WHEN our travel wasn’t restricted by Covid, I often chose different routes on my journeys.
Straying off the main, faster roads, allows me to sample some of the marvellous countryside off our minor roads.
One such journey last Summer took me through the village of Carraig na bhFear as I headed for Blackpool on the Northside of Cork City.
For you who may not know, Blackpool is where the office of the Revenue Commissioners is now situated, a place we know about but would rather have no dealings with.
As I neared the village of Carraig na bhFear I looked out for the Cross of Killea. I had recently heard the story of Eugene Geary and the Fenians of 1867 from this area. They assembled at this cross for their ill-fated rising.
Eugene, from the nearby townland of Coole West, was eventually hunted down and transported as a criminal to Freemantle in Australia. However, his imprisonment did not last long, and he eventually made his way to San Francisco.
Here he made a name for himself as one of the most successful greyhound trainers in America.
I take a right turn at Sweeney’s Cross and soon I am passing the main gates of Coláiste an Chroí Naofa. This secondary school was established by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in the 1950s and now caters for boys and girls of this and of adjoining parishes.
It is built on the site of the castle and later manor of the MacCarthys. This family were patrons of the poets and Gaelic culture of the area, influencing the continuation of Carraig as a breac ghaeltacht into the mid-20th century.
The poets of Carraig are honoured by a set of plaques on Faiche na bh Filì, set in the middle of this lovely village. President Michael D Higgins visited here recently and stated that he was proud to visit a village “that honoured its poets”.
One of the local poets honoured here is Tórna, Tadhg Ó Donnchú, Professor of Irish in UCC from 1916- 1944. Tadhg spent his early academic years lecturing in the Teacher Training College in Dublin.
During this time he set out the rules and named a game for girls called camogie. His sister Cáit captained one of the teams in the first-ever camogie game played.
Fittingly, in 2008, two girls from this parish, Caitriona Foley (the Captain) and Sile Burns brought the All Ireland Camogie (O Duffy) cup to this spot.
They were photographed near the Poets Plaques with the Carraig na bhFear junior hurlers who had won the East Cork Hurling Championship (Jamesy Kelleher Cup) for the first time on the very same weekend. What a week that must have been for the parish.
I now head south on the road used by the old Bianconi coaches that connected Cork to Dublin.
“Twelve o clock all over Cork and in Carraig na bhFear,” was the cry of the driver of the Dublin coach in order to synchronise the clocks in Cork city with Dublin time.
“I would soon be leaving Carraig na bhFear at Annamoe Bridge and entering Blackpool Parish. Then I saw him, a man in a high viz jacket moving away from a red car with a litter picker and plastic bag.
“I had seen this man at matches involving Carraig na bhFear and Cork camogie teams. Here he was picking rubbish at the side of the road. I decided to make a phone call when I got home to satisfy my curiosity and answer the question, “Who is this man”?
My phone query was met with an immediate response.
“That’s Joe Quinn, everyone knows Joe. He volunteers to pick rubbish along the roads, helps with the upkeep of Dunbolg cemetery and also looks after the Cork Camogie pitch in Castle Road.
He is president of Carraig na bhFear GAA and is a truly amazing man.”
The story I was about to hear is well worth recording.
Joe Quinn was raised in Carraig na bhFear in the late 1930s. They were tough times, often referred to as the ‘hungry 30s’.
Like many of his schoolmates, evenings and holidays were spent thinning turnips, saving hay and corn and hand-milking cows. The tedium of this tough life was lifted through involvement with sport and other simple past- times.
Joe played hurling and football, took part in athletics, played cards in what was later called “Kitty’s Shop” on the Street in Carrig and danced in Templemichael Hall. He and his friends travelled everywhere by bicycle.
As Joe grew older, he alternated between working for farmers, for the Forestry and in Templemichael Mills.
However, steady secure employment was difficult to get and like many of his generation, Joe was soon aboard the Innisfallen, seeking work in London.
He spent almost 50 years in England, working in a variety of jobs. Much of this time was spent on building sites and when construction work dried up, Joe worked for the local Council.
Together with his strong work ethic Joe also brought his love of sport and all things Irish to London. He played with Clann na Gael GAA club and ran cross country races with The Rising Sun AC.
When his playing career came to an end Joe involved himself in administration and coaching. He established the Arranmore GAA underage Club and coached them to many championship successes.
He served on the executive of the GAA and NACA in London and wrote a Sporting column for the Irish World newspaper. He worked as volunteer grounds-man in Ruislip GAA Sports Complex and served as a delegate to the London County Board and to GAA Congresses.
Joe never lost his love for his native parish and county. He served the Cork Association in London in many capacities for over 30 years.
Their work included establishing networks and contacts for newly arrived emigrants from Ireland, visiting hospitals, helping people who had fallen on tough times, organising charity fundraising events and creating a social outlet for the many Cork people working in London.
Joe was particularly proud of the annual Terence MacSwiney commemoration in Brixton, held annually even when it became politically difficult in the 1970s. He also maintained links between the Association and home and every year he was part of the Cork Association visit to Cork’s Lord Mayor.
He also ensured that prominent Cork sportspeople were always present at the Association's annual dinner dance.
After five years of retirement, Joe decided it was time to return home to Cork. This decision was made easier when his daughter Jackie and her family also moved over from London.
However, Joe did not return home to a life of retirement. Though now a great grandfather, every day is busy with his voluntary work.
“Sure, what else would I be doing?” is his common response to anyone who asks why he is not taking things a bit easier.
The high esteem that he is held in by the people of his parish was shown recently. While picking litter on the roadside, Joe’s car was stolen and driven off. It was located, burned out, the following morning.
However, within a week the people of Carraig had clubbed together to replace his car.
So when the present restrictions are lifted and I can once again drive this alternative route into the city through Carraig na bhFear, I will keep an eye out for Joe, going about his voluntary work, keeping our country as beautiful as it should be.
Joe is well past his 80th year. I will salute him, a truly amazing man and definitely a real Local Hero.