, Dessie Byrne - closed in on his striking side, his right, to attempt a block. "And suddenly then (the Laois player) turned, naturally enough," says Potts, "to hit on the other side. But he didn't know or didn't see Paul coming from the other side. He threw the ball up and Paul actually flicked the ball away and left himself completely open to the swing. He didn't see him coming, couldn't have seen him coming. So that's what happened."

(left to right) Eamonn Potts and Eddie Walsh were trustees of the Paul Mulhere Memorial Scholarship. ‘I think what we did was worthwhile,’ says Walsh. ‘It impacted very favourably on quite a number of people and their families. And it did great honour to Paul.’ Photo: Tony Gavin
(left to right) Eamonn Potts and Eddie Walsh were trustees of the Paul Mulhere Memorial Scholarship. ‘I think what we did was worthwhile,’ says Walsh. ‘It impacted very favourably on quite a number of people and their families. And it did great honour to Paul.’ Photo: Tony Gavin

The dressing rooms then were located between the old Hogan Stand and Canal End. "I went down to him and I said (to Paul), 'that was some belt you got'. And he said, 'yeah, and funny enough, there isn't even a scar.' And I said, 'well you still need to go and get it seen to'. And he said, 'oh,' he said, 'I am'. Brendan (his brother) was collecting him. Next thing I heard was a phone call from Jim Boggan on the Monday morning and I nearly died."

* * * * *

The young Dublin hurling star, Paul Mulhere died in the intensive care unit of St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, last night, three days after he suffered head injuries while playing for his county in a League match against Laois.

The Irish Press
Thursday November 7, 1985

 

Paul Mulhere was the eldest of five, and grew up on the family farm in Athgoe near Newcastle on the western outskirts of Dublin. When he died the family all still lived at home, including Jacinta, two years younger at 23, Brendan aged 20, James 18 and Fidelma 15. Though some distance away, Paul became a Good Counsel hurler through attending school in Drimnagh Castle, where his brothers went and where his father Hughie was caretaker.

The day before the accident, he was umpiring at an under 21 match in which his brother Brendan played. Eamonn Potts remembers Brendan hurling so well that at one stage Paul shouted out, good humouredly, "another midfielder for you, Eamonn". The next day Brendan, Paul, and Paul's girlfriend, Mary Carthy, drove from Athgoe to Croke Park for the league game against Laois.

Mulhere was an established and valued member of the county team. He first made the team in 1980 in a League match against Kerry in Ardfert but took a break while studying in Warrenstown Agricultural College in Meath, before resuming his career in 1983. He served as captain of the Good Counsel team and is remembered for being a natural leader, much loved, a rallying figure without being dictatorial.

"Well, he loved hurling," says his brother James. "He wouldn't miss a training session. Even if he was going up the field for the cows he'd always have a hurl with him. He was always trying to be a better hurler. He was a very clean player but he'd be a tough player on the pitch. He could go through you, but then he'd go back and pick you up, you know that kind of thing?"

After graduating from Warrenstown, Mulhere began working at the Crop Husbandry division at University College Dublin, Lyons Estate, which was located next to his home in Athgoe. Farming remained an important part of his life. He helped milk cows daily by hand. With that background he was not typical of the Dublin hurler of the time.

Potts enjoys telling a story from when he was helping Jim Boggan with the Dublin seniors, when they trained at O'Toole Park. Potts would be assigned the duty of checking each arrival. "So before the training sessions I was to keep tabs on who was coming from both squads," he explains. "And this evening the last two still outstanding were Paul and young Des Foley. And Paul was the first in, he would charge in, always running. I said, 'What kept you?' And he said, 'Ah we were taking in the hay.' And he went on. Then Des Foley comes in shortly afterwards. Same thing. 'What kept you?' 'We were taking in the hay.' I went down and told Jim Boggan. And when this was explained in the dressing room you could hear this distinct Dublin accent coming from the back saying, 'Are we a Dublin team or wha?'"

Two weeks after the Laois game Dublin were scheduled to play Kilkenny in Croke Park. Potts says the prospect of playing Kilkenny greatly excited Paul Mulhere. On the day Dublin, less than a fortnight after his death, fought bravely and salvaged a draw. The players wore black arm bands. But Potts was absent.

"I couldn't go. I couldn't motivate myself to go to it. I think it was the first Kilkenny match that I probably ever missed that was in Croke Park."

He warmly recalls Paul Mulhere's speeches as club captain at half-time. "We (management) used to just drift away and leave Paul. And he'd go and go and go. And even players who were mediocre would turn in a huge second half performance. That's the kind of a guy he was. And even after the event there used to be a memorial Mass every year around the date. And myself and my wife used to go up to the family. And it was great to be able to sit down and talk with them in a special way. We kept that going for a good few years until age caught up, and mileage caught up.

"So that was the effect it had on me, it was really dreadful that it could happen to such a nice person."

* * * * *

The impact of Paul Mulhere's death on the GAA community was far-reaching. Letters poured in offering sympathy. Offers of help came from a multitude of sources. In Brendan's home there now stands an impressively-preserved piece of Tyrone Crystal which was sent from the Tyrone County Board on behalf of all 'Tyrone Gaels'. When donations were sought for the purpose of supporting a suitable memorial to Paul Mulhere, clubs from all over the country responded and Tyrone was one of the most generous, as were many counties up north.

At a time when helmets were not commonplace, he chose to wear one. But it did not save him. The impact on the player who struck him, though it was entirely accidental, was also severe. Ten years ago Pat Critchley recalled that period in his life and how it shook him to the core. While Paul Mulhere was on life support, a Mass was held in Drimnagh which Critchley attended. "He was in smithereens," remembers Potts sympathetically.

At the inquest which followed Paul Mulhere's death it was claimed that the injury had a "sinister" aspect in being slow to reveal its full gravity, and how the symptoms only became obvious after what was referred to as a "lucid interval".

Patrick Kane was the official first-aid man for the Dublin team on the day. He said he had no external injuries but complained of a pain in his head when he went to his assistance.

"Afterwards he showered and I noticed a dilation of his pupils and it occurred to me to call an ambulance. However, as his brother had his car I thought this would be quicker."

Coroner Professor PJ Boffin in recording death due to a fractured skull and extradural haemorrhaging outlined that because of the complex nature of his internal injuries, the player was fully conscious and chatted with the doctor for ten to 15 minutes and only complained of being dizzy. He was warned that if he felt sick or suffered headache he should go immediately to a casualty unit, the inquest was told.

It was a difficult time for the GAA. At the inquest a claim that hurling was an "inherently dangerous game" was rejected by Professor Boffin. But naturally the incident opened questions around safety issues and the adequacy of headgear as a means of protection.

The impact on Brendan, having been with his brother on the day, was understandably harrowing. "He was so very, very cut up as you can understand that he wanted to break all kind of connections that would be reminding him of it on a daily basis," says Potts. "So with our best wishes he gave up the hurling and went on to play football with Mary's of Saggart. That's where he ended up playing."

Brendan become part of a St Mary's team that climbed from Division 4 league football to Division 1 and had a fulfilling career of his own. He played in a Masters All-Ireland final for Dublin against Mayo with some former stars like Joe McNally and Mick Deegan and didn't quit playing until he was 45. But he never hurled again. "After that I didn't play anything for about a year," confirms Brendan. "And then I decided I'd go back but then I decided I would go back to a club that wasn't playing hurling."

He is asked if that decision not to hurl was down to what had happened to Paul? "I don't know whether it was. It may have been that if I went out playing hurling my parents might have been worried again."

* * * * *

Hughie and Mary Mulhere, their parents, are both now deceased. Mary died two years ago, Hughie passed away aged 85 in 2013. But they were comforted to some extent by the legacy of a long-running scholarship set up in their son's name. Soon after his death, a group of people came together to form a committee to decide on a suitable memorial. In Lyons, Paul Mulhere came to know Eddie Walsh, a native of Wexford and a former hurler and footballer who held the position of Professor of Crop Science in the UCD Agriculture Science Faculty.

Walsh grew up in the 1950s influenced by the Rackards and the mesmeric teams of that decade. He became instrumental in launching and overseeing a scholarship fund which would lead to 26 students receiving vital financial support over the decades that followed. The funds which supported the enterprise were raised within a short time of Paul Mulhere's death, around €41,000 in today's currency which was a colossal amount of money then. It spoke volumes for the way in which his death resonated with people at the time.

"Paul's life interests, if you like, were his family of course," says Walsh. "He had a long-term girlfriend at the time. And his work and, of course, hurling. And he had a great involvement with students. So it seemed very appropriate that whatever memorial we might come up with that it would embrace all of those things. And that's where the scholarship came to mind first and it took off from there and people bought into it.

"I had the good fortune to be his supervisor or boss or whatever and that was for six or seven years. I got to know Paul very well, I got to know the family very well. So his involvement with agricultural research, with students and so on, that kind of sold the idea of the scholarship.

"We had one son. And he used to come out with me during the summers, work down in Lyons, with Paul, when he was 11-12, that age. Paul used to keep racing pigeons and my son became interested in that and much to my wife's horror started keeping racing pigeons at home. He idolised Paul."

Once they decided on the idea, with the family's support, the committee set about raising the necessary funding. The Wolfe Tones offered up a free concert in the Green Isle Hotel. The Chieftains matched that gesture. Both nights were sell-outs. A nationwide draw was launched with tickets at £100. And they ran a hugely successful golf classic at Stackstown. The entry fee for four was £275 and it brought in around £11,000 profit after costs, an enormous amount. The response was phenomenal.

"I was only a young man," says Declan Conroy, a former Good Counsel team-mate of Mulhere and part of the early fund-raising drive. "I played with him, went to school with him and then I got involved in something that I knew nothing about. I hardly knew what a scholarship was. I had to help organise the golf classic and sure I hadn't a clue but you muck in and learn as you go along through a process of - I don't know that it was; I suppose collegiality?"

Scholarship applicants who had a GAA involvement carried added prospects under the criteria drawn up and a group of Trustees was formed to look after the fund. Mulhere's Dublin manager Jim Boggan was involved. Potts and Walsh were there all the way through until it was decided to wind it down, with funds almost exhausted in the last few years.

"At the time of Paul's death there were offers of financial support but the family were fairly unanimous and strong in their view - they didn't want any kind of material benefit or gesture," says Walsh. "I was in the Mulhere house almost on a daily basis for a while after that. And they were kept abreast of the way people were thinking and so on. And they were very happy with that."

A silver medal and monetary award is also given out to a UCD student annually in Paul Mulhere's memory.

* * * * *

The funeral of Paul Mulhere fell on a Saturday. The former Taoiseach and Cork hurler, Jack Lynch, was there and many others from the hurling community and other walks of life. "The chapel was very small as you can imagine," says Eamonn Potts, "it was a country chapel at one stage. The crowd was so big that hundreds of us had to stay outside. And it was lashing rain that morning. And I was watching the people coming in. The first one I noticed was Jack Lynch. Then the Connolly brothers (from Galway). The next one I was delighted to see was Dessie 'Snitchy' Ferguson. After that I ran out of names."

The Director General of the GAA, Liam Mulvihill, was among the mourners that also included Don Cotter, chairman of Dublin County Board, and the secretary Jim King. The coffin was carried from the church by club team-mates and draped in the Dublin colours. The Dublin team captain at the time Canice Hennebry, who has since passed away, said that it "typified his commitment to the game that after receiving the head injury against Laois he joked that he could not afford to miss the following Tuesday night's training session."

Hennebry was on the first committee set up to look at ways of honouring Paul Mulhere. The first chairman was Boggan. Their work spawned the Paul Mulhere Memorial Scholarship that helped alter the lives of 26 students over the next three decades.

"I am glad we did it, that's my main thought," says Eamonn Potts now, all these years later as the fund has drawn to a close. "I'd be kicking myself if we'd done nothing."

Eddie Walsh agrees. "I think what we did was worthwhile. It impacted very favourably on quite a number of people and their families. And it did great honour to Paul."

The last scholarship was awarded in November 2015, to a student following a four-year degree programme in St Pat's, Drumcondra, who is due to graduate in 2019. There were some heart-rending stories too. One recipient who had high grades through school was unable to afford a college education after her father lost his job in the economic crash. The trustees were moved to tears on hearing her successful application and what the funding would mean to her and her family.

"The fund had nearly gone so what were you going to do? Go back fundraising again? Maybe it had come to a natural kind of ending and the fact that our parents had passed on it seemed kind of natural," says James Mulhere.

"I think we need to acknowledge the amount of work they did and to thank them for it," says his sister Jacinta. "It's longer than Paul's life when you think about it."

Time has helped heal the pain of his loss but it can never explain the absurdity of a young man losing his life playing the game he loved. "It was just like a 25-year-old in the prime of your life and you go out to play a match and you don't come home," as Brendan says. "And that was it."

Now and then something will bring it all back to them again. "We have all got older and greyer," says Jacinta. "We've all had children and you look back and wonder what kind of life would he have had?"

They recall the first two scholarships, awarded to a girl from Donegal and a boy from Tallaght in 1988, with both of the Mulhere parents in attendance. "You could never quantify the amount of work that they did," says Jacinta of the committee and the people who helped at the time. "And they did it behind the scenes. See, we weren't that involved in it. But they did Trojan work."

The family has kept a piece written by Paul Mulhere's former teacher at Drimnagh Castle on the Long Mile Road, Br Perkins, a native of Tipperary, who knew him since the age of six. He recalled meeting him a year before the tragedy when Dublin played Tipperary at Moneygall. "He came up to me smiling to shake hands with me. He had as beautiful a personality as one would wish to see."

Were he here to see it, Paul Mulhere would have been deeply moved by the lasting impact of the scholarship and the incalculable kindness of people like Eddie Walsh and Eamonn Potts and all who helped preserve his memory. If he were here now he would see that his youngest sister Fidelma has only just retired from playing camogie due to injury and that she has a daughter Aisling who plays and a son Paul, named after his uncle, who hurls with Ardclough just over the border in Kildare. He is currently sporting three broken fingers. Brendan, James and Jacinta all have children playing Gaelic games. Given Paul Mulhere's own love of the games that might have pleased him most of all.

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