John Arnold: When sport and song culture collide, it’s music to my ears

"I’ve spent so many great All-Ireland days in Dublin but I can say in all fairness that I never experienced anything like last Saturday," so says John Arnold in his weekly column
John Arnold: When sport and song culture collide, it’s music to my ears

MUSIC TRADITION: Peadar Ó Riada, son of the great Seán Ó Riada

I SUPPOSE addicted is too strong a word, but I’m definitely hooked on listening to the radio.

If I was ‘home alone’ for a night, admittedly a rare enough occurrence, I might watch the news on the television but mainly ’twould be the radio, RTÉ, County Sound or Radio na Gaeltachta.

Maybe it’s because listening to the wireless leaves the hands free to hold a book, write a letter or a myriad of other pursuits.

So it was last Sunday after Mass. A cold, frosty morning, bracing but healthy, as I did what long ago might be deemed ‘necessary servile work’ — tasks which needed to be done on a farm, even on the Sabbath Day.

With years I have a little battery-powered radio sitting in my shirt pocket with an earphone in my left ear. Once upon a time, fadó, fadó, I used have the two earphones but on a farm noise abounds and you need to be alert. The noise of machinery, of livestock — even of the dog barking — all need to be heeded.

With a pair of earphones, one is oblivious to ‘outside’ sounds, which, on a farm, is not safe. So for decades now I listen daily to the radio as I go about my work. Whether it’s driving the tractor, piking hay or silage or feeding livestock, my hands are free to toil.

It’s not that I find living on a farm lonely or uaigneach, but I love to stay in touch with the county, the country and the world.

Sometimes, I’d feel like buck-lepping at the radio station presenter — one of my absolute pet hates is when I hear terrible throw away comments like ‘recreational drugs’. If something is illegal it’s illegal — full stop. Sorry, I’m getting a bit carried away.

Last Sunday morning, indeed last weekend, wasn’t like that at all. You see, on Saturday evening I was in Croke Park and then on Sunday, back I mo áit dúchas, I had the privilege of hearing Peadar O Riada and Sean O Se on the ‘wireless’ with Miriam O Callaghan.

On Saturday, I was immersed in hurling, Sunday morning saw me transported on the airs and graces of Coolea and caint álainn agus ceol binn.

We talk of our culture and Irishness and the unique aspects of both. Getting one’s DNA tested has become quite a normal practise for so many — several million people undergo this test each year as they try and find relations and connections here, there and yon.

Well, our games, particularly hurling, and our teanga Gaelach and our oral traditions are the very stuff of the pure Irish DNA. People tell me a nation cannot have a DNA, that it’s just a personal, individual trait. I beg to differ of course.

It’s many years now since Bagatelle had a mighty hit with a song called I Remember That Summer In Dublin, well, the summer hasn’t come yet but I don’t think I’ll ever forget ‘That Saturday in Dublin’ — it was truly magic.

Two parishes from East Cork decamped to Dublin. Many went up on Friday evening but the mass exodus came on Saturday. Some came home late Saturday night while hundreds stayed on ’til Sunday.

The two teams involved, Russell Rovers and Fr O Neills, had conquered the best Junior and Intermediate hurling clubs in Cork and in Munster before defeating Micheál Breathnachs and Tooreen in their All-Ireland semi finals.

In the two weeks running up to the Finals on Saturday, East Cork was abuzz with excitement. It’s special for a hurler to be picked to play with Cork and maybe reach a Munster or All Ireland Final but that honour pales into insignificance in comparison with the thrill of one’s club getting to play in Croke Park.

Fr O Neills had won the Junior All Ireland in 2005/6, Russell Rovers had never won the East Cork title in their history until 2018, and now reaching an All Ireland Final — the stuff dreams are made of.

Both clubs weren’t laden with honours over the last 50 years but in modern times forged and created their own ‘traditions’ of winning and producing great teams and outstanding players.

A few years ago, Dripsey and Blarney from the Mid Cork GAA Division of Muskerry got to grace Croke Park on the same afternoon and both won their All Ireland titles. Last Saturday’s two Imokilly clubs are ‘situated’ either side of Garryvoe, the East Cork tourist hot-spot. There were so many family connections between the two sides, one could say they were all ‘hewn from the same soil’, not the stony grey type of Kavanagh’s Monaghan but the fertile coastal lands of East Cork.

I’ve spent so many great All-Ireland days in Dublin but I can say in all fairness that I never experienced anything like last Saturday. It could have been at a dance in Redbarn or at the Ballycotton road race — wherever you looked and walked one met friends.

In the Croke Park Hotel, Ballymacoda and Shanagarry and Ladysbridge and Churchtown folk ate and drank together. At the games they shouted and roared together and later on Saturday night they sang together.

Neither club won their final but let that not take away one iota from the brilliant and unique occasion that we witnessed. People from little towns and villages, from hamlets and townland, all at one, enjoying their special Irish game of hurling — their unique heritage. Pride was the overpowering emotion I felt and I’m sure ’twas the same for the other 6,000 present.

Conahy Shamrocks, the club of former GAA President Nicky Brennan, and famed Tullaroan that gave us Lory Meagher and present-day icon Tommy Walsh, enjoyed their victories. They embraced each other but were warm in their greetings too for the Cork supporters.

Back in my own haggard on Sunday morning, I was enthralled ag eisteacht le Peadar O Riada and the ‘Pucar’, Sean O Se. The lads were on with Miriam to mark the 1,000th edition of Peadar’s Chuireadh Chun Ceoil programme each Friday night on Radio na Gaeltachta.

Sean was 84 recently and has had a connection with the O Riada family with 58 years. Peadar is 65, as he said himself, 25 years older than his father Sean was when he died. I was still in ‘hurling mode’ but when the magnificent Mise Eire theme was played it came to me that the music, the language, the games are all piosai beaga of what we class as our culture.

A great friend of Sean O Riada’s was Donal Lehane, who taught me in National School. After Donal returned to teach in the Muskerry Gaeltacht he was an ever present member of the Coolea choir. He was involved with our GAA club and loved every aspect of Irish tradition — he realised the richness of what has been handed down from generation to generation.

In 1966, O Riada composed the music for the Louis Marcus film An Tine Beo — The Living Flame. I’d put O Riada in the same category as Cusack and Davin. In the 1880s, the man from Carron in Clare and the athlete from Tipperary saved hurling from oblivion and restored it’s popularity. In the 1960s, Sean O Riada did the same for Irish music and composing.

The term DNA was not in usage in the 1960s, let alone in 1884, but those great men with great vision were ahead of their times. They bothered little with what Ireland and Irishness could do for them, but rather what they could do for Ireland and its culture.

In the programme last Sunday, Sean O Se mentioned Coolea as a fior tobair (pure spring) for Irish music and culture. I suppose we could say the same about East Cork in hurling terms.

Sean and Peadar are working on an album of tunes and songs to be launched soon. In the meantime, the Coolea Women’s Choir are launching a CD on February 1 — St Brigid’s Day. They played a haunting track from it last Sunday. It’s the song that represent Corkness, homeland and everything we love about where we live ‘Oh how oft do my thoughts in their fancy take flight...’

I see the hurlers of the past

Upon the village green;

I note the colours, green, white ’n gold-

Reflecting glory’s sheen!

The camáns that they used to swing,

When youth was on my brow,

Oft made the woods and valleys ring,

Just as they’re ringing now!

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