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A 12-hour trip to play for Mayo, and California life: the doctor who 'never forgot Ireland'

Swinford native Bernard O’Hara remembers two-time All-Ireland winner Pádraig Carney following his recent passing.

A TWO-TIME ALL-Ireland winner who lived in California always began with the same question whenever he spoke to one of his oldest friends back in Ireland.

Padraig c Dr Pádraig Carney passed away at the age of 91 over the weekend. Source: Nathan Murphy Twitter via AIB GAA Twitter

“How are Mayo doing and how do you think they’ll get on this year?” was Dr Pádraig Carney’s usual greeting to former Swinford president and secretary Bernard O’Hara.

The pair have been friends for over 40 years. One spent most of his life in the States while the other remained at home, but the distance never diminished their friendship. 

O’Hara first discovered Carney in 1954 when the latter scored seven points for Mayo in a National League semi-final win over Dublin. It was the same match where Carney was nicknamed ‘The Flying Doctor’ after travelling home from New York to play the game.

O’Hara was suitably impressed by the performance and after meeting each other again in Galway years later, they struck up a friendship that lasted a lifetime.

Even when Carney became ill in recent years, the men from Mayo continued to stay in touch.

“I’ve been in contact with him all the time,” O’Hara tells The42 following Carney’s death last weekend. “I was speaking to him about three weeks before he died.

“We talked about the Mayo v Roscommon [Connacht SFC] match and a few things like that.”

Carney made his senior inter-county bow in 1945 at just 17 years of age. By the time he hung up his jersey less than a decade after that, his career had yielded four Connacht SFC medals and two All-Ireland titles in 1950 and 1951.

He was still firmly “in his prime” as O’Hara puts it. But Ireland in the 1950s was a difficult place to live. The country was gripped by financial and economic instability and emigration was rampant.

Carney had graduated from UCD with a degree in medicine, but struggled to find settled work.

He moved around in Mayo as different jobs popped up, switching from his home in Swinford to Castlebar and onto Charlestown. He won two senior county championships with Castlebar Mitchels and a junior title with Charlestown Sarsfields during his travels.

But like many other players on the Mayo panel at the time, Carney took the decision to leave Ireland in the hope of making a living abroad.

It was certainly a tough call to make and O’Hara believes that Mayo could have achieved more silverware had Carney remained at home.

“Pádraig would never have left if he could get a permanent job at the time.

He was torn a lot. It was the hardest decision of his life. But he was ambitious to succeed in medicine. He was going from temporary job to temporary job and he’d just got married.

“He had to think about his future so it was a very hard decision, Pádraig would loved to have stayed on. 

I think if he hadn’t emigrated, Mayo could have won another All-Ireland or two. They would have given it a good go in 1954 and probably 1955.”

New York was the first stop for Carney when he relocated to America in ’54. The initial plan was to stay there for a year with his wife Moira but they never warmed to the Big Apple.

They were out for dinner one evening, contemplating a return to Ireland, when they met a priest from near Swinford who suggested giving California a chance.

The newly married couple found a home in Long Beach, not too far away from Los Angeles.

“They went to Long Beach in California and fell in love with it,” O’Hara explains.

“That’s where they lived out the rest of their lives.

“After a year there, Pádraig decided to specialise in gynecology. He went to Detroit and qualified there after a four-year course. They moved back then to Long Beach and that became their place of residence for the rest of their lives.

“He set up a private practice which was attached to the Long Beach Memorial Medical Centre and he had a very successful professional career.”

While the Carneys were trying to figure out their place in America, Pádraig continued to line out for Mayo. 

They were still in New York when he was summoned by the county board for the aforementioned 1954 league semi-final against Dublin.

The famous GAA commentator Michael O’Hehir called him ‘The Flying Doctor’ during the match, a nickname which made Carney a renowned figure in Gaelic Football.

He was flown home again for the league decider and the plan was to bring him back for the All-Ireland semi-final later in the year.

It didn’t work out that way however, but Mayo’s commitment to having one of their best players on the pitch was impressive considering the financially constrained times they were in.

“It was a big decision by the Mayo county board to bring him back,” says O’Hara. “He left New York on a Friday evening and there was a stop-off at Newfoundland and then coming into Dublin. So, it was a 12-hour trip.

Then he got a few hours sleep, played for Mayo in Croke Park and as soon as the match was over he got transport to Dublin airport and went back to the States to be back in his job in New York first thing on Tuesday morning.

“It was just for the weekend and he did the same for the final. 

“After the league final, the Mayo county board had a chat with him and told him they’d be able to win the Connacht championship without him, and that they’d bring him home for the All-Ireland semi-final.

“But unfortunately, Galway had other ideas, they defeated Mayo in the Connacht championship.”

Carney loved his life in California. He passed away at 91 years of age and O’Hara says his quality of life was good up until just over two years ago.

But Mayo was never far from his mind. He travelled home twice a year with Moira, and organised his trips to coincide with Connacht matches and the All-Ireland football final.

He regularly called into see Galway legend Sean Purcell too, a player who he battled against many times on the pitch. O’Hara published a photo of the two on Twitter to commemorate their friendship.

Carney’s passing leaves Paddy Prendergast and Dr Mick Loftus as the surviving members of Mayo’s 1951 All-Ireland winning panel.

Bernard O'H Source: Bernard O'Hara Twitter

And as for the curse of ’51 that continues to plague Mayo’s quest to end their Sam Maguire famine, O’Hara is happy to label it as “total nonsense.”

O’Hara often went to America to visit Carney and he plans to be in Long Beach in the next few weeks where his friend will be cremated. There’s only happy memories from their 40-year friendship. 

He never forgot Ireland, he was a very patriotic Irish man,” says O’Hara of Carney.

“They did their best to come home on holiday twice a year. There’s actually a holiday home down in Wexford, that was wife Moira’s home area. They used that on their trips to Ireland.

He wouldn’t want anyone to be sorry after him. He’d want us to celebrate his life. He had a great life up to the last two and a half years and I want to celebrate his life and his achievements.” 

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