The metropolitan New York Irish and Irish-American communities recently lost another great sports personality and aficionado. Pat Diamond, a Derry native but a New York resident for the last half-century, died peacefully at St. John’s Hospital, Yonkers, on Jan 18, at the age of 87.
The Echo’s obituary in Jay Mwamba’s CSL Roundup in the Jan. 28 issue concentrated on his status as a “Lansdowne legend,” for which he was so well known in the community in the last couple of decades. Let me add an overview of the life of an immigrant who had a great passion for both Gaelic football and soccer as well being an avid musician.
Pat Diamond was born in Garvagh in 1934 and was reared on a small farm with six brothers and sisters. He began his footballing career with Swatragh, and he was the goalkeeper on the South Derry winning championship team in 1952. Pat had a great love for music and he taught himself how to play the saxophone. Soon Pat and a few locals were playing regularly in the parochial halls in South Derry. Naturally economic prospects in Catholic strongholds were not great, and Pat, like many of his contemporaries, was soon heading across the channel. The young Derry man enjoyed his time in England’s big cities and counties, such as Gloucester, Devon, Cornwall, London and Birmingham, but his favorite spot was Old Trafford, Manchester. There began his great love for soccer, and more especially for Manchester United. Those were the great years of the Busby Babes, climaxing with the winning of the European Cup Final against Benfica at Wembley Stadium in 1968. Pat enjoyed seeing such as stars as Best, Brennan, Law, Charlton, Stepney, Dunne, Foulkes and Aston strut their stuff in those halcyon days.
In 1969 Pat was back in Derry to be best man at his brother Michael’s wedding, and as the lyrics from the song “Old Maid in the Garret” state “that going to a weddin’ is the making of another.” That certainly was the case for Pat, but he didn’t lay his eye on an old maid. On the contrary, he took a shine to a beautiful bridesmaid. Her name was Mary McLoughlin, and she was home from New York for the wedding. Evidentially the shine was mutual, and it set the stage for a long-distance relationship. Well if the relationship was to come to full fruition, something had to give or go. In January 1971, Pat arrived in the Big Apple and three months later, the former bridesmaid was now a Diamond. They set up base on Bailey Avenue in the Bronx with the help of Jimmy and Margaret Chambers, Margaret had been an acquaintance of Pat’s from his days of dancing and playing in Derry’s parochial halls. So thus began a long term relationship between the Chambers and Diamond families. They would socialize together, play music and cards and of course go to Gaelic Park.
Noel McGovern, a fellow Derry man and a close friend of Pat’s, stated in a heartfelt, though humorous eulogy, that the deceased was a great Christian and a devout Catholic. Noel said Pat attended Mass on Sundays to celebrate the heavenly Trinity. However the eulogist was quick to inform Father Brendan, there was also another very important earthly trinity in Pat’s life, namely George Best, Alex Ferguson and Anthony Tohill. During Mass, Derry, Clare and Lansdowne jerseys were present as symbols of Pat’s great passion for sports. Noel also stated that Pat was a lifelong member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, and during celebratory events Pat just added extra tea bags to his brew as others imbibed much sterner stuff.
Due to his love of Gaelic sports Pat became a regular patron in Gaelic Park, always volunteering and helping no matter how mundane the tasks were. Initially he was deeply involved with the Clare teams through his association with the Chambers family. However, Pat was soon able to display his real passion, when he was one of the founding members of the Derry GFC, along with Harry Diamond, Sean O’Neill and Martin Murphy. Pat was the club’s “kit man” and he took great pride in having every player from star to sub, properly attired. His basic philosophy was even if you’re not a great footballer, at least try to look like a good one. The club grew rapidly, soon winning New York junior and intermediate titles, progressing to become a solid force in senior ranks for a number of years.
Pat’s other sporting passion was soccer, of course, and didn’t diminish now that he was far removed from the hallowed grounds of Old Trafford. He found a great substitute in Lansdowne Bhoys Soccer Club. Here again he took great care of the kits, also ensured that player were well hydrated as well as providing copious amounts of energy boosting supplements. Lansdowne President William McGrory stated that “Pat was a critical cog in the chain of Lansdowne’s climb up the soccer pyramid, and that he would be sorely missed and dearly remembered long around the soccer playing fields in New York” Paul Doherty, a player/coach when the club was founded in 1997 described the late Pat as “the godfather of the Bhoys and a Lansdowne legend.”
A very valid testimonial to Pat’s contribution to the Big Apple’s soccer scene was the fact that he was the first member, along with Tommy Smyth, of ESPN fame, inducted into the Irish-American Hall of Fame. Besides being a great promoter of his favorite sports, by being the kit man and a performance nutritionist, he was also a great raconteur. Pat was a fiercely loyal and proud Derry man, and he took great pride in carrying the Derry banner up Fifth Avenue for many years on St. Patrick’s Day. He was an avid musician, and he was always eager to help children learn tunes and play instruments. He is survived by his siblings Barney Diamond and Kathleen Neely, and he was predeceased by his wife Mary in 2004. Pat was waked at Flower Funeral Home, Yonkers Avenue, the requiem mass was in St. Barnabas Church, Woodlawn and he was interred in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Yonkers.