A NIGHT OF WEXFORD PRIDE AS THE LEGENDARY ART FOLEY HONORED IN NEW YORK
New York City
In a huge showing of native Wexford pride, almost 150 ex-patriate sons and daughters of Wexford gathered recently in midtown Manhattan to honor Art Foley, the goalkeeper on Wexford’s All-Ireland hurling winning teams of 1955 and 1956.
Fresh off a game-winning save from Cork’s Christy Ring in the 1956 All-Ireland hurling final – a save that GAA historians call the greatest save ever made in Croke Park – Art emigrated to the U.S with his wife Anne and their then three young children in 1957. Eventually settling in Long Island just outside the City, Art has lived a quiet dignified life for more than 60 years, raising a family of six children, and now grandchildren and great grandchildren. None of Art’s neighbors or co-workers at the airline company where he worked – several of whom were hand Friday night – knew or appreciated that Art was a revered sporting star in his native homeland. Even leaders in New York’s Wexford community did not realize that Art was alive and well in Long Island all these decades.
“After receiving a call from Wexford hurling supporter club leader Joe Carrol 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 – honoring Art for his legendary achievements,” said Murphy.
On hand Friday night to participate in honoring 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.
In her speech, 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 honor 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 Nicky Rackard, Nick O’Donnell and New 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 teammates but all the Wexford people down the years,” said Wheeler. “God bless you Art, and please God you will you will come back and see me here so we can have an ‘ould drink sometime,” concluded Wheeler, bringing his friend and former teammate Art to tears.
“I want to dedicate tonight and this honoring to our team of the 1950s, so many of whom that are no longer living,” said Art in moving words to a hushed crown.
In a question and answer session conducted with Art by leading member of the Irish community in New York, Enniscorthy native Martin Kehoe, Art displayed an incredible memory by describing minute details from Wexford minor matches in the early 1940s, Railway Cup and Oireacthas 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-yeard 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,” described Art, “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 Nicky 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 teammates after the final whistle was blown, a display of sportsmanship that is one of the finest in GAA 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-on-Sean 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.