It started on the Late Late Show
ASK ANY Wexfordian where they were on the night of February 28, 1976 and they'd honestly answer 'at home in front of the telly'. It was a big night for yella belly broadcasting. This was the night when Packie Hayden went national!
As Collette rolled it in Montrose for Gay Byrne, the Belvedere Grove entertainer wound the Late Late Show audience up to a frenzy with his unmistakeable rendition of 'The Hucklebuck'.
Brendan Boyer may have made the song a hit, but Packie Hayden made the tune his own.
Packie appeared on the Late Late Show at a time when the nation tuned in religiously on a Saturday night.
Gay Byrne's chat show was the flagship in the RTE programming schedule, and having a prestigious slot in a weekly broadcast was more than a book-hawking exercise.
Packie's effervescent style of singing, his unique magnetism and infectious energy brought him to Gaybo's attention at a talent competition in the Cedar's Hotel.
In 1975 the Cedar's had a county wide talent quest, and Gay Byrne was the high profile adjudicator for the grand finale.
'I met Michael 'The Guvner' Farrell from Devereux Villas and he told me that there was a big competition going on in Rosslare. He said to me 'I want you to go down there and win it',' said 67 year old Packie as he reminisced about the time in his Belvedere Grove bungalow.
Packie duly turned up in the Cedar's and performed with backing from Dermot and Declan Kelly, Peadar Dempsey and Toddy Walsh.
Pint-sized Packie brought the house down and won a trophy as tall as himself.
More than that he mesmerised Uncle Gaybo, who insisted that he perform before the nation on the biggest show in Irish broadcasting - the Late Late.
'It was great. I felt great. Gay Byrne came up to me on the night of the competition and said to me 'Thanks for your great talent'. I knew in my own heart and soul that one day I'd get a chance to be on the television, but I didn't expect the Late Late,' he said as he nostalgically browsed through his photographic memories of the time.
Packie was not a professional musician - more an occasional front man who was asked up to sing a song at annual factory and club reunions. His day job was with Wexford Creamery. He'd previously worked in Maggie Moran's, was a messenger boy for Kenny's Chemist and was a scrap merchant with Tom Holden.
His ebullient entertainment style was self taught - honed mainly through cajoling by friends who would put a mic in his hand at Harriers, Sarsfields and Mary's of Maudlintown get togethers in White's Hotel and the Talbot. He says, however, that he first started to sing at seven years of age during holidays in Carne organised by Fr. Gaul.
'I started singing with Fr. Gaul, Leo Carthy and Paddy Scallan in Carne. I started when I was seven, and I never stopped,' he said.
In the 1960's he was called upon to sing a few tunes at dances with Dick Whitney. Occasionally he'd be asked to warble with Johnny Reck in the Town Hall, or with Joe Lowney & Co. In Redmond Hall.
He was the first competitor in the very first Wexford Tops of the Town in 1962. He sang 'You Are the Only Good Thing That Happened To Me' as the show opener for Snowcream who went head to head against the County Hall.
Appearing in front of the nation was, for Packie, a whole new ball game.
In was a moment of immense pride for him, and for his late parents Josephine and John Hayden.
News about Packie's appearance spread like wildfire, and the whole of Wexford tuned in to watch the live performance in 1976. 'It wasn't just