WE had the honour of being in the presence of a real GAA legend last Friday night when we attended the victory dinner of Bandon GAA Club.
Special guest at the function was the irrepressible Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and for half an hour he held the attendance in the palm of his hand with a series of stories about the old times in the GAA, the people involved and how the GAA was then.
A real seanchaí of the old tradition, I love how he mixes both Irish and English seamlessly and simply in his story-telling and it is a lesson for all GAA people. Some, like myself, try to fit in a few words of Gaeilge at the start and then switch to English but Ó Muircheartaigh blends it all effortlessly throughout his stories.
It’s hard to believe that this man is 86 years of age as he looks as fit as a fiddle, not an ounce of spare flesh, and his mind is still as sharp as a razor. Of course it’s his grand Kerry accent and his flowing story-telling that sets him apart and he can reel off names, dates and events as if they were only yesterday.
While Ó Muircheartaigh is a rare human being, a legend in his own lifetime as was Mícheál Ó Hehir before him, every parish has characters like that. Those old warriors can be mines of information about the GAA in the old days and I wonder do we realise they won’t always be with us. Are clubs making a genuine effort to collect the rich GAA folklore that these people possess, and eventually commit it to print, or to the internet?
Ó Muircheartaigh actually made a plea to all clubs to collect their history before much is lost and maybe it’s time for the GAA to launch some kind of reward scheme for clubs who do publish their histories. Back in Centenary Year, 1984, the GAA encouraged all clubs to publish their histories. Some West Cork clubs have done it and a couple of clubs have even issued a second book on the years since 1984, but too many of our West Cork clubs have still to undertake the task.
The problem is the longer it is remains undone the harder it will be to do it, firstly, because the people with the stories about the early years will be gone and, secondly, there will be so much material to cover that it won’t be possible to fit it all properly into one book.
At present we’re working on the full history of the GAA in West Cork, a huge undertaking but a most enjoyable one. It will have to be divided into several volumes. The first is practically completed, ranging from pre-GAA days in West Cork to 1899. Thankfully, we had our own local newspapers for much of that time, The Southern Star and The Skibbereen Eagle. Without their files much of our GAA history in West Cork would have been lost.
We would be delighted to hear from anybody who might have stories from those old days. Especially welcome would be old photographs and to date we have unearthed only two from pre-1899, the winning Clonakilty football team of 1892, which, we think, is the oldest GAA photograph available in West Cork, and the county-winning Doheny team of 1897. We would be delighted if anybody could come up with another photo from those early years. Also welcome would be pictures of medals from that time.
Ó Muircheartaigh told a story about medals in the early years, in fact there were no championship medals and the first All-Ireland football winners of 1887, Limerick Commercials, did not get medals until 1912, by which time most of the team had emigrated. Tournaments were as important as championships in the old days and most of the medals still available from those times are tournament medals. Let us know if you have any and we would arrange to photograph them.
I don’t know when that first volume of the GAA in West Cork will ever be printed because of the high costs of printing books today. Without a generous sponsor, it is not possible, so unless somebody steps forward, the book will have to stay in the computer for a while.
Right now we are working on the second volume, which takes in the period from 1900 to 1925, the year the South-West Cork Board was originally set up. It is, of course, a period much relevant right now and rich in history. Unfortunately with the concentration on politics and wars such as World War 1 and the Boer War, coverage of GAA games and affairs took a back seat for a while.
Again information, stories and photographs would be greatly appreciated. We would be only too delighted to interview old GAA people who might have a story to tell.
Again, I wonder, do we truly appreciate the rich history we have in the GAA and, as a result, are we in danger of losing much of what we are as an association? When the president of the GAA recently suggested that we might, some day, have to change our attitude to the national anthem in the GAA because of changing political times, he didn’t realise what a can of worms he was opening. He quickly back-tracked on that suggestion and rightly so.
While nobody knows what the future might bring for the GAA, and for Ireland as a whole, there are certain things are beyond tampering with, one being our National Anthem and the other being our flag.
And speaking of the history of the GAA in West Cork and in Cork in general, we will soon have a fine new ultra-modern stadium in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and we will welcome that. What we won’t have there is a modern GAA museum or library section, because no provision has been made for them, bar, maybe having a spare room that can be converted some day.
I am appalled at this attitude to our proud GAA history here in Cork by the powers-that-be and would appeal to all GAA history-lovers to begin to put pressure on the county executive to correct this omission.
This isn’t just about conserving our GAA history here in Cork. This is about the very foundations of our association here in the Rebel County.
Right now Cork GAA is struggling badly to preserve its proud record on the playing pitches.
Something seems to be sadly missing and maybe we should look to the past to inspire the present and the future.
Without acknowledging what went before us, the people who made us what we are today, then we have little chance of rectifying our present problems.
Of course we must live in the present while planning for the future but every house needs good foundations. Knowing what those foundations are made of will help in restructuring the house.
Recently we watched a documentary on television about the Cork jersey and how the red and white colours came into being. How many of our intercounty players bothered watching it? What pride have we now got in that same red jersey?
The lack of proper training facilities in the new stadium, as outlined by Cork footballers at present, is something to worry about but so too is the absence of a proper museum to Cork GAA and a GAA library in which every club in the county could store its history.
For instance, the Lees, the Nils and the William O’Brien clubs were an integral and vital part of football in Cork GAA in the first quarter of a century. What do we now know about them? Where is their history recorded for posterity? Those clubs and the people involved, deserve better from us.
Imagine the day in Cork GAA when somebody might ask, ‘Who were Nemo Rangers?’
Slán go Fóill