Rasharkin mourns the loss of its ‘gentle giant’

Willie Hardy RIP

by Liam Tunney

St Mary’s GAC and the entire community of Rasharkin has this week been mourning the loss of one of its finest characters.

Born in the townland of Tamlaght, Willie Hardy attended Dreen School and after completing an apprenticeship at Proctor’s of Kilrea, opened Hardy Brothers in the early 1960s.

He was already making his considerable presence felt on the pitch at Dreen.

A talented footballer, he played his part in the club’s historic 1958 South Antrim league and Antrim junior championship double-winning season.

Willie kicked a point in the final as Rasharkin saw off Sarsfield’s, a win that propelled them into the senior ranks, where he would feature in four of the next five county senior finals.

Willie Hardy RIP, 4th from left on the back row on a Rasharkin team of the early 60s

Victory was to prove elusive, but Willie proved a memorable opponent for the team Rasharkin just could not overcome during that era; St John’s.

Mickey Gallagher, from that St John’s team, remembered him fondly.

“Besides the football, you had the families coming together as well. It was good craic,” he recalled.

“Sometimes you got a slap in the ear and sometimes you would give someone else a slap in the ear – it was good fun. You went out, you battered away and sometimes it got a bit rough.

“When the match was over, away you went and you were looking forward to the next time. That was the game and you just loved it.”

“Chris and John [Hardy] were very tight, but we called Willie the gentle giant, he was a big lump of a man. Good people and a good family.”

Peacemaker is a role that Willie found himself playing on a number of occasions. As well as keeping an eye out for his brothers on the pitch, he went on to become a referee.

In later life, he maintained a good level of fitness through his pursuit of golf and cycling, regularly embarking on 50-mile treks through North Antrim and South Derry.

He served as a senior selector, and maintained such a presence around the club as an ardent supporter and club sponsor that he could be simply recognised as ‘Willie’.

Willie Hardy withe the great Kerry legend Mick O’Dwyer

The outpouring of grief since his passing on Monday and the fondness with which he will be remembered is testament to his influence in the village.

His smile usually told you there was a yarn to be coaxed out, and he would pass on stories to consecutive generations that went through Dreen’s gates.

Willie will be greatly missed by his wife Grace, his sons, daughter, entire family circle and throughout the wider Rasharkin community.

“I would have had to play the peacemaker quite a lot,” he told me in a 2018 interview leading up to the club’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

 “I had the two brothers, John and Christy, that would have got into a few rows and I would usually get the nod to go and make the peace.”

There will be few nervous smiles among the Gaels up above as that formidable trio of Hardys is reunited.

Time to go and make the peace, Willie.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

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