It had to be seen to be believed. The Maryborough function room in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel has rarely witnessed anything like it; the room was packed to the rafters on Sunday night last for the much-anticipated launch of Pat Critchley’s autobiography, Hungry Hill.
Launched by Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and former Wexford manager Liam Griffin, such was the crowd in attendance that the queue for the book signings didn’t end until 1am. Given that the event was timed for 8.30pm and started after 9, that gives some indication of the turnout.
MC for the evening, Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett, introduced the guests and Cody and Griffin both spoke at length about Critchley. Cody spoke of Critchley’s pride in his home town and county and paid reference to the chapter “If you’d played for Kilkenny” in which Critchley writes about how the only team he ever wanted to play with was Laois. Cody also spoke of Critchley’s time as manager of James Stephens and said that “he laid the foundations” for the club’s run to back-to-back Leinster titles and the All Ireland crown in 2005.
Griffin’s speech took on a different style. A renowned story teller too, he had the crowd in raptures with his tales, most of them from his native Wexford and Rosslare. The geographical base for his stories didn’t seem to matter but he hit a right chord when he said that Critchley, his long time friend, didn’t just have great base of stories to tell, he had “a great way of telling them”.
Critchley’s own speech though was the pick of the lot. Just like the book, it was peppered with hilarious anecdotes and cracking one liners that had the crowd doubled over in hysterics that Tommy Tiernan would be proud of.
He recalled his childhood days in St Brigid’s (nick-named Hungry Hill, hence the name of the book) and said that if he had a choice of any of the exotic places to grow up in (”Barbados, Beverly Hills or Walsh Island!”), he wouldn’t change it for the world. He spoke fondly about his late father Paddy, another great story teller, and echoed Plunkett’s observation that this publication was much more than just a sports book. “I wanted this to be much more than just about the games and the statistics,” said Critchley. “This isn’t just my story it’s their stories too,” he said in relation to all the people that he has crossed paths with over the years. “I know all the punch lines in the stories but my enjoyment is watching the new audiences reacting to them.”
The book is on sale now and retails at €20
- Leinster Express