Ageing with attitude: Pat Spillane works to stay healthy due to family history of heart disease

Margaret Jennings talks to former Kerry GAA player Pat Spillane about the lessons he has learned from his father’s early death and his mother’s determination to provide for her children.

MANY who haven’t even the slightest interest in GAA have heard of the famous Kerry player Pat Spillane. 

He won eight All-Ireland medals and holds nine-All Stars, a record unsurpassed by another Gaelic footballer.

Now aged 60, Spillane’s indelible star status has been assured by his presence as an outspoken GAA pundit on RTÉ and as a newspaper columnist, since he hung up his boots 25 years ago. 

However, the influence that made him a supremo on the pitch and passionate about anything he tackles in life, started in his childhood.

“I would be a ferociously positive person, ferociously committed,” says the retired secondary school principal.

“As a footballer is the best example of that. I wasn’t the most skilful footballer. There were hundreds of fellas more skilful, but I worked hard. 

Ageing with attitude: Pat Spillane works to stay healthy due to family history of heart disease

"I trained and I trained and I trained and I worked and I worked to be a good footballer,” he says.

He says that his epitaph on his headstone should read: ‘He gave it his all’.

The ‘give-it-100%’ philosophy was soaked up first hand from his mother, after she was left to rear four young children and run the family pub, when his dad dropped dead of a heart attack in his mid 40s.

As the eldest, aged eight, he had to step up to the plate and “become a father figure to the younger children. 

But my mother was unbelievable; the bar work was 14 hours a day, 363 days a year. 

Everything she did in her life was for us. It was work, work, work and she never took a holiday,” he says.

Even though the local pitch was nearby she never actually got to see him play, nor his brothers Mick and Tom, not to mention taking a day off to go to Croke Park. 

She was in her mid-80s when she passed away four years ago and the pub has been leased out for the past 15 years.

Spillane has never lived beyond his native Templenoe, on the Ring of Kerry, where he settled with his wife Rosarii and reared three children, Cara, Shona and Pat. 

It’s a location that cradles many memories; from the night when that eight-year-old boy heard the hushed voices from his bedroom after his beloved dad died, to the grit and determination he went on to exhibit as a powerhouse on the football pitch.

He trained so hard he often “went bananas” in his efforts, he says. 

For example, having suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the 1980s, which should have ended his career, he stubbornly had an operation in England and did “lunatic stuff” like running 30 laps of the pitch with 9kg weights strapped to his ankle, for many years, to build it back up. 

He went on to win three more All-Ireland medals.

“I’ve been told by the medics the inside of my knee now is the equivalent of a bomb going off on it. It’s in bits. 

"And in dampness and in cold, oh jaysus. I’m in savage pain because it’s riddled with arthritis.”

He exercises at least 90 minutes every day, walking and swimming, because he’s unable to do any other form. 

“But I’ve no regrets. I’d do it tomorrow again if I got a chance, the same thing all over,” he says.

Back then there was a sense of invincibility about his life, he says. 

However, now he’s on statins and suffers from high blood pressure so he “works at staying healthy”, aware of his family history of heart disease.

In that light, he was delighted to be invited to officially launch the Heart Failure Patient Alliance in Dublin. 

It is a joint initiative by heart failure charity, The Heartbeat Trust, and Croí the heart and stroke charity.

With an estimated 90,000 people in Ireland living with heart failure, he says the key message the alliance wants to put out is that people with the condition can remain active and live well.

It’s a message that’s poignant for Pat, given his family history.

* The launch meetings today in Dublin and tomorrow in Galway are free to attend. 

For Dublin contact the Heartbeat Trust on 083 465 6098 or email 

For Galway contact Croí on 091 544 3100 or online at 

Bone health

Are you sick of hearing about how good the Mediterranean diet is for you as you age? 

Ageing with attitude: Pat Spillane works to stay healthy due to family history of heart disease

We are often reminded about how eating the food, rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes, is a healthy formula for staying well. 

Now a study carried out by researchers at the University of Wurzburg in Germany found that women who closely followed the diet had a 20% lower risk for hip fractures compared to women who didn’t. 

The study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect, however, but the researchers said it supported the belief that having a consistent healthy eating pattern plays a role in the maintenance of bone health in postmenopausal women

The research was published online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Older creativity

Workshops will be held in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, to explore its exhibitions, as part of the Bealtaine festival, organised by Age & Opportunity which celebrates creativity as we age.

Ageing with attitude: Pat Spillane works to stay healthy due to family history of heart disease

The workshops, given by Michael Waldron, above, will be held each Thursday in May from 2-4pm and will be followed by an opportunity to respond creativity with visual artist Julie Forrester. 

All are welcome, from absolute beginners seeking to try something completely new, to those wishing to develop their existing knowledge.

Established in 1996, an estimated 120,000 people now take part in the Bealtaine festival. 

From dance to cinema, painting to theatre, it showcases the talents and creativity of first-time and professional older artists. 

For details see: 


Ten ways to lower your blood pressure 


Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age but they die young

— Benjamin Franklin


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