Memories abound as Nicky McGrath celebrates his 85th birthday in style with family and friends

Nicky McGrath - A life Less Ordinary - The Nicky McGrath Story PICTURE Vicky Comerford

When we look back on history, we could do worse than study some of the various Indian tribes who have left a wonderful legacy.

Their wisdom is legendary. Their achievements monumental. One quote from Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot tribe reads as follows:-“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset”.

So, the message, it would seem, is that we should follow our dreams. It can never be said that Nicky McGrath set out to follow the Blackfoot quote, but boy, a look back at his life certainly encapsulates a life well lived.

A recent publication, ‘A Life Less Ordinary-The Nicky McGrath story’-gives somewhat of an insight into the life of the man.

A time spent in the Suez and the Cuban Missile crisis with the Royal Navy; nuclear testing in the Artic; cockroach racing in the Caribbean! You want more? Marrying a Tipperary woman in England, running Olympic gymnastics, boxing, hockey, rugby with Munster, and training the Kilkenny senior hurling team.

And if that wasn’t enough, let’s throw in a few more just for the heck of it. Sailing the Atlantic, business battles with O’Neill Sports, plastic hurleys, cancer, Covid 19 raising a family and more. Phew!

Nicky Mcgrath Senior, well-known and respected personality in Kilkenny sports and education circles had a double reason to celebrate recently with the publication and launch of his photo Biography titled ‘A life less ordinary’.

It also happened to be his 85th birthday. And boy did the McGrath family do it in style.

The book launch was attended by family, and friends from his sports and teaching days.


The Kilkenny observer newspaper caught up with Joe Dunphy who launched the book.

Joe, who has published five books himself – his most recent being on Thomastown – was delighted to have been part of the celebrations.

“I was honoured when asked by Nick’s son, Michael, to launch his Dad’s book. The McGraths and the Dunphy’s have been great friends for a long number of years. Our children grew up together and some of them are now quite “a good age”. We spent many years as neighbours in Dangan in Thomastown.

Launching the book, Mr Dunphy went on to explain about Nicky’s background.

“Nicky’s parents were Margaret Flavin, a school teacher and Michael McGrath a Gárda.

He was born in Templeorum where he first went to school.

Probably because of his father’s job he attended primary and second level schools in Counties Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork and Tipperary.

At the age of 17, in 1954 he joined the Royal Navy and saw service in the Suez Canal at the time of the crisis there, and also in the Caribbean and the West Indies.

For all of his later life he had a huge interest in the sea and in sailing.

In his own boat he sailed a great deal of the seas to places such as the Azores and the Scilly Isles. He even joined us in Murray’s pub in Helvic Head one night in the 1970s”, continued Joe.

In his working career after the Navy , Nicky turned to Physical Training and as a qualified P.E. teacher taught in Thomastown and Kilkenny among other places.

He was highly regarded in this new career too and his various achievements with his pupils and indeed in his own life earned him a great reputation.

He was a natural sportsman and in his early playing days was involved in rugby, gymnastics and cross country. He later played both hurling and football and was a natural back.

Joe Dunphy spoke of the feeling of security when you had Nickey McGrath minding the house.

“If you were the goalkeeper, as I was on our Teachers’ team, you knew you were as safe as a house. No one got in near you.”

Joe explained that Nicky did a lot of work with the local Cross Country team but above all demanded fair play. “On one occasion a member of an opposing club was pacing a young runner. This was against the rules so Nicky stepped out and asked him to desist. Nick was ignored so when the said pacer reached us on the next round he got no further. Who saw to him I will not say.”

Nicky also got very involved in the Kilkenny County G.A.A. He spent a time as Chairman of the County Football Board and trained the Kilkenny Senior Hurlers for the1966 All Ireland Final. “Anything he did, he did it well” said Joe.


Nicky married the lovely Peggy Hadnett from Limerick Junction. They married in England and their oldest sons were born there. They had a family of six, fiveboys and one daughter, Anne Marie. The five boys are Michael, Ricky, Mark, Nicky and Christopher. In Kilkenny Nick and Peggy opened a shop selling trophies and sports gear. This turned out to be a great success and a bigger shop was opened in High St. and was run by oldest son, Michael. Peggy, who sadly is no longer with us did wonderful work in building up the business.

In conclusion Joe Dunphy said that Peggy would love this special day but she passed away 14 years ago.

“But today is Nick’s 85th Birthday and this wonderful book full of his life story and superb photos is a tribute to a great man.

Go mba fada buan tú, a Nick”.


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