Ballinrobe GAA club regrets to announce the death in Nairobi, Kenya, of Fr Tommy Leyden, who was a distinguished wearer of the Ballinrobe and Mayo jerseys in the 1950s.
Fr Tommy came through the Ballinrobe CBS football nursery and was a member of the team which won the school’s first Flanagan Cup title in 1951. He figured on the Mayo minor football panel in 1952 and lined out with Ballinrobe throughout the 1950s, including as a member of the squad which won the 1958 divisional and county junior titles. A year later, he played for Ballinrobe in the Mayo senior league final defeat to Ballina Stephenites.
Club historian Michael Coyne, who also played in that 1959 final, recalled that the team and supporters travelled by special train to Ballina to take on the famed locals. Just a few short months later, on 31 December 1959, the Ballinrobe to Claremorris railway line closed.
“Fr Tommy was a lovely fellow,” said Michael, “and a very good forward, a sweet footballer. He was a late vocation to the priesthood, having earlier worked as a civil engineer. He was compassionate and caring.”
A member of the Divine Word Missionaries who had their west of Ireland base in Donamon, Co. Roscommon, Fr Tommy’s first ministry was in Flores, Indonesia. There he served the poor in districts with no electricity, running water or other basic facilities. He later moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where he spent the remainder of his life helping disadvantaged people living in challenging conditions.
Geraldine May, Ballinrobe, explained that Fr Tommy was a first cousin of her late husband, Des, who also played with Ballinrobe. “They were best friends. He was Best Man at our wedding. He was a deeply spiritual man, a mystic almost. He believed in giving people time, regardless of what religion they were – he was all about helping others,” said Geraldine.
“He lived a simple life. He never got into emailing or texting. He never wore a watch. His mother Nell was dead three weeks before word even reached him. But he wrote an average of 500 letters per year, in beautiful handwriting that he retained right up to his final years even though he suffered badly with arthritis. He kept in touch with so many people.
“He had a wonderful sense of humour too.”
The Leyden family lived on Abbey Street, Ballinrobe. Fr Tommy’s father John Joe was a secondary school teacher in Ballinrobe CBS. His mother was Nell, and he had one sister, Maura (O’Connell), who passed away many years ago. He is survived by his nephew Tom and nieces Sharon and Helena.
He quietly slipped away last weekend and will be laid to rest in Nairobi.
John Sweeney, Chairman, Ballinrobe GAA Club