Bere Island keeps its unique tradition alive

August 7th, 2017 4:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

All aboard: This ferry takes players and supporters of Bere Island and Glengarriff out to Bere island for last Saturday's Beara JBFL game. (Photo: @GaaBeara)

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Nothing beats a match on the island, according to Bere Island footballer Jim Hanley, and he's right.

NOTHING beats a match on the island, according to Bere Island footballer Jim Hanley, and he's right.

Last Saturday night, Murphy's Ferry (one of two ferries that service Bere Island) left the Pontoon, a few miles east of Castletownbere, and made the 25-minute trip to Rerrin Village on the east end of the island.

On board were players and supporters of both Bere Island and Glengarriff, ahead of the Beara Junior B football league game between the clubs.

The photo of that ferry trip on this page was posted on Beara GAA's Twitter, with the caption, ‘Keeping the tradition alive'.

And that's exactly what Saturday night's league game did, and games on the island continue to do, they keep a unique tradition alive.

There were, give or take, 50 or 60 supporters at this game to watch Glengarriff win 0-20 to 1-12, not a bad turnout for this small island with a total population of just over 200, given it was a Saturday evening in the summer.

Numbers, as expected, are tight for Bere Island. Everyone there, they've 20 players, absolute maximum. Last Saturday night they had 16. Ironically, it was Glengarriff down on bodies, so they played 12-a-side, still not enough to stop Bere Island slipping to their third league defeat of the season.

With half the team living on the mainland, a good chunk of that in Cork city and some around Castletownbere, everyone pitches in and helps keep Bere Island on the football map.

Last Saturday Mike Crowley, fighting back after two cruciate injuries, lined out in goal and leapt to his side's defence on at least three occasions, Robbie Hilliard started as centre back and ended up at full forward with a tally of 1-2 to his name, and full back Mike Reid (he grew up in Scotland, his mother's from the island) was a rock as usual.

Shane Bán Harrington and Derek Harrington, two more experienced heads, both travelled down from Cork on Saturday afternoon after working that morning, each doing their bit for Bere Island GAA.

And at the other end of the age spectrum, younger lads like Oisín Murphy, Billy Murphy and Cian Harrington are coming up through the ranks.

All Bere Island's players are doing what they can to keep this tradition alive, to keep football on the island because GAA is a very important part of life here: it connects the people, it brings them together, it's a social outlet and a meeting place for the older generation, and it's also a source of great pride.

In the late 1980s, the club did fold for a period, due to falling numbers and emigration, before reforming in 1995, and a lot of good people are working hard to ensure Bere Island GAA continues to survive and not let rural depopulation and emigration bring it to a halt.

If it goes, then it's very difficult to bring back and you lose everything that a club brings to a community, said Jim Hanley, who has played football with Bere Island since he was 22. Jim grew up in Cork city, but he's father from the island, and feeling the pull of Bere, he transferred there and has enjoyed every moment of it.

‘The games on the island are fantastic occasions for the island,' he says.

‘There's a uniqueness to it, there's great enjoyment and great fun, and it's an experience that other clubs look forward to; it's a little bit different than your normal game.

‘The other clubs in Beara are used to coming out, they make a day of it and they enjoy the trip, they'll play the game, go back to the pub, have a few pints and head home.

‘I know the Aran Islands have a GAA team but their team is three islands coming together – and Inis Mór has a population of 1,000 people and it has a Supermacs! It's more developed than other islands.

‘As far as I am aware, other than us, none of the other islands have a club that is affiliated with the GAA.

‘We all play in an islands competition but, and I'm open to being corrected on this, none of those islands have their own club affiliated with the GAA. Take an island like Clare Island off the Mayo coast, they come in and play with a club on the mainland, so I think we're the only affiliated island on our own.'

Life as an island GAA club is difficult, and Bere Island has had its ups and downs. Back in the 1940s Bere Island competed in  three county junior finals, winning in 1943, and the Cork SFC at one stage – the Irish Army was based on the island at the time so numbers were strong – and they've also won their fair share of Beara titles.

This month they've Beara junior B championship against Urhan, and they've also the Inter-Island All-Ireland on Inishbofin on the weekend of September 8th to 10th, so there's a lot of football to be played. 

And, in true Conor McGregor style, they're not here to just take part, they want to take over.

‘It's important to be competitive and to be winning games, too. If you're losing game after game and you're not competitive, that's very disheartening. You have to win a couple of games every now and then, and we're working hard to do that,' Hanley added.

Often, the important GAA stories like this, how Bere Island GAA continues to survive and look to the future, are forgotten, but it's important to highlight that this unique tradition is alive and well out west. Long may that continue.

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