John Fenton won four county SHC titles with Midleton and a club Ireland – so when he says that last Tuesday was one of his greatest days involved with the Magpies, it speaks volumes.
The 1984 All-Ireland-winning captain was part of a club delegation that travelled to Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin for a ceremony honouring Timothy ‘Ted’ Downey, a member of the Midleton side that won Cork’s first football All-Ireland in 1890. Then, in 1897, he was on the CJ Kickhams that beat Dohenys to claim the title for Dublin.
GAA President Larry McCarthy was present, along with Cork County Board chairperson Marc Sheehan and vice-chairperson Pat Horgan, who is a proud Midleton man. The fact that Sheehan is from Coachford adds an extra layer of historical significance, as Aghabullogue won the 1890 All-Ireland hurling championship for Cork.
The event came about as a result of diligent research on the 1890 side that was undertaken by Fenton and Vincent O’Neill.
“I have a fierce interest in local history, GAA history and the history of Midleton GAA,” he says.
“Vincent O’Neill is of a like mind and we were chatting one day and he said that it was a shame that nothing had really been done on the 1890 team.
“I was finishing off another local history project and when I was finished that, I contacted him and we started off.
“Basically, we had a photo of the team – we don’t know when it was taken, some time around 1890-92 – and we had a small bit in our history book about it but precious little else.
“We started delving, ducking and diving and whatever. There were 22, 23 players involved and we have a lot of information on some of the players, some information on others and no information on a small number of them, we just can’t track them at all.
“It’s a work in progress. We have one grave tracked to a place just outside Victoria, Australia; there’s another lad buried in Liverpool and there are two in Glasnevin.
“The captain of the team, a lad by the name of Jim Power, is buried in St Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. There are others in Ballinacurra and we were at the grave of Richard Kelleher in Cloyne a couple of weeks ago – his great-grandson is Kieran Morrison, who played with Cork in 1999 and won an All-Ireland medal.”
Naturally, given the fact that this work is being done at a remove of 132 years from the historic event, it hasn’t always been easy. Obviously, some players still have ancestors living in Midleton but others have proven tricky.
“For Ted Downey, we couldn’t track any relatives on either side of the family,” Fenton says.
“There’s another lad, called William Colbert, who’s buried about 200 yards away from Ted in Glasnevin – his grandsons and great-grandsons were there with us on Tuesday.
“Most of the stuff came through the internet and trawling the newspaper archives. We worked closely with Glasnevin and they were very helpful to us – once we gave them a name and the date of death, they were able to locate the grave.
“Where there are relations, we’ve been able to track them, or to do our best tracking them. When we approach people and tell them what they’re doing, more often than not there’s someone in the family who’s very enthusiastic about it and is very helpful.”
Last week was another piece of an ongoing jigsaw. Fenton doesn’t know where it will lead but he will ensure that the work continues.
“This thing is changing so rapidly,” he says.
“We were even picking up information last week that we didn’t have. It’s a work in progress and I don’t know what will come out of it, to be quite honest.
“The most important thing now is that the information is there, inasmuch is as possible, on these guys.
“Obviously, the reporting and recording of events back in 1890 would not be as comprehensive as it is now. A lot of the time, you’re dealing with initials rather than first names, which leads to complications and duplications and things like that.
“It’s investigation and it’s fact-finding. I would say that, of what we have written down, in 99 percent of the cases we can back it up with relevant newspaper coverage or family verification.”