The Paudie Palmer column: We must salute those who give it all to the GAA

Barryroe native and Aghada club man John Motherway is an unsung hero
The Paudie Palmer column: We must salute those who give it all to the GAA

John Motherway, then PRO of the Cork County Board, addressing the huge crowd celebrating in Parnell Place at the Cork hurling homecoming in 2005. Picture: Brian Lougheed

MAYBE it has always been the case that Irish society has paced a higher value on the well-known while failing to recognise the extraordinary contribution of its ordinary citizens.

One individual who has made an enormous contribution, and continues to do so, is John Motherway. The former County Board PRO continues to play a significant role in the Aghada club.

He was born in Butlerstown, Barryroe, in 1943 and probably set a national record when he was sent to the local national school at three years and nine months. At 14, his formal education was complete and without access to predictive grades, his next step began.

He worked for two local farmers before moving to the city smoke where he secured employment drawing beet to Mallow sugar factory. Some wise men came from the east but this time it was west to east, as in 1964, John started as a lorry driver with Kosangas in Midleton. When the company set up a depot in Whitegate the journey east was complete.

Following his marriage in 1967 to soulmate and fellow Barryroe resident, Ann Harrington, they set up home in Aghada.

Anne and John Motherway at the 2005 All-Ireland hurling victory banquet. Picture: Larry Cummins
Anne and John Motherway at the 2005 All-Ireland hurling victory banquet. Picture: Larry Cummins

From then, until now, this great man has made an awesome contribution to life in his adopted east Cork hamlet.

Back in his young days, there was no underage structure. His playing career up to minor comprised of a few challenge games organised locally on Sunday afternoons.

However, in primary school, there were north versus south matches. These two rival entities often entertained a sizeable local following where a réiteoir was an optional extra. The great mystery from that era was that John played for the south while his brother was deemed a northerner.

One Sunday morning, a local approached him to say that there was a minor football game in the afternoon and to be at the church at 2pm. It turned out to be a west Cork minor football championship game against Ardfield.

On arrival, Barryroe had only 14 players. Not for long, a hunt was noticed crossing the pitch. The 15th man was signed up and the match ended in a draw with the replay scheduled for the following Sunday.

During the week, the 1960 version of social media was on fire: Ardfield were about to object to the huntsman on age grounds; Barryroe lost the replay.

Still, Ardfield were pressing ahead with the objection. The evidence was watertight, a padre was in charge of the Ardfield minor football team and you wouldn’t believe it, he had christened the beagle boy.

The punishment was off the scales. The whole Barryroe club were suspended for two years.

When it reformed in 1962, John played with the adult teams operating at Junior B level in both codes.

On settling in Aghada, he joined the local club in 1967, also a junior B outfit. He attended that year’s AGM and was elected on to the committee. He’s still there.

Shortly after the club bought their first pitch, with the main driving force being another great man — Willie Ryan. In 1981, when Willie passed away, having been secretary for almost 30 years, John was elected to the position and stayed for nine years in that role.

In the early ’90s, he was the club chairman for six years. On other occasions, he filled some less high-profile positions.

For the past 40 years, he has played a pivotal role in preparing the pitches. The skills learned on those west Cork farms more than 60 years ago continue to be put to good use. Today Aghada have three pitches with accompanying facilities.

In the early ’70s, there were quite a few matches held on their pitch as other clubs had not yet developed their own. One evening in 1970, when an appointed referee didn’t appear, the aforementioned Willie Ryan asked John to step into the breach.

A whistling career lasting 30 years, reluctantly began. He has reffed at the highest level in this county as well as officiating at Munster championship and league level.

In 1989, Aghada won the County Junior Football Championship, going senior two years later, and as consequence, they were now entitled to have a delegate attend the Cork County Board. You guessed, John Motherway stepped up to the plate again, serving until 2003.

That year he was elected PRO of Cork County Board for three years.


Back in 1980, in an administrative position with Kosangas, an employee called to his office about the Dublin City Marathon. It planted a seed. The said employee never got around to competing but John did.

He ended up taking part and completing marathons in Dublin, Cork and Boston, for good measure. He participated in the Ballycotton 10 on 16 occasions including the final one. To this day, he runs 4.5 miles a day on six out of every seven days. Awesome.

John Motherway presents Noah Devoy and John Walsh with their DH2 trophies following Aghada's Sciath victory over Rathcormac. Picture: Howard Crowdy
John Motherway presents Noah Devoy and John Walsh with their DH2 trophies following Aghada's Sciath victory over Rathcormac. Picture: Howard Crowdy

John has coordinated the County Board draw for Aghada since its inception as well as being an integral part of the lotto committee. When the latest restrictions were announced, the lotto committee faced a dilemma.

The legend that is had the solution. He would do the necessary in his front room while an independent observer could video the proceedings on his phone from outside an open window.

When the cameraman arrived for his first engagement, he spotted an accordion and suggested John play a tune. If you wish to view him in action, log on to the Aghada Facebook page tonight at 9pm.

None of the achievements would have been possible without the support of the lady that he first met at a concert at Foley’s Hall in Timoleague on September 6, 1961. I’ve met them on a number of occasions and got the impression that they sang from the same hymn sheet.

Ann’s passing in 2017 was a serious blow but with the support of a wonderful family and great friends, the mighty man got back to doing what he does best, the acting of giving.

Contact: or on Twitter: @paudiep

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