As well as being an outstanding public servant and commentator Maurice Hayes had an abiding interest in Irish culture, the Irish language and the GAA, particularly in relation to his native County Down. The archival collection now with the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway reflects those interests, abiding interest in County Down.
As a player he was a hurler with , and became the first player outside of the to play on the Down county team. His interest in the GAA continued in Queens and his return to Downpatrick as a teacher. This interest in hurling may have been inspired by his father Michael, a native of (near ) County Waterford, while his mother’s links with her native probably inspired an interest in football.
The GAA was the first that Maurice became deeply involved in, and from an early age. He was a County Down delegate at the famous (or infamous) 1947 GAA Congress, which decided to hold the All-Ireland football final in New York that year. Although only a teenager at the time his abilities were noted, and he was Assistant Secretary of the Down County Board by 1950. In his report to the County AGM published in the “Irish Press” on 12 January 1951, he gave details of the new club football league introduced and played in 1950. “Ten teams were selected to take part and special by-laws were drawn up and approved”. He went on to report “there was a full of senior football in the county, catering for an average of 150 players each Sunday, either by way of league, championship or county matches”. This was followed by an inter-barony league, introducing players to a high standard of games, as well as better medical care for injured players and the introduction of track-suits to allow substitutes get on the field quickly.
Becoming Vice-Chairman of the Ulster Council in 1955, Maurice continued with others to support the development of the county team, encouraging players and officials to think big. One of those players, Brian Morgan, was interviewed by Fabian Boyle in 1970 and recalled in impact of Maurice. Brian had come onto the County Team in 1957, along with household names like James McCartan, Paddy Doherty and Tony Hadden, who had been suspended for playing soccer. “The talent was there all right, but it could just as well have been squandered. The pieces did not just fall into place; it took three years of effort, experiment, persistence and to slot the right man into the best produce the magic formula.”
“Maurice Hayes knew precisely where he was going, and predicted that, if we stayed together and co-operated with the team-management, we would win the Sam Maguire Cup. He had confidence in our ability, and there was mutual respect between him and the players.”
“We could have got a U.S trip, after winning the All-Ireland title in 1960. But Maurice promised that, if we waited and went on to win in 1961, we would get a holiday that we would never forget. And, true to his word, the Down squad was treated to a six-weeks tour of the U.S.A., with everything laid on. The was superb.”
Speaking to Declan Bogue in 2017, Maurice gave his opinion on that team.
"The one thing is that the 1960 team, every one of them was a good citizen afterwards. They in one way or another to the society they were in."
Chris Patten, Lord Patten of Barnes, will officially open the archive of Maurice Hayes at NUI Galway before giving a public lecture entitled, ‘A European identity: some reflections on the career of Maurice Hayes on the opening of his archive at NUI Galway’ on Tuesday, 12 March.