When the golf craze really got going in Ireland in the last years of the nineteenth century it took root in Belfast, Dublin and pockets of activity mainly in coastal areas. Clubs that could afford to engage professionals had to entice them over from Scotland. Locals got employment as green-keepers or caddies. In those days it was just a short step from green-keeper or caddy to professional, and club-making professionals took on local apprentices, so that slowly a new breed of native professionals emerged. One small area of north-east Wicklow was to produce more than its share of golf pros through the years.
At the end of the nineteenth century Co. Wicklow had three golf clubs, Greystones (founded in 1895), Bray and Woodenbridge, both dating from 1897. Of course, Bray was the site of one of the earliest recorded golfing greens outside Scotland, back in the 1760s, but by the 1890s golf was being re-introduced as a new activity. The three early clubs were joined by Wicklow in 1904 and Delgany in 1908. Greystones and Delgany are a stone’s throw from one another, yet they set many caddies on the road to professional golf. But the story of north-east Wicklow’s professionals began in Bray.
Bray initially engaged a Scottish professional but he did not stay long. By 1898 twenty-one year old Richard Larkin had replaced him. Though Larkin was born in Meath, he grew up in Dollymount, Co. Dublin. When he was twelve, Dublin Golf Club moved from the Phoenix Park to the Bull Island close to Richard’s home. Two years later it became Royal Dublin, but in later years its links became familiarly known as Dollymount. The arrival of the club brought employment as caddies for the boys of Dollymount. Richard Larkin was one of many youngsters from the area who went on to careers in golf.
Larkin’s presence in Bray had a long-term influence. In 1898 he married Ellen Martin from Greystones. Ellen’s younger brother Eddie came to live with them in Bray and work at club-making with Richard. This began a long association with golf for the Martin family. In about 1902 another Dublin golfer, James Barrett, came to Greystones as caddy master and later professional. About four years later, when he moved on to Hermitage, he was replaced at Greystones by a local man, Tom Walker, who was a club-maker of some note. In 1907 Barrett returned to Greystones to celebrate his marriage to Ellen Larkin’s sister Mary Martin. Later that year he played on Ireland’s first professional team, in a match against Scotland. Shortly afterwards he moved to Carrickmines, where he remained pro until his death in 1950. His son Jimmy Barrett succeeded him in the post.
Presumably it was under Barrett at Greystones that another of the Martin brothers, James, learned his craft. In 1907, aged 20, James Martin was appointed the first professional at the new Milltown Golf Club in Dublin. The pinnacle of James Martin’s career came in 1922, when he won the Irish Professional Championship by a margin of five strokes at Portrush.
The Martin family’s association with golf continued for many decades. Eddie Martin, the youngster who was making clubs under the guidance of his brother-in-law at the beginning of the twentieth century, eventually became professional at Greystones. Eddie’s son Jimmy was born in Killincarrig, Greystones, in 1924 and he followed in his father’s footsteps. He followed also in his uncle’s footsteps in becoming Irish Professional champion in 1969. As a touring professional Jimmy Martin became the most successful member of the Martin family, winning four British Tour events, and playing for GB&I in the 1965 Ryder Cup team.
Jimmy Martin was related to another golfing family through his mother, Christina Darcy. The most prominent of the Darcys of Bellevue, Delgany, was Jimmy’s much younger second cousin, Eamonn. One of Ireland’s most successful touring professionals, Eamonn Darcy had eight tournament wins and four Ryder Cup appearances. Extraordinarily, Eamonn was related also to another important figure in Irish professional golf. His granduncle was Pat Doyle who was runner-up in the 1912 Irish Professional Championship. Doyle was born in 1889 in Kindlestown, between Greystones and Delgany. He is claimed by Delgany Golf Club as its first professional, which is possible as he was 19 when it opened. He emigrated to the USA in 1913 and that year finished tenth in the US Open. He remained in America, one of the first generation of Irish golfers to carve out a career in that country.
During James Barrett’s time at Greystones one of his protégés was a young caddy from Delgany named Ned Bradshaw. Ned was to become professional at Delgany, with his sons Harry, Eddie and Jimmy following him into the sport. Of course, the most illustrious of the clan was Harry Bradshaw, born in Killincarrig in 1913. Harry made three Ryder Cup appearances, won the Canada Cup with Christy O’Connor, and almost won The Open in 1949.
Bill Kinsella, born in Greystones in 1906, began another family of golf pros. In 1930 he became professional at Skerries in north Co. Dublin, where his grandson Bobby is currently the third generation of the Kinsellas to occupy that position. Bill’s sons Jimmy, Billy and David all were professionals, with Jimmy being a successful touring pro in the 60s and 70s.
Twice Irish Professional champion, Christy Greene, was another native of this extraordinarily fertile golfing haven. Born in Kindlestown in 1926, he began caddying at Greystones at an early age and learned the game alongside Jimmy Martin.
Greystones / Delgany has proved a rare breeding ground for professional golfers. The Martins, the Bradshaws, Tom Walker, Pat Doyle, Bill Kinsella, Christy Greene and Eamonn Darcy have left a lasting mark on the golfing landscape.
[First published in the Irish Clubhouse, June, 2014]
I'm a genealogist by profession, with credentials from AGI. I also dabble in local history and the history of Irish golfers, and I'm always writing something!