Belfast Protestant cradles Catholic from the Sailortown as his life ebbs away after a UVF shooting - 14 years to the day later, his policeman brother was murdered by the IRA
George Larmour will never forget holding dying Jimmy Hasty in his arms, forty-three years after that fateful day, he reveals how tragedy returned to his life in 1988
On October 11, 1974, I was 25 years old, married and working in the advertising department of this newspaper. As I travelled to work that cold autumn morning, I heard what I thought was a gunshot. Without thinking, or hesitating, I drove down Brougham Street, off York Street, and saw a man dressed in work clothes lying on the pavement.
There was a small khaki, or grey-coloured, duffel bag lying beside him. The street was eerily quiet and empty.
I could see that he was injured and I assumed that he had been shot. I shouted for anyone who could hear me to call an ambulance.
I took coats from my car to put over the man to keep him warm. I sat on the pavement beside him, held his head in my hands and told him my name was George and tried to reassure him that he would be okay. He was breathing slowly and calmly.
Although his eyes were closed, he did open them briefly when I spoke to him and particularly when I asked if he could hear me.
A policeman arrived on the scene and immediately said the victim was Jimmy Hasty.
He said he knew him and that Jimmy was a well-known local football champion, who only had one arm. I wasn’t even aware that the man only had one arm, as I had covered him with the coats.
The policeman lifted one of the coats and confirmed it was the famous local footballer.
It wasn’t until about an hour later that the shock of what I had experienced hit me and I broke down and cried in work.
I suppose it was just the delayed reaction and the newsroom had confirmed that Mr Hasty had died. In subsequent news reports, I was aware that he had two young sons and his wife was called Margaret.
I felt so useless. There were times I often wondered if I should have tried to get him into my car and rush him to the Mater Hospital, instead of just sitting talking to him, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
Little did I realise, as I sat on that cold pavement on October 11, 1974, holding Mr Hasty, that on that same date, 14 years later, my brother John, also a great amateur footballer, would be murdered in my family-run ice-cream parlour, Barnam’s World of Ice Cream, on the Lisburn Road in Belfast.
Over the years, I often thought of Mr Hasty’s wife, Margaret, and her two young sons. But, to my shame, it was more than 30 years later, in 2005, that I decided to find Mrs Hasty and tell her about that morning in 1974. For all those years, I had allowed her and her two young boys to grieve for their daddy, her husband, without them knowing the truth; believing that he had died alone and uncared for that day in Brougham Street. Something I still deeply regret.
As I stood in her neat home and spoke to this lovely lady, I knew I should have made contact with her many years earlier and told her Jimmy didn’t die alone; that someone did care for him at the end.
Thankfully, she forgave me. Here we were, two ordinary people, one Protestant, one Catholic, who, through a simple act of birth, were considered to be on opposite sides of the sectarian divide.
One whose brother was murdered on October 11 for simply being a Protestant and a policeman and one whose husband was murdered on the same date simply for being a Catholic.
Jimmy Hasty’s murder was something that affected me personally that morning and ever since. I had watched another human being die as I held him on a cold pavement and the memory of those traumatic and sad final moments never left me.
Murder had managed to separate so many people throughout the years of the Troubles, but murder had somehow managed to bring his wife, Margaret, and I together.
We started our journey that day in her house as complete strangers, but parted as friends.
Speaking to Margaret that day, I found out so much more about Jimmy; that, despite losing his arm in a machinery accident on his first day at work, aged just 14, Jimmy had not allowed his disability to stop him enjoying life to the full and going on to be an outstanding football player, as well as a wonderful husband and father.
Some defenders, in some sort of misguided sympathy, backed off a bit more when they saw the one-armed striker racing towards them with the ball at his feet.
If they did, they paid dearly for their lack of judgment. He ducked and weaved around them without losing his balance, with his empty left sleeve waving to them as he passed them and put the ball in the back of their net. Yet again.
When needed, he would use what remained of his left arm stump to cleverly lean on them in a tackle. When defenders would call to the referee for a foul, their protests were in vain. How could a ref book Jimmy for supposedly pushing a defender off the ball when he didn’t even have an arm? He used that natural skill and unique tackling ability to score over 100 goals in matches across Ireland in the early-1960s.
He even played for Dundalk FC in the 1963 European Cup against Switzerland’s mighty FC Zurich.
The life story of this remarkable, one-armed Belfast football legend bears similarities to the life story of legendary boxer James J Braddock, as told in the movie Cinderella Man. Braddock was just an ordinary guy, who fought and beat tough opponents in the ring when most people branded him a loser with a broken hand.
But the love of a family and the determination to succeed can overcome any disability.Jimmy Hasty, an ordinary lad from Belfast, had all those same characteristics of courage and grit and down-to-earth decency.
He didn’t let his disability dictate what he could achieve in life and he proved many people wrong with his incredible skill on the football pitch. Maybe one day, someone will do justice to the life of Jimmy Hasty and tell the world on the big screen about this footballing legend from Belfast.
I’m glad I didn’t hesitate that morning in 1974 and I did hold Jimmy as he died and I told him I cared about him, a fellow human being.
I’m not a religious person, but I hope if there is somewhere we all end up after we die, that my dad, John, and his lifelong friend, John McCann from Andersonstown, who saved each other at Dunkirk, my mum, my brother and Jimmy Hasty are all there, enjoying each other’s company and proving that those who would have wished to separate them in life simply because of their different religions didn’t succeed with their deaths.
Holding Jimmy as he died changed my life forever.
I will never forget him. Of the many Christmas cards we receive each year, none means more to me than the one my family receives from Jimmy’s wife, Margaret, and her family — a continuing friendship that, sadly, grew out of tragedy.
George Larmour is the author of They Killed The Ice Cream Man (Colourpoint)