Hurling in the ancient Gaelic texts is associated with heroism, war, bards and poetry. The earliest reference is to the Battle of Moytura near Cong, Co. Mayo in circa 1272. The text may have been written centuries later. The Firbolgs challenged their enemy, the Tuatha de Danaan to a hurling match, 27 a side. The interpretative difficulty is that the heroes in these epics are possessed of semi-divine power: therefore, one may not treat them as literal truth.
The Flying Post on June 29th 1708 reported that on St Swithin’s Day-- “About three in the afternoon there will be a hurling match, on the Curragh, between 30 men from each side of the Liffey for 30 shillings. A barrel of ale, tobacco and pipes will be given to the hurlers.” Access to the comparatively large amount of ground required to hurl was most difficult and, thus, matches were played on open ground, on moor and on commons. The orthodox etymology is that the word “camán” is the diminutive of cam, the Gaelic word for crook but my conjecture is that the words camán and common are linked. “Cormac”, writing in The Free Press in 1938, referred to an old ballad, in the Anglo-Saxon dialect of the baronies of Forth and Bargy, “which was handed by tradition from the early [Norman] settlers. The subject is the game of ball called Caman or Hurley which was played on the Commons in the Barony of Forth, on a Church holyday.” The implication is that the Norman colonists introduced hurling to the baronies of Forth and Bargy in the 12th century; the Normans probably adopted the game through contact with Gaelic tribes in the South of England.
The Statutes of Kilkenny, enacted in 1366, intended to prevent further fraternisation of the Normans with the Gaelic Irish, ordered:--
“use not henceforth, the games which men call hurlings with great clubs of a ball on the ground….”
The framers of these Statutes clearly regarded hurling as a Gaelic phenomenon. The Statutes of Galway in 1537 enjoined:--
“At no time to use nor occupy ye hurling of ye little ball with the hookie sticks or staves.”
The description “little ball” aligns that form of hurling with later variants, in the important aspect of the size of ball used. In Kilkenny in 1366 they were, it seems, hitting the ball on the ground.
Fr Philip Doyle O. S. A. wrote of his time at School in Carrig-on-Bannow around 1890:--
“While we were in the old school our playground was the village street which, for a country village, is remarkably wide. Strangely enough, the favourite game of the boys was hurling. Our camans were homemade and crude. The ball was heavy, seldom rising from the ground. There was never any complaint of a broken window.”
The diarist Amhlaoidh O’Suilleabhain, wrote of a match at Callan Co. Kilkenny on the Catholic feast-day, June 29th 1827:--
“It was a good game. The sticks were being brandished like swords. Hurling is a war like game. The west side won the first game and the east the second. You could hear the sticks, striking the ball from one end of the Green to the other.”
This part of the account of hurling by John Dunton, an English Protestant divine, is informative, with caveats, of hurling circa 1699:--
“One exercise that they use is their hurling….When their cows are casting their hair, they pull it off their backs and with their hands they work it into large balls which will grow very hard. This ball they use at hurlings, which they strike with a stick called a commaan, three feet and a half long in the handle. At the lower end it is crooked and about three inches broad and on this broad part you may see one of the gamesters carry the ball, tossing it for 40 or 50 yards, in spite of all the adverse players; and when he is like to lose it, he generally gives it a great stroke to drive it towards the goal….”
In modern times, Christy Ring conceptualised hurling as constant striking of the ball towards the opposing goal. The above description of a solo run is rarely found.
I enter a caveat about this observation as contemptuous exaggeration:--
“They seldom come off without broken heads or shins in which they glory much.” He added that the prize was one or two barrels of ale. A Tipperary man wrote to the newspapers in 1764:--
“The hurlers themselves often take away each others lives by jostling, or pretending to strike the ball when hovering in the air; and aiming at the same time with greatest force at the temple of one of the antagonists, this is often practiced; I’ve heard of several persons being killed on the spot and others never recover from the bruises, etc, etc, received at this accursed exercise. A HURLING is a scene of drunkenness, blasphemy and all kinds of debauchery…..I could like it to nothing else but to the idea I form of the Stygian regions, where the Daemoniac inhabitants delight in torturing and afflicting each other.”
One simple rejoinder to this is that the law would, even in 1764, punish acts of murder. My mature impression is that tracts of this genre were composed by authors of extreme Protestant disposition who loathed the Papist under culture of impoverished peasantry and cottiers. I have no doubt that the Irish peasantry, like their counterparts in all other European countries, were given to impetuous violence but such was subject to restraints and intermittent, at most.
Dunton may be cited as evidence of over head striking.
The temperate author Edward Wakefield, in his books of 1808 and 1812, commented of the Munster area:--
“Hurling is a prevalent amusement. Children, as soon as they are able to follow each other, run about in bands of a dozen or more, with balls and hurls, eagerly contending for victory. They sometimes issue in such numbers from the miserable mud cabins which are scattered throughout the fertile districts of this rich country as must excite astonishment in those who are acquainted with the poverty of the inhabitants. Hurling is a game which cannot be played in the mountainous districts; and I think that the vigour and activity of the peasantry in the south, are in great measure to be ascribed to their attachment to this play, which by the exercise it affords, strengthens the whole frame and contributes to health.”
Wakefield is correct in his focus on the “contending for victory”: to triumph has ever been the prime emotional dynamic of hurling. He stated that there were teams of 100 a side in contests in Tipperary and that men played without shoes or stockings at hurling.
An extract from a letter written on September 23rd 1773 states:--
“This day the grand hurling match, between the county of Galway and the county of Tipperary, for one thousand guineas, was finally decided in favour of the latter, near Banagher. There were never, perhaps, so great a company seen in this kingdom before as, at the lowest computation, there could not be less than 10,000 persons present.”
Patrick Kennedy in The Banks of the Boro describes a hurling match played in 1817. He relates that the elder folk whose hurling days were done, advised that two captains select the rival teams rather than risk the— possibly— clannish contest of Rathfylane and Courtnacuddy.
The teams were of 21 men a side with a leather covered ball, about three pounds in weight—the puzzle is that Bryan Roche striking it on the broad curved end of his hurley, sends it into the clouds at a distance of half the field. The basic objective was to drive the ball through the bow, or wicket as Kennedy terms it—he does not describe it. There was a bow at either end of the field. He wrote of one of the hurlers inserting the shovel end of his hurley under the ball, tossing it upright in the air and striking it vigorously. The essence of this game is striking: several blows were made at the ball as it descended after the initial throw in; subsequently, opportunities to strike were limited as the players crowded in on one another. Shouldering is routine in the game. It was difficult to handle the ball.
In January 1862 the plaintiff in an assault case at Taghmon Petty Sessions said that on Sunday January 5th he was with others looking at some gorgeous hurling at Newcastle. At the conclusion of the Sessions Mr Leigh of Rosegarland, the Chairman, said that the order of the court was “that the Constabulary ascertain the names of the parties engaged at hurling and have them summoned for violation of the Sabbath.”
In late January 1862 at an extraordinary Petty Sessions at Taghmon Constable Byrne summoned a group of young men for hurling at Newcastle on Sunday January 5th but the witness that the Constable relied on refused to give any evidence useful to conviction. The Petty Courts generally were loath to apply this anachronistic law—one of the magistrates, Captain Harvey of Kyle, in a letter of protest to the newspapers stated that he did not know such a law existed; he had permitted young fellows to play hurling in a field of his.
I quote from the report by Agricola on a match held near Ballinkeele on April 30th 1864:--
“Hence, the difficulty which the clergy experience in preventing the youth of their flocks from hurling and other out-door sports on the afternoon of the Sabbath—Latterly, the police authorities have come to their assistance, having hunted up some old musty statute of the reign of William the Third. That law was enacted, I believe, to prevent the political gatherings of the scattered adherents of the faded fortunes of the Stuart dynasty, under the guise of hurling matches.”
The law of William of Orange on hurling was undoubtedly a penal law, directed against the Catholics. The Stuart Kings were comparatively sympathetic to the Catholic community in Ireland—King James who was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne was one of them; a section of the landlords were supporters of the Stuarts and in modern history they mutated into allies of the Whig/Liberal Party, which supported Catholic Emancipation and an end to the odious tithes. These landlords were sympathetic to native culture; in Co. Wexford the Carews and Colcloughs of Duffry Hall promoted hurling on their estates. Hurling was emblematic of varying degrees of opposition to English rule in Ireland.
Dr Kevin Whelan states that the last pre-G. A. A. inter parish match in Co. Wexford was played on the North Slob on May 3rd 1863. That has to be wrong as I wrote in the Bree Journal on the Edermine v Ballinaslaney match on Saturday April 30th 1864. “Agricola” described the game in fine detail in the Wexford Independent; I allow him to outline the nature of the game:--
“Each set takes up its position at the goal—two stakes stuck in the ground, three feet apart and forming a bow. In this instance the bows are placed at two hundred yards distance from each other. A bowman is then placed in charge of the goal, to prevent, if possible, the enemy’s ball from passing through….” If the ball was driven through the goal then the match was won; otherwise shots driven wide of the bow counted as scores. Agricola after outlining the formation of a team added that once the game commenced, all this order is broken up; a general melee ensues, the two bowmen only maintaining their places, as warders of the goals.
In a match in 1862 at the Ballagh, Oulart “as the whole field was regarded as the playing pitch with no side line or end line, very often the ball was in the ditch with several men on top of each other and one occasion there were forty men in the ditch which left only the two bow men on the field.”
On January 18th 1969 the Echo had a photo of and article on a hurley used when Crossabeg contested the 1890 All-Ireland final and still preserved. The article noted that compared with modern hurleys it had more in common with a scythe; it was clearly intended to give elevation to the ball struck off the ground: point scoring would be less likely than goal scoring with it. The bas was 3 and a half inches in width and it was 3 feet, 2 inches long. Handling the ball and striking from the hand would be awkward with this camán. The Killimor Club, East Galway, on February 2nd 1885 in its provisional set of rules decreed that “no hurler is allowed when playing to handle the ball.” In the 1956 All-Ireland Final, Christy Ring protested that Billy Rackard’s catching of the ball in the air was not proper hurling!
Brother William Canny wrote a tome on the history of hurling but in esoteric Gaelic so that, in consequence, the general public are unaware of its details. He outlines rules for hurling which clearly resemble a replication of the rules and terminology of some form of primitive rugby, with aspects of a metaphorical choreography. My impression is that the Liberal Landlords who promoted hurling in the eighteenth century dictated these rules—they are not proof that the two games are of the same genus.
Dr Kevin Whelan refers to the shrewd application of the parish rule, etc but the reality is that the clubs were townsland based.
In A Village feature in The Free Press on November 29th 1963 on Clonroche, John Hendrick, Knoxtown, then Chairman of the Cloughbawn G. A. A. Club was quoted:--
“He told us that the Club was formed in 1918, after a Mummers’ Ball in Forrestalstown. A crowd of boys from the parish got together in Ballyboro and pretty soon they were making their presence felt in junior hurling. They reached the county junior final in 1921, but were beaten by New Ross in the decider, played at Wexford Park.”
Actually, Cloughbawn and the O’Hanrahan’s New Ross contested the 1919 second junior co. final at Wexford in August 1921. The winning score was three goals to nil.
The County Junior Hurling title was won by Cloughbawn on August 10th 1935. At the 1931 Co. Convention there were representatives from the Clonroche Independents, the Clonroche Mutineers and Clonroche Rangers. The 1935 final was played at Barrett’s Park, New Ross and the astounding feature of the first half was the mesmerising display of young eighteen year old John Foley for Adamstown; all of their scores came from him and they led Cloughbawn at half time on the score line of 2—7 to 2—1. Larry Harrington moved to centre back in the second half, in an attempt to curb the effectiveness of John Foley. Cloughbawn ran out easy winners, with two late goals, on the score line 7—3 to 4—8.
The Cloughbawn team as listed in the newspapers is identical to that given by Hilary Murphy in his feature on Clonroche in 1963:--
Peter Cullen, Knoxtown (goal), Bob Carstairs Ballyboro, Matt Furlong, Clonroche, Pat Nolan, Coolaught, Tom Cullen, Knoxtown (captain), John Henrick, Knoxtown, Paddy O’Leary, Ballyboro, John Hendrick, Rathfardon, Larry Harrington, Castleboro, Davy Reck, Courtnacuddy, John Forrest, Clonroche (a native of Youghal), Reggie Leech, Tomfarney, Jim Buckley, Chapel, Paddy “Mull” Furlong, Chapel and Dan O’Neill, Chapel. The substitutes were:--Paddy Buckley and Jimmy Codd, both from Clonroche and John Williams, Forrestalstown.
On a most inclement Sunday night, in early January 1836 at Clonroche Hall they celebrated and danced to the music of the Clonroche Rangers piano Accordeon Band.
The Cloughbawn team of 1947 and after years were par excellent, exciting, and innovative with a touch of the poetic. The Gaelic scribe in The People on August 2, 1947 certainly thought that:--
“In the county junior hurling semi-final played at Barrett’s Park last Sunday, Cloughbawn proved a most spectacular and effective side. A young team, with the most promising players, they were the best junior combination seen on view in this county for some time. Their hurling against Gusserane was certainly a revelation and they made a deep impression on neutral spectators. Their striking was superb and their style differed somewhat from the Wexford standard which we have been accustomed to. They have pace, speed and stamina and hurl with a cohesion and purpose that produces the best results. Cloughbawn are certainly a grand young team.
They had a clever set of forwards with Tim Flood behind them to worry any defence. It was a pleasure to see their vanguard weaving in and out and striking with accuracy for the objective. The Floods, Murphy, Fogarty and Conway made up a grand combination in attack while at centrefield Lar Harrington—the veteran of the team—played the game of his life. In defence, Walsh, Pat Harrington and the Harris brothers yielded little and between the sticks Kevin Foley brought off a couple of magnificent clearances from close and hard hit shots.”
The snow, the rains, the floods and arctic cold of the winter and spring of 1947 resembled a series of Biblical pestilences but in July a prolonged heat wave began. Constraints of time prevent me from giving a detailed account of the 1946 Co. Junior Hurling Final played on August 10th 1947, on a score-line Cloughbawn 6—4; St Ibar’s 2--4 . The team was: Kevin Foley (goal), Vin and Parkie Harris, Martin and Jack Wickham, Mikey Walsh, Pat and Larry Harrington, Martin, Sean, Gerry and Tim Flood, P. Fogarty, J. Conway and J. Murphy.
The contours of the 1949 Senior Co. Hurling Championship Final were set in the semi-finals.
On Sunday August 14th 1949 at Barrett’s Park, New Ross, the holders Rathnure, in one of the most one-sided senior hurling ties witnessed, defeated Horeswood on the surreal score-line of 8—10 to 0—4 and qualified to meet Cloughbawn in the final.
Rathnure were outstanding in all sectors with good teamwork: the analogy of a bulldozer crashing through the Horeswood defence was used to describe Nicky Rackard. By scoring 5 goals and five points, he had signalled that he would be a major force in the Co. Final.
Cormac in The Free Press, before the other semi-final on July 30th, described Cloughbawn as a young mobile team and strengthened by some Adamstown players, including inter-county goal-keeper Martin Furlong.
That semi-final between St Aidan’s Enniscorthy and Cloughbawn started at 7.30 pm at Bellefield on Sunday July 24th 1959; the result was quite a surprise as Cloughbawn won on the score-line 5 goals, 9 points to 4 goals, 4 points.
Cormac in The Free Press wrote the outcome “was full of possibilities for Cloughbawn because it opens up for them the road to county honours.” They had set a fast pace from the beginning and, to the surprise of the spectators, kept it up to the final whistle. Cormac stated that the dash and pulling of the Cloughbawn team put the St Aidan’s off their usual combination: the experience of the St Aidan’s was well countered by “the speed and robust play of Cloughbawn.” The game was played at a cracking pace with Cloughbawn, a young side, obviously the fitter.
Martin Flood at midfield was inspiring and had a hand in most of his team’s scoring movements; his striking from a variety of distances and positions was ever so accurate. Sean Flood scored three goals. The message of this semi-final was that Cloughbawn were a young, extremely fit, fast pulling and delightfully striking team and, also, resolute and resilient.
On Co. Final day, the 11th of September, a broiling warm day, quite a lot of the spectators found difficulty in following the play, due to the similarity of the jerseys—Black and Yellow and Blue and Yellow (both similarly striped). The gate was £320, the highest takings for a county championship match since the famous replay of the senior football final between Ballyhogue and Starlights in 1929.
The Echo noted:--“Both parishes turned out in strength for the clash, using everything on wheels, and not only the immediate followers of the teams but hurling enthusiasts in all parts of the county poured into Enniscorthy, which for weeks before was discussed at every chapel gate and crossroads.”
Cloughbawn had trained intensively under Tommy Cullen of Knoxtown, assisted by the Enniscorthy based electrician Larry Duggan, an All-Ireland hurler with Kilkenny.
Cloughbawn, playing with the wind, defended the town goal. The opening exchanges were scrappy and five frees eventuated in the first five minutes: two of these at close range, one for each side, were badly wide. A centre by Nicky Rackard led to a fierce tussle in the goalmouth but Pat Harrington cleared. In the 7th minute Des O’Neill got the ball on the left wing and pointed. Tim and Sean Flood were “all out for scores” but the Rathnure backs were unyielding. A shot by Sean Flood grazed the posts. A free to Rathnure at midfield was taken by Bobby Rackard and Des O’Neill centred but Parkie Harris came out to make a spectacular clearance. Tim Flood raced away on the right, sent to Brendan Browne who wided. Nicky Rackard on a thrilling run goalwards was fouled and Spud Murphy from the free had Rathnure’s second point.
The reports of the game reflect the fast and spontaneous tempo of the game as in this quote:
“D. O’Neill fed Nicky Rackard who tore past two defenders, tipping the ball on his hurley and swung in a dangerous ball. Mike Walsh, the Cloughbawn skipper, doubled on the dropping ball and a dour struggle followed at midfield. Cloughbawn missed a great chance for a goal.” Pulling both over head and on the moving ball was an observed aspect of this final.
Cloughbawn were slow to settle in the opening minutes, with some of their players showing signs of nerves: thus they found themselves 2 points in arrears after ten minutes.
After Bobby Rackard cleared, Pat Harrington sent back and Sean Flood tried for a goal but the goal-keeper saved and cleared; Tim Flood, however, secured the clearance and streaking goalwards netted to give Cloughbawn the lead at the fifteenth minute. Another report differs in basic details:--
“After backs and forwards had mangled in a strong duel R. Rackard cleared over the sideline. The sideline puck by Martin Flood reached his brother, Tim Flood, who waltzed through the backs to hand-pass to the net. The latter soon after wided and Martin Flood from an 80 yard free in a splendid attempt at scoring was narrowly wide.”
Martin Flood and Jack Wickham controlled midfield; Jack Wickham received a head injury early on but went on to play a magnificent game.
In the 24th minute eighteen year old Billy Wickham—in The People report—crossed the ball into the goalmouth and Larry Harrington flicked to the net. The Echo report has young Wickham sweeping through and Larry Harrington “scooped to the net.” The longevity of the hurling career of Larry Harrington—of Tipperary antecedents—was astounding; the only player linked with the victorious 1935 junior team but playing well before that. In a subsequent move, Jack Wickham secured possession and his high centre dropped in the corner of the square where Tim Flood doubled on the dropping ball and wided. Nearing half time according to the Echo, Rich O’Neill and Bobby Rackard defended valiantly but Martin Flood gripped and his left handed drive from 50 yards beat Kennedy for the third Cloughbawn goal. According to The People, the Cloughbawn forwards, whose speed was impressive, laid siege to the Rathnure goal; Bobby Rackard made a short clearance and Martin Flood dashed in to gather and crash it to the net. It was a splendid goal. “The Rathnure lads now battled furiously against the rising Clonroche tide but some of them were beaten for speed.” The half time configuration of scores was unusual—Cloughbawn 3 goals; Rathnure, 2 points.
It was observed of the opening moiety—
“some Rathnure players made the mistake of dallying with and trying to lift the ball but these tactics cut no ice against the direct methods of the Cloughbawn fliers”. My reasoned conjecture is that as Rathnure were the heavier team—with at least four mammoth men—that they may have seen lifting the ball as their best option.
For the second half, Rathnure moved Martin Codd from corner back to out-field. Within a minute, according to the Echo, Cloughbawn increased their lead. Pat Harrington was fouled when clearing the ball but there is a slight divergence in the reports after that. The Echo related:--“Martin Flood from the free, sent a long ball up to Sean Flood, who sidestepped Murphy and drove over bar.” The People stated:--“A free at midfield by Martin Flood was accurately placed but [Mikey] Redmond blocked down. The clearance reached Sean Flood who side stepped Murphy and drove over bar.” Sean Flood’s recollections is that his two points in that final came from interceptions of balls batted down by Bobbie Rackard; he had observed the latter’s tendency to do this and positioned himself to take the resultant loose ball.
Jimmy Rackard from play and J. Murphy from a twenty one yard free were wide for Rathnure. The corner forward was not in position for a probing delivery from Jack Wickham and a Cloughbawn wide resulted. When Rathnure swept goalwards from their own puck-out there was a lively bout of play in front of the Cloughbawn goal and Boland forced a 70 which Bobby Rackard struck beautifully for a point. The Echo stated that Nicky Rackard from out on the right wing centred and his brother Jimmy forced a 70.
The People reported that a free by Nicky Rackard was blocked down by Martin Furlong the Cloughbawn goal-keeper but Jimmy Rackard raced in to send it to the net; the Echo related that Nicky Rackard lobbed it in close to the sticks and Jimmy Rackard finished it to the net. That goal in the Echo view, rallied Rathnure and they threw all they knew into the game
A sideline puck by Cloughbawn was stopped by Des O’Neill who centred and Nicky Rackard crashed it to the net. I will quote The People on the next five minutes of play:--
“Martin Flood raced 30 yards with the ball to open a breath taking Cloughbawn raid but Bobby Rackard came to the rescue with a great clearance which was the signal for a fast passage on high class hurling, a feature of which was the speed of the ground hurling. Nick Rackard earned the plaudits of the crowd by booting the ball 30 yards to the goalmouth when tasked but the goalie caught and sent upfield. A cracking pace was maintained and there were robust and exhilarating clashes all over the pitch. Sean and Martin Flood were outstanding in the Cloughbawn attacks and after five minutes pressure had provided wides Sean Flood pointed. When play reached the opposite side N. Rackard, though closely guarded by Pat Harrington and Gerry Flood succeeded in hand passing over the bar. Only one point separated the teams and excitement ran high. Boland created an opening by a deft stroke to the Cloughbawn posts but Harrington and Martin Wickham crashed out of the danger zone. Cloughbawn were now under fire and their goal had three narrow escapes from Nick Rackard and J. Murphy.”
The Echo stated that “Sean Flood came through again and his shot curled over the bar in the thirteenth minute.” I suspect that this second point by Sean Flood came later than that. The indications were that the Cloughbawn defence was on a strategy of minimising the impact of Nicky Rackard. A man of patrician aspect, of mammoth physique, fine height and silken skills his presence on the field was charismatic and inspiring: the highest tribute that one may pay to the Cloughbawn defence is to record that they so minimised his role in this final.
There was now only a point between the teams; then as partisans were on their toes in excitement, came, in the twentieth minute “that whirlwind Cloughbawn movement which swept from wing to wing with the speed of prairie fire, spread-eagled their [Rathnure] defence which fell before the clever partnership of Sean Flood and Vincent Harris….it came at the exact psychological moment and made all the difference between defeat and victory.” A long clearance from Martin Flood inside his own fourteen yard line “transferred attention to the Rathnure defence”. Vincent Harris went on a grand solo run along the right wing, “whose shot from almost the corner flag was incredibly accurately centred off the ground” across the square where Sean Flood “was on the mark to flick just inside the upright for Cloughbawn’s fourth goal” to leave them ahead 4—2 to 2—4.
The Echo then continued:--
“[Martin] Furlong was applauded for bringing off a clever save from a shot by Des O’Neill and from a free Cloughbawn descended on the Rathnure posts but Jack Wickham wided.” Mikey Walsh and Martin Wickham were solid in the Cloughbawn defence. The Echo claimed that Martin Codd placed Nicky Rackard who raced in for a point but The People said that Holohan and Brennan set him up. The Echo stated that Nicky Rackard, after he lost his hurley tried for a goal and hit the side netting. The Echo said that he was shouldered into a wide. Two more Rathnure wides followed. As Rathnure sought a goal, Des O’Neill had hard luck as he wided. A free from 40 yards by Bobbie Rackard was caught by Pat Harrington and he drove it away. Vin Harris and Sean Flood led attacks on the Rathnure goal before Des O’Neill racing through, sent in a rasper which Martin Furlong saved brilliantly. Brendan Browne of Cloughbawn wided and Martin Flood foiled Bobbie Rackard on a solo run. Another wide followed from Jerry Flood. A grand ground stroke by “Spud” Murphy was saved by Martin Wickham for a 70. This created a terrific tussle in the Cloughbawn square and Martin Furlong made a wonder save “and seemed to be beaten by a return shot but [Martin] Wickham chipped in to pull the ball from under the bar.” The closing score is a mystery never to be told. The Echo said that nineteen year old Billy Rackard drove it over the Cloughbawn bar; The People said that that Lenihan after a pass by Billy Rackard hit it off the ground over the bar. I believe the Free Press variant—that Lenihan pulled in the air on a long drive by Billy Rackard to point. Jerry Flood, Pat Harrington and Mikey Walsh repulsed late pressure. As the game closed Tim Flood, outpaced his opponents and raced along the wing for 50 yards but his effort finished wide. Parkie Harris cleared from a late Rathnure free and as the final whistle sounded, the Rathnure players were the first to congratulate the victorious Cloughbawn team
Hundreds of ecstatic Cloughbawn supporters swarmed onto the pitch, “and prolonged cheering rent the air.” It was their epic moment, the advent of their millennium: it was unique, impossible of identical replication. The players, one and all, were carried high to the dressing room, where the Michael O’Hanrahan Cup was presented to Mikey Walsh, by Co. Chairman, Mr Ben Byrne, the Clongeen schoolmaster. The presentation was missed by many who were waiting to see the ceremony on the field.
The Echo reported that—
“In Clonroche on Sunday night, bonfires blazed on the street and stirring Irish and popular airs were played, the records being amplified on the cinema public address system.” National and patriotic feeling, especially as expressed in rousing ballads, was a constant of Irish society then. The bonfires blazed late into the night.
On the Monday night the village hall was packed to overflowing by people from every part of the parish “and the members of the team received a great ovation.” Amid deafening cheers, Mikey Walsh, the captain handed over the Michael O’Hanrahan Cup to Fr Michael Murphy P. P. in whose custody it would remain for the year. I assume, in an era of intense religious fervour, that this gesture signified the parish consciousness of epic achievement. Jim Whelan, the seanachai, related that Fr Murphy determined that the cup should not be defiled by alcohol. If Tom O’Gorman, a poet slightly partial to alcohol, was correct in a poem penned in late October 1949 the cup was not filled then!
“Clonroche town is all you say:
As everybody knows/ The sparkling river Boro
Beside the village flows
All around you’ll find good hurlers/ Sturdy lads that won’t be killed
(While the cup that made them champions
Won’t be right until ‘tis filled)—“
On that Monday night, Eamonn Cullen, the Club chairman, presided and Fr Michael Murphy P. P., its President, and Fr Harry Williams, a native of Forrestalstown first addressed the massive crowd. Tom Cullen of Tominearly, the trainor and revered personality in the Club spoke of accomplishing “the dream of all parochial Gaels by bringing home the county title to Cloughbawn for the first time”: the noun “dream” was apt—it must have seemed too magical to be real.
Mikey Walsh had been, also, captain of the 1946 Co. Junior winning team so maybe he had a little practice in speech making—sometimes an unnerving task for a triumphant captain and referred “to the enthusiasm of the players in training for the final and their great loyalty to one another throughout the year.”
The composition of the selection committee is puzzling:--James Cullen, Castleboro, Peter Cullen, Knoxtown, Pat Nolan, Coolaught, Martin Flood, Castleboro, Michael Walsh, Palace East, Tom Cullen, Knoxtown and Larry Harrington.
This committee is not only unwieldy but composed of a nigh equal mix of mentors and players.
The celebrations and collective delirium must have continued in Clonroche for weeks and, even months, afterwards. Col. Tom Ryan of Castleboro, in a poem in late October, advised those in depressed feeling to go to Clonroche:--
“You won’t be long there
Till you’re treading on air,
Doing a jitterbug in Clonroche.”
“Cormac” in The Free Press after lamenting that “hurling in Wexford for some years had developed into a style of poking and lifting that had destroyed our characteristic dash and grand ground hurling” added:--“But at Bellefield on Sunday I was glad to notice that Cloughbawn and Rathnure had shaken off this obsession.” The fitness of the players “allied to accurate striking and pulling….gave us hope that hurling in not dead in the county.” The sure hitting and pulling from the outset has pleasantly surprised him and the overhead work reminded him of the Kilkenny style.
Cormac wrote that Rathnure kept lobbing the ball into the forwards, depending on Nicky Rackard to bulldoze his way through. Cloughbawn’s speed to the ball and quick blocking enabled them to withstand shock tactics. In the second half the Cloughbawn backs gave “a sterling display in turning back attack after attack from their lines.”
The Enniscorthy Guardian commented—
“Speed was the deciding factor in Cloughbawn’s favour, for even from the early stages it was conspicuously evident they possessed the advantage over Rathnure in this respect.” The writer lauded “the grim determination of a well-knit and resourceful defence.” He gave chief credit for this victory to the sextet of Martin, Tim and Sean Flood, Martin Furlong, Pat Harrington and Jack Wickham.
The columnist “I Hear” in The Free Press quoted an old Gael “that he never saw anything like Tim Food’s sprint up the wing in 50 years.” He stated that Rathnure despised points, looking for goals; that Des O’Neill with opportunities to score points preferred to lob it into Nicky Rackard. He added significantly—
“That Kilkenny born Larry Duggan had a big hand in Cloughbawn’s win/ That his special instructions harrissed the Rathnure defenders.”
The team was—Martin Furlong (goal), Mikey Walsh, Martin Wickham, Parkie Harris, Jim Furlong, Pat Harrington, Gerry Flood, Martin Flood, Jack Wickham, Tim Flood, Vin Harris, Seanie Flood, Brendan Browne, Larry Harrington and Billy Wickham. I believe that John Bradley came on as a sub.
The A. G. M. of Cloughbawn G. A. A. Club was held on Friday February 1st 1952; the address of the Chairman Eamonn Cullen is informative to posterity:--
“The parish should feel very proud that it gave such stalwart players to county teams as Tim and Martin Flood, Win Harris, Pat Harrington, Mikey Walsh, Brendan Fitzgerald, Sean White [both in football] and Sean Flood and that….Tim Flood had again received the signal honour of a Leinster hurling jersey.” He added that “last season….Clonroche had been chosen as the venue for the training of the county hurling team”; he thanked Mr Sam Dier for the use of his field for training. He lauded Tommy Cullen who never missed a game in which Cloughbawn played. He did not wish to serve as Chairman in the coming year and to my surprise—“on a vote” Tommy Cullen, Knoxtown, with 18 votes was elected Chairman to 17 votes for Jimmy Furlong, Palace. The latter joined Peter Cullen, Knoxtown, Pat Nolan, Coolaught, J. Cullen, Jun., Tominearly on the senior hurling selection committee with Larry Harrington, Castleboro, elected as Team Manager.
The narrow defeat by Kilkenny in the Leinster senior final in 1950 heralded the outset of a glorious era in Wexford hurling; in 1951 Wexford were defeated in the All-Ireland final by Tipperary. The club championships were consequently disrupted and concluding stages of most championships postponed into 1952.
On Sunday May 4th 1952 in the Co. Senior Hurling semi-final Cloughbawn defeated Shelmaliers by 5—7 to 1—3. The team while structurally much the same as in 1949 had been amended to some extent. The physically strong and big Billy Wickham had switched to full-back where his brother Martin played in 1949; Brendan Browne was now in goal; Kevin Foley was at wing back as was the new-comer Paddy Kennedy on the other wing; Bill and John Bradley from Adamstown parish were in the full-forward line with Vin Harris. Young Con Buckley joined Tim and Sean Flood in the half forward line; the Echo reported:--
“Tim Flood, the county forward cutting lanes through the defence was the chief architect of Shelmaliers’ downfall. He rattled up sparkling scores, contributing 1—6 to the Cloughbawn tally and his dash and speed and accurate striking were a joy to watch. His partners in the half-forward line Sean Flood and Con Buckley gave a splendid account of themselves while the front line trio, Vin Harris and the Bradleys were always on the mark.” One report referred to “the weaving, lightning raids of a most efficient Cloughbawn attacking machine…”
They were on the mark but for goals rather than points! Of the 7 points Tim Flood scored 6 points plus a goal and the other point came from John Bradley who, also, got 2 goals; Bill Bradley and Vin Harris each had a goal. These statistics suggested a possible deficiency of point scoring ability: the victory was, as Cormac suggested in The Free Press facile; not a severe test and likely to engender excessive self-confidence.
The 1951 Co. Senior Hurling final was played at Wexford Park on May 18th 1952 under a broiling sun. The ground was hard and dry and near the goal-posts there were dry dusty patches. Over 4,200 people attended with gate receipts of £270.
The Free Press observed that “the backs at both ends and both goal-men adopted determined tactics that baffled the forward divisions during most of the hour and scoring came almost entirely from long range shots.” The Enniscorthy Guardian was, perhaps, a trifle
“….at stages the rooting for the ball, by both teams, made it hard for anyone to believe that they were senior hurlers at all. However, the lack of hurling ability was erased by the thrills which came aplenty. During the game there were periods during which play swept from one end of the pitch to the other with neither side taking or giving quarter and camans snapping in two like matchsticks.”
After three minutes Martin Flood pointed from seventy yards out. In the tenth minute Kevin Foley cleared a Horeswood attack “and a harmless looking clearance reached Tim Flood, along the ground. Just lifting the ball Flood turned and let fly—and Cloughbawn were two points in front.” Even the Horeswood supporters “gave Flood a hand for that remarkable shot.” After the puck-out Dom Ahearne beat three men in succession and tipped the ball towards the goal: Mikey Walsh (Cloughbawn) clashed with John Cummins and the ball went out to Fury who scored Horeswood’s first point.
A sideline cut by Martin Flood from the corner went all the way for a well judged Cloughbawn point. John Waters responded with a neat Horeswood point. Tim Flood raced down the left wing; his hard shot was beaten down and cleared straight back to him. He sent a nippy left handed shot over the bar in the twentieth minute. Martin Flood had a shot saved by Shannon for a 70; he took it himself and “from a lightening double” Tim Flood hit the crossbar—Con Buckley dashed in for the rebound and pointed.
Tim Flood had another point to put his team 0—6 to 0—2. Caulfield had a Horeswood point off a free. During fast exchanges in the Cloughbawn square Brendan Browne made a point blank save but shortly after Horeswood pointed—the Guardian attributed the score to Cooley and The Free Press said Caulfield! After one of the Bradleys was fouled near the Horeswood goal, Martin Flood had the last score, a point, of the first moiety. Coming up to half-time Paddy Kennedy retired injured and was replaced by Jerry Flood.
The second moiety resumed at a fast pace; after a Cloughbawn wide, a Horeswood raid tested Brendan Browne in the Cloughbawn goal twice. Jim Wickham replaced Kevin Foley, in the Cloughbawn defence, who went down injured after a prolonged Horeswood attack. Tim Flood stretched the Cloughbawn lead with point from forty yards out on the wing. Mick Hanlon sent a Horeswood free from midfield wide. Pat Harrington blocked repeated attacks by Horeswood before, the diminutive, young Waters had a point for Horeswood, after he picked up a loose Cloughbawn clearance, “with a grand drive from far out.” After five minutes, Sean Flood had a grand point after a perfect pass from his cousin Martin.
As the pace increased, Tim Caulfield pointed for Horeswood but Martin Flood replied with a point from midfield. A wave of green and white seemed to invade the Horeswood defensive district. Tim Flood, Bill and John Bradley and Vin Harris were all active before the latter shot barely wide. A midfield free by Martin Flood was cleared by Mick Hanlon but Martin Flood pointed again from almost the identical position of his previous score—to put Cloughbawn five points ahead.
The Echo wrote of him eluding the Horeswood backs very cleverly.
Mid-way through the second half as the drift of the game seemed against Horeswood, the narrative changed abruptly. The Guardian related:--
“A sideline cut was awarded to Horeswood about forty yards out….Mick Hanlon took the cut and the ball went to the net. Brown, in the Cloughbawn goal, was completely dumbfounded as were the other defenders but the most surprised person of the lot seemed to be Hanlon, himself.”
A barrage of Cloughbawn attacks went fruitless in the face of a stone wall defence and a 70 and a close in free yielded no scores for Cloughbawn. Brendan Browne was fouled after making a terrific save; Wickham sent the free upfield where Sean Flood took possession who passed to the better placed Tim Flood and after a dazzling solo run he pointed.
Frequent wides at this stage attested to prompt tackling by both defences. The Free Press described the next goal in these words:--
“Cloughbawn had an encouraging goal, when Martin Flood sent a side line ball to the square where Tim Flood sped it through the net, where it was lost for a minute in the long grass.”
Cloughbawn were now six points ahead: Tom Caulfield and John Cummins scored goals for Horeswood but the newspapers disagreed on the sequence of same! The Echo and Free Press said that young Caulfield got the first of this brace but the fine account in the Enniscorthy Guardian says John Cummins. I think that it is wrong, as it ascribes identical type goals to both men. The Free Press stated that
young Tom Caulfield from a side line cut that sailed through a crowded Cloughbawn square added another goal. That looks a replication of Hanlon’s freak goal and I am doubtful if it came that way. I believe that Dom Ahearne went down the left wing and crossed from near the corner flag and Caulfield goaled. In a lightening breakaway Cloughbawn were rewarded with a beautiful point by Tim Flood from forty yards distant, almost on the side line.
A free by Martin Flood was pulled down but Tim Flood returned the clearance over the bar to put his team four points ahead. The Free Press continued—
“play sped from end to end in a dashing style. Excitement rose to a high pitch when Hanlon drove to the Cloughbawn end where Cummins drew on a travelling ball to send a rasper to the net.” The “I Hear” columnist in the Free Press had young Waters sending “a grand centre” to Cummins for this goal. Cloughbawn now led by a mere point.
After Tim Flood wided, “Play swept to the other end where Johnnie Waters ran rings around the Cloughbawn defence and was on his way for a score when he was fouled in front of goal….[Mick] Hanlon went for a goal. The shot was stopped and the ball went over the line for a “70”. Hanlon’s shot from the “70” dropped short and in the resulting scrimmage, Horeswood were awarded another free”. Dom Ahearne pointed to make it a draw on a score-line of Cloughbawn, 1—13; Horeswood, 3—7.
Cormac in The Free Press felt that the final did not reach the expected standard; the inter-county players had displays consistent with that status but he concluded—a little uncharitably—“but among the remainder there were many degrees of skill and the want of it.” Horeswood appeared a heavier and stronger side: Cloughbawn were smaller than any of the teams that they contended with but their speed and striking—their hallmark—counteracted that. The irony in regard to Horeswood was that on a team with six inter county players, it was the their two forwards Caulfield and Waters that were outstanding through the hour. Waters, young and small, was regarded by many as the best man on the field—at least, if you excluded Tim and Martin Flood. Cormac continued:--
“Tim Flood’s skill in racing full speed with the ball balanced on the hurl was like a conjuring trick and his shooting accuracy was amazing.
At midfield Martin Flood gave a finished display, ranging from the half back line through the forwards and lashing balls over the bar from every angle….All but three points of the Cloughbawn total (1—13) were notched by Martin and Tim Flood. The other three points came from Sean Flood and Con Buckley.”
Pat Harrington and 22 year old Billy Wickham at full back were sound in the Cloughbawn defence. The latter soon after joined the County senior panel. The players on both teams tended to the irritation of their supporters to string out along the centre of the pitch from goal to goal, leaving the wings vacant. Little attention was given to positional play. In the first half both defences dominated and baffled the opposing forwards; the scoring would have been most meagre but for the lightening long range points from the Floods on one side and Caulfield and Waters on the other.
“I Hear” in The Free Press, referring to the sultry indeed blazing warm afternoon quoted a lady enthusiast:
“That coats off were the order in the enclosure and on the side lines
That a fair enthusiast said she never saw as many clean shirts in all her life
That she said ‘tis a pity the County Committee wouln’t send the goal and side line flags to the washing….”
He stated that the teams lined up in the parade behind the Campile Pipers Band made a colourful scene with their distinctive jerseys. He also claimed that Paddy Shannon, the Horeswood goalkeeper played with the band in the parade. Men then dressed on Sundays in suits, white shirts and ties. He quoted Martin Flood saying:--“When the championship drags out so long it loses its gizz.”
For a short time it seemed that it might never be played out! Eamonn Cullen of Cloughbawn told the Co. Board after it fixed the replay for Wexford Park on June 22nd that “If the match were fixed for Wexford Park they would be reluctantly compelled to let Horeswood have the match.” They wished to play at Barrett’s Park, New Ross. Shortly after the Cloughbawn Club agreed to play at Wexford Park.
The towering and ever certain Shannon in the Horeswood goals saved a rasping high drive at the outset and shortly after he saved a first time pull by Tim Flood. In the third minute Tim Flood snapped up the ball in his stride and sped it over for his team’s first point. In the fifth minute Tim Flood “sent another of his lightening drives across the bar.”
Mick Hanlon, from a 70 pointed. The Free Press stated:--
“Play had developed to a sparkling pace at this stage and clashing hurleys flew in splinters all over the field. [Jack] O’Neill was away on his own along the wing and following a brisk tussle with two opponents, raced away” to get an equalising point in the tenth minute “with a grand left handed shot”.
Horeswood now seemed in a winning mood and in the twelfth minute John Cummins with a long drive pointed to put Horeswood ahead. Cloughbawn at this stage were in crisis, unable to reproduce the smooth combination of the drawn game while Horeswood were sparkling, and combining so well. John Cummins raced out to the left wing to gather and send over a beauty of a point. A point by Dom Ahearne stretched their lead and a great drive by Sinnott soon had their forwards racing around the Cloughbawn end where they held on until a pass from Cummins was sped to the net by Dom Ahearne from twenty yards out. Now after 15 minutes Horeswood led by 1—5 to 0—2.
Martin Flood had a nicely judged point from a free. Sean Flood from an acute angle had another point. Coming up to half-time, Martin Flood switched play to his forwards and, in a quick dash, Vin Harris pointed. Horeswood, in a powerful riposte, had two points in quick succession. When Caulfield centred, John Hearne drew on a high ball to score a point. Dom Ahearne had another Horeswood point. An all out effort by Cloughbawn got the ball near in, where Sean Flood scored a goal. The Guardian described the move:--
“Mick Hanlon beat off a Martin Flood free but Sean Flood broke through for a rousing goal for Cloughbawn with a bullet like drive which flashed in at the bottom right hand corner of the net.”
“There were repeated attacks by Cloughbawn but Mick Hanlon and Martin Byrne repelled them. At half-time the score was—Horeswood 1-7; Cloughbawn, 1—5.
On resumption of play Cloughbawn had moved Vin Harris to full forward with Bradley moving out to centre forward. Kevin Foley retired injured shortly before half time and was replaced by Jerry Flood.
After Con Buckley had a fine shot blocked, Tim Flood, in the third minute scored what was described as a point from far out. The Free Pres continued:--“The hard pressed Horeswood backs gave away two seventies but redeemed the mistakes by their sound defence when the free pucks by Martin Flood brought play to the square.” Tim Flood wided and then, according to the Guardian:--
“From a beautifully taken free by Martin Flood the ball struck the Horeswood furniture with a clatter that could be heard all over the park.”
Martin Flood was fouled in possession and with the free he found Con Buckley who pointed in the fourteenth minute to level the scoring. The Echo in mixed up phonetics called him Cousins at one stage! A minute later Martin Flood pointed from a free to put them ahead.
Martin Flood gave Cloughbawn the lead with a point. A free from midfield by Mick Hanlon was seized by Brendan Browne, the Cloughbawn goalkeeper, who “drove it all the way back to the same spot.” The Echo differed saying that [Mikey] “Walsh cleared splendidly.”
The wonderful Horeswood forward Dom Ahearne, in the sixteenth minute, “streaked off like greased lightening and rounded off a great run by scoring the equalising point.”
Excitement ran high as the play entered the closing stages with the scores 1—8 each.” There followed an extraordinary goal, exquisite skill, daring and speed of mind and limb from Tim Flood; the Guardian described it:--
“A Mick Hanlon free was gathered by Jack Wickham and the ball sent well up to the forwards. Tim Flood took the ball out of the air and with all the artistry of Christy Ring left the opposition standing, tore a hole in the defence and slammed in a rasper which rattled the top of the rigging for as good a goal as has ever been scored in Wexford Park.”
John Cummins pointed a free in reply for Horeswood. In the 23rd minute Tim Flood had another score for Cloughbawn. As the game advanced, in the terrific heat, Horeswood could no longer cope with the fiendish pace. As the hour ended Martin Flood had another point and right at the very end “Tim Flood snapped up a ball at midfield and was away on a weaving run that evaded several opponents and ended with a point.” Cloughbawn were victors on a score-line of 3 goals, 10 points to Horeswood, 1 goal, 9 points
Sean Browne M. C. C., the County Board Chairman, after the game presented the O’Hanrahan Cup to Martin Flood, captain of the Cloughbawn team, in the dressing rooms. Throngs gathered around the dressing room at the presentation.
On the following Saturday, a photograph of the Cloughbawn team was carried by The Free Press; garbed in green with a white collar. Pat Harrington told me that he was not in the photo as Dr Bowe was attending to an injury of his in the dressing room. The team was—Brendan Browne (Goal), Mikey Walsh, Billy Wickham, Parkie Harris, Paddy Kennedy, Pat Harrington, Kevin Foley, Martin Flood, Jack Wickham, Tim Flood, Vin Harris, Con Buckley, Sean Flood, Bill Bradley and John Bradley. [Subs—Jim Wickham, Eunan Flood, Gerry Flood, Paddy Byrne and Paddy Kehoe]
Hy Kinsella, a pseudonym for Patrick Kehoe, father of the famous Padge, in the Echo commented that Cloughbawn had decisively won the replay of the County Senior Hurling Final. Apart from Billy Wickham in the defence he felt that no new talent was uncovered. After observing that the county players had stood out he added:--
“Tim Flood for Cloughbawn, waltzing through the opposition with ridiculous ease in the second half. The better team won—quicker to strike and staying better. Horeswood started like a hurricane but the pace could not be maintained. Both sides were trained; Cloughbawn moving like machines, showed speed and stamina of a high order…the Cloughbawn team are worthy champions, an ever speedy lot, with “no passengers” and something extra in Tim Flood whose right place is emphatically on the ’40 mark.” Paddy Kehoe had two grouses: the grass needed a closer cutting and as it was a county senior final with a unusual pairing “we might have had a band.” This time, however, the flags were washed!
Cormac, in The Free Press, wrote in glowing terms of the match:--“The game was fascinating in its speed and in the way it developed with fortunes swaying and play weaving all around the pitch.” He stated that marking was so tight that a player had to be particularly lively to get clear for a swing at the ball. Some of his descriptions of the fury of the game are semi-poetic: “Every ball whether it dropped out of the sky, came up from the hop or came whizzing along the grass found a brace of players clashing for possession.” From the eight minute onwards, “Play was desperately close in the next ten minutes, the flashing hurleys and flying ball riveting the breathless attention of the big crowd.” Con Buckley, the Bradleys and Vin Harris were tireless forwards and Jack Wickham gave a grand display at Martin Flood’s midfield partner but Cormac focused on a disparity in scoring; the brilliant marksman Tim Flood scored 2—4; Martin Flood had 3 points and Sean Flood 1goal and 1 point. Thus 3—8 out of a total of 3—10 came from these three players with a point each coming from Con Buckley and Vin Harris.
The “I Hear” man in the Free Press noted that some old hurlers were disappointed and complained that there was too much bunching of the players and a surfeit of lifting which exasperated them. The more expert players were adept at quickly striking after raising the ball but others got hooked or blocked. The older generation of hurling fans resented any move to a lifting game as they saw ground hurling as the pure tradition. He stated that the pitch was in splendid condition and it suited the Cloughbawn type of hurling and added:--“compared with their fleetness of foot Horeswood looked comparatively slow, which became apparent in the closing stages.”
Some hundreds came by motor car. The Enniscorthy Guardian used pungent terms to describe the game:--“it was a close marking, heavy pulling, quick tackling game which provided a succession of thrills for the hour.” This reporter highly praised the Cloughbawn defence. The two teams had “produced a display that many rated on a par with the much vaunted Munster camanship at its best. It was probably the most thrilling exhibition ever for a final.” The superb distribution of Martin Flood was noted.
After Wexford’s shock win over Tipperary in the 1960 All-Ireland Final, a poet—Jack Mc Cutcheon— from my native country of Bannow wrote:-
“From early spring the birds do sing
In the Boro’s lovely woods
High on the trees, their songs of praise
Are all about Tim Flood.”