Fifty years later, a number of Irish sporting stars have recalled their memories of the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
‘I thought there would be holidays to the moon’
I got married that summer of ’69, back home in Dublin, but had become a professional footballer in England the previous autumn, so I was back in Portsmouth for preseason training at the time of the moon launch and landing.
I remember being in awe of the whole thing. That summer I’d have watched on my mother’s old black-and-white TV in Drumcondra some footage of some of the training those astronauts were put through for this pioneer expedition; my God, they were very courageous men.
Then there was the whole build-up to the rocket launch. And then for them to finally land on it… To be honest, I can’t recall for certain if I watched it in real time or if we were shown the live pictures the next day, but it was just incredible.
It’s kind of amazing to think it’s that long ago. There have been so many technological advances since then but I don’t think the level of progress is on the scale of going to the moon.
Armstrong’s quote is so iconic but if anything it was an understatement – it wasn’t just a giant step for mankind but a quantum leap like we’ve never had before or since.
I mean, 50 years before that was 1919. No one could have imagined anyone flying to the moon then. But once we did, I thought it had opened up this whole new galaxy.
That we’d be travelling all over the place, that there’d be holidays to the moon or something! That within 50 years easily someone would have been on Mars. Yet here we now are and that imaginable still hasn’t happened.
What an achievement. Fifty years on, I’m still in awe of it.
‘I’ve my own view on how Earth became habitable and Mars remained barren’
Most years, in a hurler’s career, hold some bad memories. But 1969, for me, has always been unusual. There are only the warmest of memories, however I look at it.
Part of that was definitely the moon landing. The subject interested me from the start, right back to the comics I read as a child, where space travel was a big element. Then, in school, the nature of creation and the birth of the solar system featured.
Although few enough subjects hold your interest from childhood until your seventies, space travel and the planets stayed with me. I am a big fan of Professor Brian Cox’s TV programmes.
I love to watch his documentaries on the probes sent to other planets, and I would have my own views on why Planet Earth became habitable and Mars remained barren.
To be honest, I was a bit distracted in the run up to the moon landing in July 1969. That summer, I had the honour of captaining Kilkenny, and we were preparing for the Leinster final.
Also, my wife, Kay, was expecting our second child, and Clodagh ended up being born on August 13. So plenty was happening on two fronts, but I do remember being enthralled by those shaky black and white shots of the event itself.
We beat Cork in the All-Ireland final, after a dramatic game, and I was able to go up and lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the team.
That moment became the pinnacle of my career, and meant so much to everyone in The Rower-Inistioge, four of the players’ home club.
We received a trip to America in late 1969. Kilkenny had been there in 1964 and 1967, but this time felt more special, because the wives, including Kay, were able to travel.
Once we arrived, the flags and the general jubilation left us in no doubt about how important conquering the moon was to America’s pride in itself. We visited Arlington Cemetery and JFK’s grave. You could just sense something in the air.
‘When you think of how many homes hadn’t sewerage…’
I was at home with my parents and my five sisters and we were absolutely captivated.
It was an extraordinary time to be alive. There were so many houses in Ireland that hadn’t water or sewerage and you were watching this happen, man doing something you could hardly have imagined.
Going back to Sputnik, I was fascinated with it. When Neil Armstrong’s foot was put on the moon and he uttered those words, I’ll never forget it.
I have been very privileged to visit Cape Canaveral on half a dozen occasions because I have dear friends who live in Titusville.
When you see the capsule, what people went up in, you just marvel at how that adventure has always been in man.
When you think of the great things that have taken place in the area of medicine, all thanks to those trips to the moon and how many lives have been saved...
It seemed at the time that they were an extraordinary waste of money but it wasn’t.
I met David Winston in Mayo a couple of weeks ago, the man who invented the cross between red cabbage and lettuce that was used in the capsule in the trip to Mars. It seems mad but you still need the veg from home.
‘It was marvellous when they redocked and came home safely’
I was 21 at the time of the moon landing and found it all very exciting. I was working in banking and remember rushing home every day that week to watch it all on television.
I found it almost unbelievable back then and even more so now when looking back at the achievement.
You must bear in mind that they had hardly any computers at the time, the mobile phones of today would have told them far more than the computers of that time.
And I do recall how marvellous it was when they redocked and came home safely. Unbelievable.
Having earlier played pitch and putt, I had just taken up golf. Then Dessie Desmond took me down to Douglas for a game of golf and I was smitten.
When the moon landing happened, we used to joke that it was nothing to compared with sinking a 30-foot putt for a birdie but we knew deep down that we were around for something very special.
‘I don’t remember Armstrong, but I remember the dog’
To be honest, while I obviously remember the moon landing, I don’t remember the day that well.
I didn’t watch it. I’m a lazy auld sod, so I was probably in bed.
I do remember clearly the race that was going on, with the Russians. It was the big stuff.
And subsequently there was cooperation between the different space agencies, which is right and proper.
My memory is pretty good, generally.
I can remember things growing up in Arklow from when I was a child of four or five. I remember my mammy sending me to the shop one day with 6p.
And I looked over the bridge in Arklow and dropped the 6p into the river. So I never forgot that.
But funnily enough, I don’t remember the moon that well. I remember more the Russian dog (Laika) that went into space, on the Sputnik (2).
It would have been the year after the Olympics. That fascinated me. Absolutely enthralled me, for whatever reason.
I don’t remember Armstrong that well, but I definitely remember the dog.
‘Ireland had begun to take a keen interest in world affairs’
I’d not long returned from the Olympic Games, representing Ireland over in Mexico City.
I was also getting set for the Europeans in Romania in 1969, so it was a busy time. But I remember that night so well, so well.
I watched it in my sister Lily’s house over in Crumlin, with her husband and all her family. It was that kind of event.
I recall it being late in the evening, all gathered around the television, captivated by the scale of the whole thing. Such a special happening, and one that we could follow live.
There was a significant amount of buzz about the lead-in. Ireland by that stage had already begun to take a keen interest in world affairs, especially given the levels of heavy emigration from the country, to Britain but particularly to America.
My two sisters were there by then.
That naturally meant families were more in tune with things beyond our own doorstep, but the moon landing, in its way, was on another level entirely.
‘Did you ever hear such claptrap out of JFK?’
I was a young father, working as an accountant, looking after Úna with my wife Jackie at that time.
In 1962, John F Kennedy, who I would have great time and respect for, said that ‘we choose to go to the Moon and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.’ Did you ever hear such claptrap? But because he was JF Kennedy he got away with it.
It would be like Davy Fitzgerald saying, ‘We want to beat Kilkenny, not because it is easy, but because it is difficult!’
It was clearly a huge ambition for America in the early 1960s and when it was realised, you knew it was momentous.
But it didn’t leave any huge impression on me because unlike other events that happened around the world in my lifetime, I don’t remember where I was.
I don’t even know if we had a telly at the time.
In any case, I thought the money could be better spent in America and around the world on medical research or something like that.