Joan Priestman Obituary: Hockey community remembers one of its greats

The hockey community grieves the loss of one of the greatest servants of the sport of hockey in Ireland, Joan Priestman (nee Horne) 6th May 1929 – 5th September 2023.

Joan was 94 years old and had dedicated her entire life to the sport she loved, serving as a player and administrator, at club, provincial and national level, and in later years supporting her club. She was an Honorary Life Member of Muckross Hockey Club, Leinster Hockey, Irish Ladies Hockey Union and Hockey Ireland, and was capped for Ireland 43 times. This was at a time when Ireland played 4-5 internationals most years, including the Home International championship just to put that total into context. If she had played in the modern era she would most likely have been in the over 200 international cap bracket. She was also inducted into the Hockey Ireland Hall of Fame in 2006.

One of Joan’s greatest achievements off the field was bringing the 8th Women’s Hockey World Cup to Dublin in 1994 and she was also Chairperson of the organising committee. At the time the ILHU invited a member of the Irish Men’s Hockey Union to assist and be a member of the 1994 Women’s World Cup organising committee. This arrangement worked so well, that when the Irish Men’s Hockey Union were awarded the Men’s European Championships in 1995, the Irish Men’s Hockey Union reciprocated by inviting one of the ILHU members of the World Cup organising committee to be part of the Men’s European Championships Organising Committee. This was seen as the first step to the formation of Hockey Ireland a few years later and Joan Priestman, in her role as Chairperson of the Women’s World Cup organising committee, was an integral part of the co-operation between the two Unions, which was brought about by hosting of these two tournaments in 1994 and 1995. That level of co-operation between the two Unions led to the eventual formation of Hockey Ireland.

Leinster Hockey President Deirdre Matthews remembered Joan’s passion for hockey and her enthusiasm, encouragement and passion for the sport adding “it was always a pleasure to see Joan appearing pitch side, in all weathers, to cheer on the teams and while her mobility might have slowed her down a bit over recent years, she was always a strong advocate for the sport and especially the women’s game at club and schools level. Into her 90s, Joan was regularly on the side-line in Muckross School cheering on her beloved Muckross HC. She will be sadly missed and on behalf of everyone in Leinster Hockey I would like to offer my sympathy to her family at this sad time”.

Hockey Ireland Chair Trevor Watkins noted Joan’s significant contribution to the sport across Ireland, “As Hockey grows and develops across Ireland, and as our international teams continue to compete at the highest level, the sport owes a debt of gratitude to its past advocates and representatives, none greater than Joan. Our thoughts are with Joan’s family and friends as we remember her wonderful life in our sport”.

Joan was educated at Muckross College and Dominican Convent, Wicklow. While at Wicklow she won her first Interprovincial honour, playing at centre forward for Leinster Schools. Joan was a very versatile player and played all positions, except goal, at representative level. After leaving school in 1947, she joined Muckross HC and she was soon playing for the Leinster senior squad at centre forward and, in 1949, at left inner. In 1950, she travelled to The Hague with the Irish Touring Team and in 1952 she won her first international cap playing against Wales on March 1st at Blaydon Drive.

Joan was a member of the Irish team to the IFWHA Conference at Folkstone in 1953 and in 1954, she was on the Irish team which toured the USA winning all but two matches which were drawn with the host country.
In 1958, she was picked at left back for Ireland against England at Celtic Park, Belfast, the match ending in a 2 all draw. But the greatest honour came in 1962, when, as Irish captain, Joan led her team to a 2-0 home win over England at Londonbridge Road; their first win over them for twelve years. The following year, she captained the Irish team which beat Holland 3-2, a feat which has not been achieved since and in 1965 in Celtic Park, she lead the team to a 2-1 victory over a highly experienced South African team, the only country to beat them on their tour of Great Britain & Ireland.

In September 1965, Joan travelled with the combined Great Britain & Ireland side which toured the USA, as one of only three Irish players included in the selection. In 1969 Joan represented Leinster for the last time when she literally came out of retirement to travel and play in Jamaica.

Joan was Hon Secretary of the ILHU from 1971 to 1975 and Leinster President from 1987 to 1990. In 1989 she was part of the committee which travelled to Brussels to make the case for Ireland hosting the Women’s Hockey World Cup. The FIH agreed and so her dream came true in the summer of 1994 when, as chairperson of the World Cup Committee, she headed the Organising Committee which successfully staged the 8th Women’s Hockey World Cup in Dublin. At the Centenary AGM on 22nd October 1994, Joan was honoured with Life Membership of the ILHU, an appropriate acknowledgement of her service to Irish Hockey.

Rest in Peace Joan