The late, great Dermot O'Brien
November 30, 2007
Celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Louth's 1957 All-Ireland success were imbued with a strong sense of pathos due to the sad passing of Dermot O'Brien, the man who captained the Wee County to that historic 1-9 to 1-7 defeat of Cork at Croke Park on Sunday September 22 1957. Dermot passed on to his eternal reward on Tuesday May 22 2007, following a long battle with illness.
Members of the 1957 All-Ireland winning team joined hundreds of other mourners at the funeral of one of Ardee's most famous sons - a man who was a legend in both the sporting and entertainment spectra. The crestfallen mourners gathered in the mid-county town to play their last respects to this GAA and musical great.
Leading the mourners at the removal to the Church of the Nativity were Dermot's daughters Catheryne, Grace and Roisin and his sons Ronan and Dermot. He was predeceased by his wife Rosemarie. Members of the local St Marys GAA club, with whom the deceased starred for many years, also attended, dressed in their famous blue and white jerseys.
The Ardee St Marys clubman is one of the most famous names in Wee County GAA history, having so gracefully lifted Sam Maguire on behalf of the Reds in '57. His death took on an added air of poignancy as 50th-anniversary celebrations of that success were scheduled to take place later in the year. Louth haven't won a Leinster championship since Dermot was such a leading influence on the team all those decades ago.
An iconic figure and a tremendous ambassador for his county and country, Dermot O'Brien was also one of the leading showbusiness personalities in Ireland (and further afield), performing in every major theatre in England, Ireland and Scotland, including several headlining appearances at London's Royal Albert Hall.
The former Louth footballer toured and shared the stage with major acts like Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Bill Haley and the Comets and Buddy Herman, and recorded a St. Patrick's Day Special with Bing Crosby in Dublin, which was shown coast to coast in the United States.
As well as performing, Dermot also put his musical knowledge to great use as he arranged and produced records for many Irish and Irish-American artists, including The Furey Brothers, Larry Cunningham, Dermot Hegarty, The Wolfe Tones, Johnny McEvoy, Philomena Begley, Ray Lynam, Dermot Henry, Mary McGonigle, Pat Roper, Noel Henry, Al Logan and many more.
In May 2001, he was the subject of a documentary in TG4's 'Laochra Gael' series, which traced his sporting and musical history. However, despite his astonishing success on the showband circuit, the 'King of the Accordion' will always be most affectionately remembered by Louth gaels for his leading role in the Wee County's greatest day ever: September 22 1957
As well as captaining the winning team, Dermot was centre forward as Louth famously defeated Cork by two points in front of 72,000 spectators at GAA HQ to capture their third-ever All-Ireland SFC, and first in 45 years.
As soon as news broke of Dermot's death, Nickey Brennan, President of the GAA, expressed his deep sadness on learning of the loss of Louth's 1957 All-Ireland winning captain. The speed with which the Association issued a statement reflected the high esteem in which Dermot was held within the top echelons of the GAA. RTE also issued an immediate statement, describing the vast loss to the showbiz world.
The GAA President described Dermot O'Brien as an immensely talented man who had left a huge impression on the many thousands of people who had seen him play football and entertain at the highest level. He said that everyone in the GAA would be saddened to hear of the death of such an iconic figure. He added that his death would be a massive and grievous loss to his family and expressed his condolences on behalf of everybody in the GAA to family, friends and former team-mates of the Louth great.
As a member of the then rampant St Marys club in Ardee, Dermot O'Brien won three Louth senior football championship medals in 1951, 1956 and 1960. He also played for one year with Navan O'Mahonys. In 1953, he won a Leinster senior championship medal as part of the Louth team that defeated Wexford in the provincial decider. In 1957, he captured his second Leinster championship medal when Louth defeated Dublin in the final and in September of that year he lifted the Sam Maguire Cup on behalf of the Wee County.
Dermot O'Brien was a renowned musician and singer and his recording of 'The Merry Ploughboy' went straight in at Number 1 in the Irish Charts in 1966. He also hosted his own television programmes, including most famously The Dermot O'Brien Show on RTE television, and his talents as an accordion player were renowned the world over. The true Louth great also had a great love of the Irish language and his All-Ireland winning speech in 1957 was delivered primarily in the native tongue.
One of the most amazing anecdotes involving this colourful and instantly likeable entertainer is the tale of how he almost didn't make it into Croke Park for the biggest game of his life. In November 2001, he reflected on the extraordinary events that almost robbed him of his place in Louth GAA folklore:
"The team travelled to Dublin on the morning of the final and had a light lunch at the Hollybrook Hotel in Clontarf. Unfortunately, I was carrying an injury and after lunch I went for a painkilling injection and then on to Croke Park with the driver. When we got there the gates were closed and no more people were allowed in.
"There were 72,000 people inside and thousands outside. It was impossible to gain entry. I finally managed to squeeze through and speak to a gateman. I explained my dilemma and who I was, the captain of Louth, but he refused to let me through. I remember looking at my watch, it was under an hour before the game started and here I was stood outside and nobody would believe me.
"Luckily for me, a large contingent of Louth supporters recognised me and started to chant 'Let O'Brien through. Let O'Brien through.' It was only then that I managed to get in and across the pitch to the dressing room. I remember the public address system appealing for the Louth captain to get to the dressing room immediately.
"I had ten minutes to spare and I was dripping with sweat. What a way to start the biggest game of your life!"
What a day! What a game! And what a life!
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