I FOUND The Lord in Beaumont Quarry! Not that He was really missing at the time, but I prayed there with a fervour and a passion unlike anything ever seen at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.
I was twelve years old, stranded on a ledge halfway up the rock-face, unable to climb any further nor make my way back down again, and absolutely petrified. “Lord, get me down out of here and I’ll never lie to my mother again,” I moaned pathetically. “ I’ll go to mass every morning for a month - and I’ll even join The African Missions!” I threw the last one in there because the SMA headquarters was only over the road and He was bound to be impressed!
Beaumont was a magnet to us kids. We went to school over the road in the old Ballinlough National School (1884), latterly a GPO sorting office, between The Silver Key and the Well Road, and, as the evenings lengthened towards summer, we’d plank our schoolbags behind a rock and the Battle of the Alamo, the Gunfight at the OK Corral or, if we had the numbers, Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn, would be played out again around the quarry in bloody detail. As you’ve noticed, cowboys were an important part of our lives in those days.
Beaumont in the late 50s, while still a functioning quarry, was on its last legs. It had long ago supplied the beautiful limestone for some iconic buildings in the city: St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, the Savings Bank opposite City Hall, the Court House and the lovely Berwick Fountain that graced the Grand Parade up to recently.
In our time, however, Beaumont was all but quarried out and was used merely as a source of rubble for the roads that serviced building sites in the expanding suburbs of Cork City in the late 1950s & ‘60s.
Being a limestone quarry, of course, it was bound to have a cave or two and we were always on the look out. From time to time, controlled explosions at the rockface would expose a new cave opening and we’d be on it as soon as the workers were gone for the day.
Some of those openings led to quite serious and intricate cave systems and we had a really sophisticated method of exploring them - with the help of our mothers’ knitting baskets!
We’d raid these for balls of wool and, by knotting them together, lay a trail back to the mouth of the cave as we, armed with bicycle lamps, ventured into the darkness. Some of those cave systems were really impressive but we had seen too many horror movies to risk the danger of being lost underground forever and spend the rest of our days crawling around in the dark, haunting the misfortunate residents of Beaumont Lawn and Silverdale overhead. So, you could say, our explorations were restricted by the extent of our mothers’ knitting!
I was to return to Beaumont Quarry again twenty years later and, looking back now, I suppose I was still a bit of a cowboy. We were attempting to retain our Munster senior football crown in Col. Chríost Rí but had our sails trimmed by St. Flannan’s, Ennis, in a preliminary round and drastic action was called for.
We needed a new challenge to restore team morale and get the lads confidence back up. Somebody mentioned that our next match was going to be like Custer’s last stand and I thought immediately – “Beaumont Quarry! Why not?” I dragged a sceptical Bro. Colum out to Temple Hill, parked the car in Cork Con grounds and walked down into the quarry.
‘Twas like going back to my childhood. Beaumont looked just as I had left it twenty years earlier and with mounting excitement I scrambled around pointing out to Colm the rock face where I had nearly met my Waterloo all those years ago, the hillock where General Custer made his last stand and the spot where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday put manners on the McLaury brothers in Tombstone a hundred years earlier.
Beaumont Quarry was perfect for what we had in mind. It had three formidable grassy climbs of varying degrees of difficulty, that would both excite and challenge the lads.
We reckoned that three laps of the quarry, i.e. nine climbs in all, would be a good test, especially as they would have to run out from the school and run back again afterwards. Looking back now, Ironmen athletes wouldn’t be doing that training today and I’m sure the school’s insurance agents wouldn’t have been too happy with what we had in mind but we were happy that Beaumont Quarry was going to get our ship back on course for the Corn na Mumhan.
And so, on a freezing cold Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 10th. 1979, our first day back after the Christmas break, we took on Beaumont for the first time.
The team togged out in their gym shoes, piled their football boots into the boot of my car, and headed off in groups of four or five, out the Douglas Road, onto the Ballinlough Road, up to Temple Hill and I met them at the entrance to the quarry. There wasn’t a word spoken as they donned their football boots but more that a few anxious eyes were cast up furtively at the quarry face that loomed above us.
The first circuit that day was a dry walk through as they familiarized themselves with the lay out of the quarry. I began to have second thoughts at the extent of the task we had set them – three laps of this! But I needn’t have worried: they were like mountain goats on on the side of Mount Brandon.
Bros. Colm, Hugh and myself positioned ourselves at the summit of each of the three climbs to roar them on, but there was no need. ‘Twas tough but they were tougher: not one of them failed to finish. There was a different mood in the camp as they sat around the car afterwards swopping their boots for gym shoes and they had plenty chat as they jogged their way back to Capwell Road.
Beaumont became a regular part of our schedule for the rest of that year – we even gave the junior squad a run-out there – but we never used it afterwards. It worked a charm as a ‘novelty’ to get the guys back on course again – we went on to retain our Munster crown that year – but we felt it was really too tough, and probably too dangerous, for lads of that age – or of any age!!
I parked my car outside Cork Constitution this morning (last Sunday) and crossed the road to the wall and looked down into Beaumont Quarry. Little has changed in the intervening years. I could still see the lads, dwarfed by the cliff faces above them, as they clambered up, around, down and back up again. I could hear our voices on the wind, driving them on and the faint noise of steel studs scraping on the limestone rockface still echoing around the empty quarry.
They were brave lads to do that circuit! I only hope we appreciated them at the time – but I’m sure we did. But was it really forty years ago?