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Club Founder

Paddy Graham (R.I.P)

As a tribute to a man who was larger than life, a man who had vision and gathered round him a nucleus of friends to found St. Malachy’s GFC, it is with great pleasure that I write these few lines about the club’s founder, Paddy Graham.

He was born outside the village in the townland of Tamnadace. I first got to know him when he worked for Robert Heuston (Harold’s father) in the early forties. He was widowed at an early age and this would appear to have established a pattern for the remainder of his life. On leaving Robert Heuston’s he carried on the business of shoemaker and repairer in a Nissan Hut, situated in New Row, Castledawson. Paddy seemed to be there morning, noon and night. He had many friends and contacts. His relations in New Row were the Toner family, where he would often also be found. Apart from his business, the other interests in his life were the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and the GAA. He was dedicated to both.

A committed drinker in his earlier life, he took the pledge of total abstinence and in due course became a Pioneer. He was not the first in the area, that honour belongs to James Taggart R.I.P. However it is to Paddy that most of the credit must go for convincing a large number of people from the district who took alcohol, some to excess, to join him in the Pioneer movement. Encouraged by the centre’s spiritual director, Fr Joe Hughes, he saw to it that most people, on coming of age 16, joined the movement. Such was the strength of the P.T.A.A within the club in the early fifties, that on a bus run to the Ulster final at Clones, the majority of people booking a seat would be Pioneers, the few who were not, were discouraged from travelling.

Paddy’s other passion was St Malachy’s GFC. He was the spark which lit the fire that created a club that grew and grew into the establishment that exists today. History will show that his loyalty to club, county and the ideals of the GAA were steadfast and unwavering. On the occasions when the survival of St Malachy’s was in jeopardy, he gave leadership that banished gloom, doom and doubters. Those that arrived running scared, would in time depart with batteries recharged to surmount the challenges that lay ahead.

The reintroduction of International Soccer games to Belfast after the Second World War resulted in an increase of club members contravening Rule 27, in short breaking the ban. How and from whom he received his information, he kept to himself, nevertheless, he always seemed to be aware of who had travelled to Windsor Park long before they would have arrived there. This information could be verified later in the evening with the result that he could be seen early on a Sunday morning visiting the homes of unsuspecting players repossessing rigs etc. In some cases mothers were caught up in a situation they did not fully understand and reacted unkindly to his demands. There would have been no pleasure derived from carrying out these tasks, especially when he knew he would have difficulty in finding team replacements for the game in the afternoon. Paddy’s workplace had many visitors who kept him abreast of local news. He had a good sense of humour, seldom showed annoyance and delighted in playing pranks on bumptious personalities who could not see the funny side of life. Typical of the man who the reply given to a person on meeting him for the first time remarked that he had “a very big belly!”. “Ah! Not at all son, that’s not my belly, you see that’s where my chest has slid down to”. He died suddenly on the 11 November 1962 whilst attending a whist drive in Toome. A large funeral was an immediate sign of the celebration of his life. Paddy was laid to rest in the now well cared for Milltown Cemetery. The club he helped to found have marked his last resting place with a suitable headstone. A perpetual challenge cup has been presented in his memory. This is competed for on a knockout basis by reserve teams within the South Derry area.

From his vantage point across the road, may he hear the roar of spectators as they enjoy watching the game he loved and gave so freely of his time to promoting.

Rest in Peace Paddy.
John Hughes