Richard, Ann and their four children. Richard and Ann will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary shortly
A former fully-fledged soccer professional, well known for his love of music and drama
“I’m very much a Donegal man, Frank, I want to emphasise that!” Knowing Richard Hurst for 25 of his 30 years in the county, I can certainly vouch for that.
It’s how he got here which makes for a fascinating story. Born in Edinburgh, he was brought up in the mining village of Newtongrange, where his father, uncle and brother all worked in the ‘pit’ as it was known.
His earliest memories are of the Inspectors from the Burns Association visiting St. Andrew’s Primary School checking the pupils' prowess in Rabbie’s verse and song. Richard sang “Ye Bonny Banks and Braes” and won a Certificate.
He has never lost his love for the Scottish Bard and had been instrumental in masterminding the annual Burns hooley in Harvey’s Point.
“Football was the only game in town” and so he became a very proficient left-back, signing schoolboy terms with Hibernian as a 15-year-old and becoming a fully-fledged professional in 1977. He recalls winning his Scottish schoolboy cap in Hampden the same year.
In 1978, he was offered a transfer to either Luton Town or Cowdenbeath, but fate intervened. His best friend, John McIvor, invited him to visit Falcarragh where his parents had roots, so off he headed. In the meantime, John was working for the summer in The Sand House in Rossnowlagh, and persuaded Vinny Britton to give his friend a job as well.
That summer, Richard met local girl Ann Morrow, and he was smitten! It was with a heavy heart he returned to Scotland and he joined the Lothian and Border Police in 1979. At the time there was a serious heroin epidemic in Edinburgh so it was a baptism of fire on the frontline.
During this time he kept in touch with Ann, who was working as a weaver in Kerry. In 1985, however, as Maggie Thatcher clashed bitterly with the miners, Richard found himself in uniform, manning picket lines and holding the line against old friends and colleagues from the ‘pit’ days.
Disillusioned, he resigned in February 1986 and headed off to do a weaving course in Cork, and reuniting with Ann in Muckross House in Killarney.
A year later, he responded to a newspaper advert for a museum assistant in The Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, and the rest is history.
He and Ann celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary next month and they have four children, including twins, and live in their beloved Rossnowlagh.
He is now Visitor Services Manager at the Folk Park and there have been many highlights, including the amazing 25th anniversary celebrations in July 2001 when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed there.
Another one was the Mellon Family Reunion in 2010 when over 120 members of the Mellon family from all over the world gathered at the Folk Park to celebrate the life of Thomas Mellon who was born at Camphill Cottage in 1813 and went on to become a judge, banker, entrepreneur and built a vast business empire which is still extant in the United States.
In the early days, having never lost the professional footballing skills, he played with Omagh Town for a period, while in Donegal played for a number of teams in the Donegal League.
His interest in music and drama, inspired at secondary school by Sister Catherine, blossomed again when he joined the Ballyshannon Drama and Musical Societies.
The Drama group made the All-Ireland Finals three years in a row and Richard won a number of Best Actor awards.
A particular highlight every year in Harveys Point is the Friday night when he leads the assembled Burns fans in traditional Scottish songs. “Much as I love my family and Donegal, there’s not a day I don’t miss my folk in Scotland” he says...“och sure that’s only natural”.
Four years ago to the day we talk, daughter Martha went to Australia and he and Ann can’t wait to see her. “Emigrants, Frank, emigrants...all of us.”
He’s currently in the midst of organising this year’s Bluegrass Festival which takes place the first weekend in September.
Last year was its 25th anniversary and it received a nomination for Bluegrass Event of the Year at the prestigious IBMA in North Carolina.
If he wasn’t doing what he does, what would he like to be at? “The official quality control whiskey taster at Bushmills Distillery!”
I’ll drink to that.