FEW RETIRED rugby players have remained as popular in the hearts and minds of fans as John Hayes – and now there is a permanent monument to him in Cappamore.
Little did John know when he went to the boys school with his brothers – his father Mike went before him – that there would be a sculpture erected there for him.
The Bull bench, as it has become known, will be placed in concrete outside the former school and now superb library.
It was unveiled on Saturday evening in front of the Hayes family, friends and representatives of Bruff Rugby Club and Limerick City and County Council. The ceremony was a bit like John – quiet and understated, but fittingly there was a superb achievement at the heart of it.
The bench is a work of art handcrafted and forged by artist blacksmith Eric O’Neill, Cappamore, and his students in the Limerick College of Further Education (LCFE) Cappamore Campus just up the road.
Eric’s design features a charging bull with a rugby bull at his feet.
Michael O’Connor, manager of the LCFE Cappamore Campus, said they gathered to honour one of their own.
“For years we have watched our TVs, stood on terraces and travelled the continent supporting you and the teams you were part of, and this evening we as a community want to thank you for the memories on and off the pitch.
“We are fortunate to have in the parish one of Ireland’s foremost sculpture blacksmiths. I first got to know Eric about four years ago when he was doing a demonstration of his craft at Cappamore Show.
“Together we developed our classes in ironcraft and recently obtained City and Guilds accreditation, the first of its kind in Ireland.
“When teaching, Eric creates beautiful pieces with his students. To demonstrate the talents of his first group of students it was decided to create a piece of street sculpture and install it in Cappamore. What better subject than our own John Hayes,” said Michael.
Once the story was initially covered by the Leader earlier this year it was picked up nationally and internationally.
“Such was the admiration shown for you John, a blacksmith from Hereford, Adrian Legge and Stephen Quinn from Lough Rae, sculpted elements of the bench. These were worked on and the bench completed by the students here, Keith Armitage, Michael Cleary, Martin O’Grady, Tony Chearnley, Maurice Kirby and my own father Denis O’Connor,” said Michael, who thanked sponsors Shannonside Galvanising, Clyno Construction, Skills for Work co-ordinated by Mary Hennessy and Cappamore Development Association and the council for their support. In total, over 300 hours was spent on the bench.
“John you have been a exceptional ambassador for your country, your county and for Cappamore. This all began many years ago when two local men John O’Dea and John Hayes got you involved with Bruff Rugby club. Your sporting success from those days can only be described as meteoric,” said Michael, who called on the president of Bruff RFC to speak.
Nicholas Cooke spoke eloquently on John’s contribution to the game and the esteem he is held in within the club.
Never one for the limelight, John said it was a lovely event.
“The amount of work and effort that went into it is incredible. It is pure steel, it is fair heavy,” he said. And when John Hayes says it’s heavy, you’d better believe it.
“I don’t think anybody can deny that when something like that is done for you, showing some sort of recognition for you in your local area, it is nice,” added John, who was delighted to see Bruff Rugby Club represented so well.
“There is a big connection between Cappamore and Bruff with John O’Dea and John Hayes and a lot of young fellows play there,” said John.
He touched on the current situation regarding the LCFE Cappamore Campus and the future of their PLC courses which are currently under review. “It is absolutely important to the local area. My own brother did a good computer course there and a lot of adults have gone back there and studied different courses. Any place like that is great for a small village like Cappamore,” said John.
John’s children are members of the library and whenever they go to take out books they will see their dad’s bench – continuing the family’s links to the building.
Eric O’Neill said the bench, like most good and positive stories, shares a common thread – community goodwill.
“It celebrates the story of a local sporting hero, a humble man that shuns the limelight and what he has achieved through sport.
The goodwill that’s out there for such projects cannot be underestimated. It is seldom do we get the opportunity to join the dots, where people combine their efforts and achieve something special.
“It’s the greater community getting behind the project, the local community organisations, steel suppliers, galvanizing firms, builders, education bodies and facilities. It’s those education developers that have the foresight to look outside the box and inspire.
“This is what makes it special – it is the sixteenth man!” said Eric, who presented John with a forged rugby ball on behalf of everybody who has cheered on John and his teams.