FOUNDED in 1905, Clonakilty Agricultural College, known to all as ‘Darrara College’ because of its location in the townland of Darrara, a couple of miles south-east of Clonakilty Town, once dominated the playing pitches of West Cork and oldtimers who saw them in action in the mid-fifties maintain they were the best junior football team to ever emerge as South West champions.
We were reminded of the Darrara team on two fronts lately, when we heard of the possible amalgamation and subsequent extinction of two clubs in the division, and when we heard of the county board promoting junior teams to intermediate, even though they had not won the junior county title.
Darrara are the only winners of the famous Little Norah Cup, South West junior A football, to have gone out of existence since those halcyon years, 1954 and 1955, and they, too, upgraded to senior football despite failing to win the county junior title.
There was no intermediate grade in those days, and a warning to those clubs now upgrading under the new ‘amnesty’, even though they fully deserved to win the junior county and were most unlucky not to do so, Darrara lasted only one single year in senior ranks.
Darrara subsequently regraded back to junior but were never the same force in the 1960s and eventually withdrew from South West competition, even though they still participate in the national agricultural colleges’ championship.
Their loss to Carbery football was a huge one as they were the glamour team for many years, the team all local clubs loved to beat, just like UCC and CIT in the present senior championships.
Darrara College first became a force in GAA circles in the second half of the 1920s when a man named Frank Doran arrived from Kildare to become the gardener for many years subsequently. Doran was a GAA fanatic and was actually in Croke Park on ‘Bloody Sunday’, 1920, when 14 innocent people were murdered by the British army.
With Doran driving them on, Darrara, composed of students and locals, became a force in the South West junior A football championship in the early 1930s, unlucky to lose a final replay to Enniskeane in 1934.
The Little Norah Cup was first presented for the South West junior A football championship in 1949, by Beamish and Crawford of Bandon, and when Clonakilty’s second team won that first title, they contained a number of students from Darrara college, who had no team of their own that year.
At times down the years, when the college couldn’t field a team, Clonakilty picked up the best of the students and, at other times, they were bitter rivals, although Frank Doran himself, always a driving force and a well-known GAA poet, scribe and collector, lived in Clonakilty town.
Darrara’s great years came in the mid-1950s. The students then, who were much older than the present young students, included some outstanding footballers, the foremost being the iconic Dan Murray who lined out for Macroom and Cork for many years and is still hale and hearty, living in Ballincollig.
Dan became the hero of the side and his deeds in the green and gold college jersey are still talked of in Clonakilty to this day. Like the day in a league game against the local Clonakilty juniors, when he caught a high ball coming from his own goal, swivelled in the air and kicked the leather towards the Clonakilty goal before coming back to terra firma.
Supplementing Dan on that great junior team was Joe Lowney, winner of an All-Ireland junior medal with Dan and Cork in 1953 and later a senior medal with Galway in 1956, when Dan was on the opposing Cork side.
Others to star for the students in those years were Jerry Quirke of Kilfinane, Paddy Nolan of Ardfert, Mick Ryan from Wexford, and the very popular Fitzgerald brothers from Darrara itself.
Bandon dominated the Little Norah in the early 1950s, winning four South West titles in a row, finishing with the county title in 1953. In those years you had to earn county titles. With stars like Carbery and Fiachra Lyndon, Sean Crowley, Denis O’Donovan, Paddy Carroll and Jerry Collins, Bandon fought some great battles with O’Donovan Rossa and beat the new Darrara team in the 1953 South West final.
With Bandon gone in 1954, Rossas, with the legendary Dermot O’Donovan and Seamus Davis as the stars, thought it was their turn to conquer Carbery but they reckoned without the ‘blow-ins’ from Darrara, mentored by Frank Doran and college principal, Charlie Gannon.
Arriving on the scene, too, was a very young Doheny team, powered by the powerful inter-county man Denis Bernard. Dohenys had been out of the honours since winning the junior county in 1935 but were to wage some great battles with the students during the mid-fifties.
Their first big clash came in the 1954 league final, drawing a huge crowd to Bandon, many to see the clash of Bernard and Murray. Darrara by then were West Cork champions, having demolished the challenge of Rossas in the final by six clear goals, reputed to be the best display of football ever seen in a South West final.
They completed the championship/league double by beating Dohenys in the league final but their luck ran out in the county when, after beating St Mary’s of Beara, they lost the county semi-final replay by two points to eventual county champions, Glanworth.
1955 saw Darrara, with seven players, and Dohenys, with four, backboning the Carbery senior team that reached the county semi-final, losing narrowly to eventual champions, reformed Lees.
The two teams met in the South West semi-final and, again, a huge crowd saw the students coming out on top by two points. They went on to beat Carbery Rangers in the final to retain their title by eight points.
In the county they beat Urhan but in the semi-final they kicked wide after wide in the second half against Delaneys, the previous year’s finalists, and lost by three points. Delaneys went on to win the final.
In 1953 Darrara had lost the South West final to Bandon, who went on to win the county; in 1954 they lost the county semi-final to Glanworth, who went on to win the county; in 1955 they lost the county semi-final to Delaneys, who went on to win the county; and also in 1955 the Carbery team they backboned lost the county senior semi-final.
Undaunted by their run of bad luck, Darrara decided to upgrade to senior in 1956 but a weakened team lost the first round to Seandún. The team broke up shortly after that defeat. Meanwhile Dohenys won the South West title in 1956, going on to win four in a row and, unluckily losing the county final in 1959.
Dohenys were to win the elusive county title in 1966, after winning seven Little Norah finals, and one of their toughest opponents most years was the student team from Darrara.
The 1961 junior B football title, when they were known as ‘St Aidan’s’, was probably the last South West title won by the college and in the early seventies they decided to withdraw from West Cork competition.
They were a great loss to the Carbery division, lending colour and excitement to the championship and giving West Cork football followers the chance to see some of the top footballers in the country in action.
Among the many stars who lined out with Darrara down the years were JJ Hassett, All-Ireland senior hurling winner with Cork in 1919; Padge Kehoe of Wexford, winner of two All-Ireland senior hurling medals with Wexford in 1956 and 1960; Humphrey ‘Small O’Neill, Clonakilty and Cork star of the 1940s and 1950s and winner of an All-Ireland senior football medal in 1945; Gerald O’Sullivan, winner of an All-Ireland with Kerry in 1953; Dan Murray, Macroom and Cork star in the 1950s; Joe Lowney, Cork and Galway star footballer; Flor Hayes, Clonakilty and Cork star forward in the 1960s; and DJ ‘Dinjoe’ Crowley, Rathmore and Kerry legend in the 1960s and 1970s, winning two All-Irelands.
Young Dermot McCarthy of Clonakilty, later to spend most of his life in Bath, England, and a great GAA fan, was a great supporter of the Darrara team of the 1950’s. He kept a record of all their games. Between 1953 and 1955 Darrara won 27 games, drew one and lost only three. They scored 68 goals and 162 points, while conceding 19 goals and 71 points.
The full story of Darara’s exploits, and all the West Cork junior champions from 1949 to 1997, can be found in Tom Lyons’ book, The Quest for Little Norah, 1949 - 1997, which was published earlier this season. The last few copies of the book are now on sale in the main bookshops in West Cork and will soon become a collector’s item.