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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Teaching a king to swing

Jack Lynch first came to fame as a very talented dual-player for the Cork football and hurling teams. He is still regarded as one of the greatest all-time dual-players, regardless of his subsequent political career.

It was no wonder then that when President Éamon de Valera wanted to demonstrate the appeals of Irish sports to a visiting monarch, King Baudouin of Belgium, it was Lynch he turned to.

King Baudouin with President De Valera and Taoiseach Jack Lynch at Áras an Uachtaráin
14 May 1968
When Lynch arrived at Áras an Uachtaráin for the impromptu hurling lesson, he was rather bemused to see De Valera pick up a hurley facing the wrong way round. When De Valera proceeded to throw a sliotar in the air and swing at it with the upside-down hurley, he was even more amused. De Valera was almost blind at that point in his life, so his mistake was forgiveable. In fact, Lynch would later say that he did not think Dev would have been able to hit the Áras with the hurl, never mind the sliotar.

Lynch did take over the hurling demonstration then, and King Baudouin had a go at the sport himself. As you’ll see from the photos, the young king adopted a one-armed style, though I fear it is a style that would not last very long against Lynch if he had still been in his inter-county heyday. But, for a first try on the lawn of the Áras while wearing a full military ceremonial suit, it wasn’t a bad attempt at all.

The one-handed style of King Baudouin

King Baudouin probably felt very much at home in the Ireland of the 1960s. He was a very devout Catholic, going so far as refusing to sign an abortion bill that had been passed by the Belgian parliament into law in 1990. However, he did suggest that the government declare him unfit to act as head of state temporarily so they could go ahead and being the law into force without requiring his signature. King Badouin died on 31 July 1993 of sudden heart failure.

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