Art honoured on special night

Published 15/12/2015 | 00:00

Goalkeeping great Art Foley is interviewed on stage at the function in New York
Goalkeeping great Art Foley is interviewed on stage at the function in New York

In a huge showing of native Wexford pride, almost 150 ex-patriate sons and daughters of Wexford gathered in midtown Manhattan to honor Art Foley, the goalkeeper on Wexford's All-Ireland winning hurling teams of 1955 and 1956.

Fresh off a game-clinching save from Cork's Christy Ring in the 1956 All-Ireland hurling final - a save that some G.A.A. historians rate as the greatest ever made in Croke Park - Art emigrated to the U.S.A. with his wife, Anne, and their then three young children in 1957.

Eventually settling in Long Island just outside New York, Art has lived a quiet, dignified life there for almost 60 years, raising a family of six children, and now grandchildren and great grandchildren.

None of Art's neighbours or co-workers at the airline company where he worked - several of whom were at the function - knew or appreciated that he was a revered sporting star in his native homeland. Even leaders in New York's Wexford community did not realise that Art was alive and well in Long Island all these decades.

'After receiving a call from Wexford Hurling Supporters' Club leader Joe Carroll in January of this year, I had to go through several channels to determine where Art lived and if he was still with us,' said Wexford Association President and Ramsgrange native, John Murphy.

'Fortunately for us, some members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians who worked with Art years ago had a number for him and we established contact and set about righting something that should have been done years ago - honouring Art for his legendary achievements,' Murphy said.

On hand to participate in honouring Art were Irish Consulate General Barbara Jones, a native of Enniscorthy; famed singer of a hugely popular rock band in the States, Wexford town native Larry Kirwan; and, the majority leader of New York's City Council, Jimmy Van Bramer, whose grandmother hails originally from Wexford.

Consulate General Jones said the event filled her with emotion for her native county and said all Wexfordians and indeed Irish emigres throughout the U.S. could take pride in the honour and accomplishments of a man like Art.

Majority City Council leader Van Bramer said that it stirred in him great feelings of joy to be in the company of so many people from his grandmother's homeland. Despite having a number of other civic engagements requiring his attendance, Van Bramer stayed on for the entire evening, basking in the company of his fellow Irishmen and women.

Self-proclaimed rebel and renowned Celtic rocker Larry Kirwan spoke about how stories of the legendary Wexford team of the 1950s, which featured men like Bobby and Nickey Rackard, Nick O'Donnell and Ned Wheeler to name a few, filled the conversations of his youth, and their greatness was something everyone agreed even when they disagreed on politics or other issues of the day.

Former Association President and current candidate for public office in Wexford, Breda Cahill, also presented Art with a recognition from Wexford County Council.

The evening featured moving video tributes to Art sent over from Wexford by captain of the 1996 All-Ireland hurling team, Martin Storey, and one of the only other surviving members of the 1950s Wexford team, Ned Wheeler.

Bringing the packed house to both tears and laughter, Ned's tribute included a line of thanks to Art for making the most courageous save he ever saw to secure a famous win in a game in which Wexford were underdogs. 'It was a beautiful thing you did Art, not only for yourself, your team-mates but all the Wexford people down the years,' Wheeler said.

'God bless you Art, and please God you will come back and see me here so we can have an ould drink sometime,' concluded Wheeler, bringing his friend and former team-mate Art to tears.

'I want to dedicate tonight and this honouring to our team of the 1950s, so many of whom are no longer living,' said Art in moving words to a hushed crowd.

In a question and answer session conducted with Art by leading member of the Irish community in New York, Enniscorthy native Martin Kehoe, he displayed an incredible memory by describing minute details from Wexford Minor matches in the early 1940s, Railway Cup and Oireachtas games, and of course, his famous save in the 1956 All-Ireland final.

'The world stopped for about three seconds. The crowd held their breaths. Christy Ring let fly a bullet from about the 20-yard line and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to catch it. So I just put the hurl up, the ball struck it, and it went straight up in the air,' Art recalled.

'It seemed to hang there for a while but when it came down I was able to clear it with the Cork full-forward line motionless.' The rest of course was history as the ball was cleared down the other end of the field for Nickey Rackard to goal, and Tom Dixon to ice the win with a last-minute point.

Recalling another famous incident from that final, Art described how Christy Ring was shouldered off the field by his Wexford team-mates after the final whistle was blown, a display of sportsmanship that is one of the finest in G.A.A. history. 'We carried him off because we could. Simple as that,' said Art in his quiet and matter of fact way.

'Tonight was magical,' said Martin Kehoe. 'In 2015, to be brought back to the 1940s and '50s in such rich and vivid detail by a man who lived through a golden age of our county's sporting history is remarkable.'

'I have lived in New York for over half a century myself,' said Fethard native and Wexford stalwart Jimmy Gleeson, 'and tonight was one of the most moving and powerful nights the Wexford community has ever had together'.

Closing out the evening, Association President Murphy thanked all in attendance for their support in keeping the spirit of the Model county alive and well, and said he looked forward to future events where county pride would be on display.

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