Weeshie's Week

A Legendary Lilywhite - Jack Higgins of Kildare

January 10th, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

An e-mail last February from a friend in Kildare Matthew Hussey alerted me to the fact that he had began the task of writing the life story of one of the greatest centre backs Gaelic football had ever seen. From 1926  to 1935 Jack Higgins  was the brightest star in Leinster football and was on the 1927-28 Kildare teams which won All Ireland honors. His name is synonymous with the great Kerry/Kildare clashes of the era, games we are told added massive to the popularity of the association. Jack was captain of the Lily Whites when they lost to Kerry the final of1929. He was on the Leinster Railway Cup teams from 1927 to 1934. He bust on the scene in the historic drawn game against Kerry in 1926. He served his county from 1925 to 1935, played in six All Ireland finals and won seven Leinster medals.

Titled "A Legendary Lilywhite - Jack Higgins of Kildare" Matthew has done a superb job of work in researching and documenting the magnificent career of this outstanding footballer. I was able to help the author in a very tiny way when I send him (on loan) that superb publication by the legendary Kerryman journalist Paddy Foley, "Kerrys Football Story" published in 1945. All the Kerry/ Kildare clashes are recounted here in great detail. A book that really should be re-published before long.

While the Kildare book of two hundred and fifty seven pages covers all aspects of Jacks career one chapter that of his retirement from football and death at the early age of only fifty three absolutely stunned me. The accounts of his injuries and treatment from opponents is shocking to read and I have never read in any other GAA publication such blatant and savage treatment handed out to any individual on the field of play. But of course it was happening back then and indeed still does to a lesser degree to day.

The author recounts with the help of match reports of the time some of the brutal treatment handed out to the player. He was frequently targeted by the hard men of opposing teams since getting him off the field weakened the Kildare men. In a league match against Dublin in 1927 he had to leave the field due to a serious injury. In 1928 in a final between the Garda and his own team the Army he was badly injured and there was a long delay in the game. Later that year in a championship game against Dublin he was repeatedly fouled and was eventually "crashed". In this tactic one player "accidently " held the opponent and another player crashed with maximum force into the front of the victim. In the 1929 All Ireland semi-final against Monaghan he had to retire due to injury. In the All Ireland final of 1935 he had a serious back injury and had to receive pain killing injection before the game and at half time. His back was also racked by boot studs during this game. In 1933 against Laois he sustained a serious eye injury.

In 1935 Jack Higgins retired from the game with severe injuries to his legs, to his back and spine and to his nose and sinuses, eye sockets and surrounding bone. He spend several years in and out of hospital due to his injuries.  These injuries to his legs and feet were exacerbated by type two diabetes. Jack contracted gangrene and eventually had to have a number of toes and both feet amputated in the Mater Hospital. He was often in great pain due to injuries sustained to his back and spine and could only find sleep at night either sitting upright in an arm chair or slumping forward over the steering wheel of his lorry as a way of minimizing the awful pain.

He underwent numerous operations and it was while undergoing one of these operations to his facial bones over the nose and between the eyes that he died suddenly on October 23rd 1955. Thousand travelled from all parts of the country to his funeral and a big contingent made the journey from Kerry. Among those who paid their respects at St Corbans Cemetery Naas were, John Joe Sheehy, Con Brosnan, Tadge Crowley, Dr Jim Brosnan, Johnny o Riordan, and Paul Russell. It is a wonderful, historic, exciting, sad and poignant story of a legendary player. It is many years over due. Well done to the author.

The Poet is Dead
I was sad when informed of the death of the great North Kerry poet and gentleman Dan Keane last Wednesday. I had befriended him a number of years ago and had conducted a number of priceless interviews with him at his home with the help of that renowned wonderful singer Peggy Sweeney. Dan had a passionate love for all things Kerry especially Kerry footballers and its players. He could write and recite verse and poetry at the drop of a hat about great games, players and occasions. Sadly a massive part of Kerry folklore has gone with his passing, however he has left an indelible mark on the sporting and cultural history of his beloved Kerry. A great friend, Mattie Lennon, he himself a poet and author penned a lengthy tribute of Dan which he very kindly send me and this is a little snippet from that tribute which beautifully sums up Dan Keane.

What is a poet? And how do you know one? Dan Paddy Andy O' Sullivan once, doubting the credentials of a would-be-rhymer, said; "He hasn't the arse of a poet". According to Patrick Kavanagh; " A poet is not one of the people ... a poet is an institution".

Well. Not being well versed in the "phrenology" of the southern regions of the anatomy, I'm not qualified to comment on the diagnosis of the man with the triple name. However,of Kavanagh's assertion I would say that Dan Keane was one of the people and an institution. As John Dewey said about Ralph Waldo Emerson he was "The poet of ordinary days". When he passed away on January 04th he was in his 93rd year.  He left a large collection of poems, songs, stories and articles behind.

Born in Carraueragh, Co. Kerry, in 1919, a great admirer Mike Joe Thornton added; "Dan Keane loves poetry, life, the world and children. Briege Fitzgerald, bhi an cheart agat, Dan is indeed a little treasure".

Louis McNiece said; "I would have a poet able-bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions". He would have found his man in Carraueragh.  God rest you Dan.

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