Paudie Palmer on Muintir Bhaire, the small West Cork club with real heart

Despite struggling for numbers in Durrus, GAA remains the lifeblood of the community
Paudie Palmer on Muintir Bhaire, the small West Cork club with real heart

Sean Levis starred for his club Muintir Bhaire, Carbery and Cork in the 2000s. Picture: Neil Danton.

WITH the padlocks still gathering rust, and most of us having had our fill of historical articles, that should sustain us till the next pandemic and beyond, what is available for a struggling scribbler?

Can I mention that the 'inspiration' for what you are about to read, come from a reply a gentleman made during a recent conversation when I suggested there is a distinct possibility that a number of GAA clubs were struggling for reasons other than Covid?

Being from a small rural club he was quick to remind me of the need to adjust my judgemental scales. Podium appearances are an easy but lazy performance indicator.

Out of the blue, he asked, if I had ever visited Muintir Bhaire GAA club? Honesty was required. I hadn’t.

He probably figured that I didn’t want to ask 'where are they?' and immediately he posed another question. 'Did you visit the Sherps Head’s peninsula?'

I did once as part of a family maintenance project.

If the great reaper demonstrates benevolence, I hope to again Muintir Bhaire is another name for the peninsula and it lends its name to the peninsula’s GAA club.

For those of you, who may not be totally familiar with the area, you head west to Bantry and a few miles before reaching the West Cork town, take a left and you will have arrived in a beautiful spot.

The peninsula is about 20 miles long and maybe two wide. Bantry Bay is on the northern side with Dunmanus Bay on the south side. The three main centres of population are Durrus, Ahakista and Kilcrohane .

There are two primary schools in Durrus, one of which is Church of Ireland and one in each of the other two centres.

Muintir Bhaire GAA was formed in 1979 and there is no point in sugar-coating the challenges that face a west cork peninsula team, particularly in terms of outward migration.

We will begin with the trophy cabinet and this shouldn’t take long.

In the '90s, a positive underage policy produced a team which to be blunt provided almost all of their trophy collection. 

They won a West Cork and County minor C championship in 1996, 12 months later repeated the feat at minor B level.

At U21, they won the divisional C championship in 1996 and the B equivalent a year later. At this stage their adult team was participating in the West Cork junior B championship and from 1986 to 199, they failed to win a game.

However, in 2000, they won the championship, they did likewise in 2003 when they went on to went the county and it is their only adult one to date.

Muintir Mhaire's Finny O'Driscoll battles Rathpeacon's Donal O'Neill in the 2003 junior B county final. Picture: Neil Danton
Muintir Mhaire's Finny O'Driscoll battles Rathpeacon's Donal O'Neill in the 2003 junior B county final. Picture: Neil Danton

From then till the present day, they play in the divisional Junior A championship.

For 10 years, they would be in the upper echelons and most would agree were it not for a massive break between the semi-final and final they could have defeated Bandon in 2007. These days, they don’t make the betting slips, although the 2021 version has some potential in terms of county players.

Sean Levis was a Cork senior while Frankie Arundell lined out for the juniors and both were members of the last Carbery team to win a senior county in 2004.

From their foundation until two years ago, this club didn’t have a home of its own, they relied on the use of a community pitch. The fact that it now has one, is a serious testament to its people.

Back around 2008, at the height of the boom, they went house hunting. A farm of 17 acres with a house came up for sale and with a sum total of close to nothing in the bank, they purchased same for about €460,000.

Did they pay too much? Of course they did! So did everyone else who dipped their toes in the property game at this time.

This crowd though, decided that lighting a candle was a better option than cursing the darkness. They did a few fundraisers and a collection, it provided them with the deposit of approximately €120,000.

They borrowed €360,000, and the first task was to pay it back.

It might also be worth noting, that there is a long journey from 17 acres of Muintir Bhaire land to a playing pitch.

Their chairman at that time was Eyeries native, Joe O’Driscoll who since his arrival at in the parish as a teacher had already made a huge contribution to the club in underage activity.

Now his leadership was crucial. A fundraising committee was set up with the stated objective of paying back the loan and putting something aside for development.

Club 200 became into being. For the privilege of becoming a member, you paid €240 year, which allowed you into a draw that paid out €10,000 per year in prizes. After a number of years, that bank loan was paid back as well as having a small war chest.

They also sold the house for around €120,000.

They borrowed again and the draining, land-levelling, sowing and fencing began. Some of this work was carried out by volunteers, but a professional input was also involved.

In 2019, the club, 40 years on from its formation reached a promised land of sorts when their own new pitch was opened. Currently, they are in the process of building two dressing rooms with a second-floor gym, they hope, covid permitting to have this completed later in the year.

Further development work is planned in terms of a second pitch, I have no doubt but that will become a reality.

In keeping with its and many other club’s policy of all community inclusion, a public walkway has also been put in place.

In the past 12 years, give or take their total capital expenditure is close to €500,000.

When Rebel’s Bounty appeared over the horizon at the end of 2020, the club who had about 80 members in the old draw, decided to go to their people again.

All the officers and other executive members got involved. They ended up with 243 members, which after deducting their quota of €5,500, netted them €18,800.

Not only that ,but the process involved including numerous zoom meetings that were involved served as an energising experience.

Once again, the people who view the wearers of the maroon and white as a manifestation of themselves answered this peninsula’s call.

Over the past while, the numbers situation dictated that an amalgamation with Goleen was necessary to field underage teams under the banner of Dunmanus Rovers.

Now though under the stewardship of Catherine O’Sullivan (chairperson) and Timmy O’Sullivan, secretary and a number of committed coaches, they hope to field both boys and girls teams on their own.

The adult side of the club is powered by a 10- to 15-person executive. Farmer and builder Frankie Arundell is the chairman. The secretary is NCT technician Brendan O’Mahony while accountant Michael Burke is in charge of finances.

Do you what?

I was glad that the aforementioned gentleman at the beginning of this article pointed me in the direction of this very westerly club who I have no doubt will continue to face numerous challenges to ensure that GAA will remain an integral part of life for many of the inhabitants of this area.

Another golden team may emerge but in the meantime the show goes on. Mighty crowd!


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