Henry Wymbs recalls a conversation he had with journalist John Meaney who was a relative of the man who gave his name to hurling’s most prestigious Cup


Hurling is Ireland’s national game whose origins are lost in Celtic mythology, a game that is so very much part of our heritage. It is a game peculiar to the Irish, with skill, courage and discipline required of those who play it. We all know about the MacCarthy Cup in hurling, but what about MacCarthy the man!

Liam was born in England in 1851 to a Limerick mother, Brigid, and a Cork father, Eoghan. His parents emigrated to London around 1850. From a very early age he was encouraged to involve himself in sport, particularly hurling and athletics. The young Liam was reared in an Irish and Gaelic tradition in the confines of an Irish community in London.
John Meaney, a music journalist and native of Dublin, is a relative of MacCarthy and our mutual admiration for Gaelic games and music brought us together to share many hours in BBC studios discussing our great interests.
Hurling and the MacCarthy Cup was always a topic of discussion!

Liam’s parents were saddened to leave Ireland but had no choice. They had been booted off their land for non-payment of rent and it was either emigration or the workhouse. A couple of years after leaving, their first child William (Liam) was born and little would they have known that their babe would become, not only the father of the GAA in Britain but a name synonymous with hurling the world over.
From his father, Liam learned not only the language of his country, but it’s politics and history too. He became aware of stories of the Famine and various unsuccessful rebellions in Ireland against the British.
I understand his father instilled in him a sense of discipline and organisation?
Liam’s father was a big man and was known as ‘MacCarthy the Horse’, however, his mother was the strong character who gave Liam a deep love of Ireland and all things Irish. He began to play hurling when he was fifteen and practiced at Clapham Common. He was a decent player and a natural organiser who commanded respect. He began his working life as a blacksmith’s hammerman, but the money was poor and he left to became a signal-fitter on the railways which enabled him to travel extensively and gave him the opportunity to talk to people and spread the gospel of the GAA.
I believe it was whilst working on the railways that Liam met his future wife, Alice, a considered beauty of her day.
Alice was the daughter of a London businessman who ran a cardboard box factory in the east of the city. Soon after his marriage, Liam was offered a job at the factory supervising the packaging of fancy items like Easter eggs, hats, and expensive gifts.
Liam was devastated when his mother died and as a result, a few years later he decided to make a pilgrimage to find her birthplace in Bruff, Co. Limerick. Such was his knowledge purely from his mother’s description that he was able to find his own way around, despite never having been there himself. He also visited Ballygarvan in Cork in search of his father’s relatives. He did not know where to find them as his father refused to talk about his past.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own