John Arnold: Chats, sport, and reminiscing - variety is the spice of my life

John Arnold reflects on an exciting weekend - on and off the pitch
John Arnold: Chats, sport, and reminiscing - variety is the spice of my life

WINNERS: The Bride Rovers team who were East Cork champions in 1968, with Donal O’Sullivan, who is mentioned in this article, on the back row, far right

“YE were beaten in the Final on Saturday?” a friend enquired from me on Monday evening.

Yes, we were defeated in an East Cork Junior Hurling Final.

Losing in any sport is tough but I suppose — and I know, we can’t win them all. Sport is a great leveller, you win some and you lose some.

I’m involved with my club since 1972, that’s 47 years, and if I ever got a chance to try and reckon how many games I’ve attended in nearly half a century, well, ’twould be staggering. Based on around 100 a year, I’d be close to the 5,000 mark — not to mention inter-county games!

Looking back now, a few days later, Saturday’s loss was disappointing but overall I had a great weekend. I didn’t travel far any day from Friday til Monday but, boy oh boy, what a range of experiences I had.

For the last two years we didn’t go on any sun, cultural, historic or leisure holiday to any of the world famous destinations we regularly see advertised. Instead we refreshed and renewed ourselves last Thursday with a short break in Killarney.

Returning to the farm after a full 24-hour sojourn on Friday afternoon, ‘twas just a case of checking on stock, topping up supplies of fodder and bedding and getting back to normality. There was nothing normal, however, about Friday night.

As most of the country stayed in to watch the ever-popular Toy Show I ventured to the Youth Centre in Fermoy where local stalwart John Murphy, in conjunction with the Toastmasters Club, organised a Fundraising Variety Concert for Marymount. I was invited to do a ‘turn’, as they say, and being for such a good cause, I wouldn’t say no.

There wasn’t a huge attendance but as a fundraiser it was very successful. For close on two hours we had wonderful entertainment. The famous Booley House troupe from Ballyduff opened the show with music, song and dance. Next up was Sarah Barry with the voice of an angel. I knew her two publican grandmothers, Vera Barry and Nora Kenny, how proud they must be of such a talented girl. Michael Cronin from Mallow gave us a hilarious piece on speed-dating —just wonderful, so witty and well written. Then came singer Frank Ryan from Tallow. On three occasions in the last five years, I ‘nearly’ heard Frank singing but each time something came up so the joy was mine on Friday night.

On June 29, 1965, his grandfather — after whom he’s named — gave his last public performance on that very stage, in what was then the Palace Hall. Three weeks later, Frank Ryan Senior died, aged just 64. He was a world-famous tenor who sang across the globe.

Unfortunately, I never heard Frank Senior sing but his grandson, what can I say? His voice, range and interpretation of songs on Friday night was mesmerising. He sang O Sole Mio — it was a moment truly I’ll never forget.

You can’t make comparisons, I know, between singers, but since the weekend I’ve listened to Pavarotti and Carreras sing the same song and I’d give my No 1 to Frank.

In the second half of the show, we had eight songs from the superb Castlelyons Gospel Choir. Then Kerry native, domiciled in Kilworth, Michael Lovett took to the stage in the proud tradition of his County-man Eamonn Kelly — his timing, diction and stage-craft were sublime. After yours truly did my piece, we had a grand finale with Sarah and Frank. Magnificent was the only word to describe their duet.

I was on a high on Saturday going to the game but Cobh’s second team were just two strong for our third XV — I thought of Fr Barry back in the 1880s, the ‘father of the GAA’ in our parish, ’twas he christened the third hurling team of that era ‘The Holy Terrors’. Despite losing, I marvelled at our team — we had some lads playing for nearly thirty years, three from Tipperary, now living in our Parish, and young lads too. That’s what the GAA is all about.

Sunday was the first one of Advent — the preparation season for Christmas. Our newsletter mentioned that the Mass readings from Isaiah and Romans ‘look forward to the future with a mixture of apprehension, excitement, hope and fear’ surely a great summary of these early days of December.

After Mass, we had the launch of the Local Calendar for 2020, produced by the Hall Committee. On the first Sunday of each month a Community Café is open in the Hall after Mass just for a cuppa and a chat — an extension of the talk ‘outside the chapel gate’. It’s great that community spirit still flourishes in Ireland — it’s a precious jewel we should forever safeguard.

On Sunday afternoon, we had a Healing Mass for our Senior Citizens in Rathcormac. I don’t feel particularly old but like to avail of the Anointing Ceremony at this Mass. Each year we have it in Lourdes in June and whether in France or at home it’s a special and very personal occasion.

We ate well afterwards. I told a few yarns but had to leave early as I was Cork city-bound.

Back in 1968 and 1969, when I was but a child, the Bride Rovers Club made a breakthrough in East Cork Junior A hurling after decades in the doldrums. I can’t remember much about those great games but remember well the joy and unbounded excitement those victories brought the whole parish and to Bride Rovers exiles in every corner of the world. We had a reunion last year, 50 years later, to recall those days and remember several of the panel who have since died.

A young Garda in the parish back then was Donie O’Sullivan, a native of Doneraile — his father, also a Garda, hailed from Farranfore and his mother from Tipperary.

Well, Donie was involved in the club at the time and with the Junior Hurling team in particular. At the reunion we presented all present with a clock set in a minature hurley made by local hurley-maker Denis Ahern. Donie was unable to come to that reunion so I vowed before 2019 would ebb away I’d take the memento to his home on the Northside of the city. I called unannounced on Sunday evening.

What a welcome I got from Donie, his wife Margaret and his son and daughter-in-law who were also there. We trod the paths of other days as Donie recalled David John Barry, Jimmy Meade, Paddy Mannix and Dave Hogan, Dave Ryan, Tom and Ned Hoskins and other great clubmen. He was so proud and happy to be remembered by the club after all these years. I sang a few verses of Bride Rovers Abu for him and told him of our final defeat the previous day. He was amazed the club could field three adult hurling teams.

Donie came to our parish all those decades ago, immersed himself in sport in the area and his contribution will never be forgotten. God Bless you and spare you for many years to come.

On my way home, I thought, isn’t it great that GAA clubs everywhere help people settle in new places and become integrated into their ‘adopted’ communities?

I was up early on Monday morning trying to get a day’s work done in a few hours, dry and hardy so no problems with the cows, heifers and weanlings. I wanted to finish up early to go to a bit of a gathering; well, a small get-together really. A cousin of my great grandfather was a Eugenia Arnold. In 1910 she married James Ryan, a cattle dealer here in the parish — he died young. They had four sons and a daughter.

One of the boys was Richard, or Dick as he was better known. He was a superb hurler and played junior level at the age of 15. He captained Bride Rovers to East Cork and county minor hurling titles in 1932.

When he joined the Civil Service he was posted all over the country. He played senior hurling for both Waterford and Cork and junior hurling with Donegal. He settled in Cork city and back in the early 1990s he gave me great help writing our club history.

His proudest moment came in 1998 when he was in Pairc Ui Chaoimh to see the Rovers win the County Junior Hurling title.

Once or twice a year, his sons Dermot and Brendan — about my 6th cousins once removed — come to Rathcormac for a chat with me. We all love talking about family, hurling, history and a myriad of other subjects.

We met as arranged on Monday morning at 11.30 and parted just after half three. Talk and tea and talk and coffee and food and more talk — ‘twas just great, brilliant to chat and reminisce, trace and laugh, thinking of times past and looking forward to the future.

Before we went our separate ways, we visited the old Rathcormac cemetery where all our kith and kin are buried.

The oldest Arnold headstone is dated 1687 — no wonder we had so much to talk about!

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