Father Barry’s initial aversion to GAA and ‘The Holy Terrors’

In his weekly column 
Father Barry’s initial aversion to GAA and ‘The Holy Terrors’

“The boots were hung up, the trusty camáns and leather ball put away. It was the end of an era,” says John Arnold.Picture: Stock

IT must be about 40 years ago —at least 35 anyway — when our GAA Club were struggling with player numbers at under age level, especially boys for under 16 teams.

It wasn’t that lads weren’t interested in playing hurling and football but at the time we simply had not enough players to field 15 at this age group without calling on boys of 11 or 12. We had few options but entered into talks with a neighbouring club, Lisgoold who at the time were similarly hampered with lack of playing resources at this level.

Both clubs felt that the best way forward was to apply to the East Cork Juvenile Board for permission to amalgamate for the under 16 grade. In fairness to the board they agreed as they realised from our results the previous few years that ‘on our own’ we were making no impact. Once the ‘marriage’ was agreed the next thing was to pick names for the combination teams. It was agreed that the Lisgoold Club would name the football team — Leamlara Rovers was their choice. Similarly my Club, Bride Rovers, had the naming rights for the hurling team.

At this time I was busily researching the history of the GAA in the parish with a view to getting it into book format — in actual fact another two decades would elapse before that project saw the light of day! Anyhow I was fascinated by a name that kept cropping up from the 1880’s, when the GAA was in it’s infancy — The Holy Terrors!

Well I suggested at a club meeting that we should put forward that unique name for our two-club under16 team. It was ruled out of order by the East Cork Board, I think they mentioned ‘unsuitability’ or some such rule! In the end we settled for the compromise name Hollyhill Rovers- Hollyhill (Inse Coillin in Irish) being the ancient name of the parish. As far as I recall we stayed ‘joined’ at juvenile level for just two years and then ‘divorced’ amicably and went our separate ways with independent teams.

Coming home from Limerick in buoyant mood last Sunday evening I was thinking of ‘The Holy Terrors’ and how they were ‘christened’ more than 130 years ago.

When the GAA was founded in Hayes’ Hotel in Thurles in November, 1884, the founding fathers were hopeful more than confident about their dream of saving, preserving and promoting the native games of hurling and Gaelic football.

It is said that the GAA ‘spread like wildfire’ throughout the land and within five years hundreds of clubs had been set up in the four provinces of the country. Here in our parish old-timers I knew 50 years ago recalled as youngsters the beginnings of the ‘movement’ in this area.

We are also extremely lucky that two men submitted their memories to writing so we still have a first-hand account of how Gaelic games came to prominence in the 1880’s.

Patsy Barry was a local teacher and as a teenager played a few games with the local teams. Half a century later he produced five wonderful books and in one of these, ‘By Bride and Blackwater,’ he recounted the early days of ‘organised’ hurling and football teams in the parish. He no doubt kept some diaries and notes back in the 1880’s but I was stunned at his recall of bygone days and how accurate his notes were. Nowadays, with the use of online newspaper archives, I can double-check match details, teams and scores and disputes — without any such technology in the 1930s Patsy Barry was ‘spot-on’ in his recollections.

The other man we are indebted to is Richard Barry. He was born in 1855 and lived at Ballinwilling in Bartlemy. A bachelor farmer, he was truly a man ‘before his time’ because he travelled extensively all over Europe visiting Lourdes several times. He had a huge interest in history and made trips to different universities and libraries to study history.

When teams started in the parish he was a regular ‘field umpire’ — the equivalent of a linesman in the modern game. Growing up in this area, Richard Barry was probably influenced by the PP of the time, Fr Maurice Kennefick, who ministered here from 1853 until his death in 1885.

Fr Kennefick was a noted Gaelic scholar and antiquarian and collector of old manuscripts. Luckily for us Richard Barry kept a hand-written diary in which he recounted all the games played by the parish teams in the ‘Three Glorious Years’ of 1888, 1889 and 1890.

After Fr. Kennefick’s death, Fr Edmond Barry (right) was appointed as Parish Priest. Like his predecessor, Fr Barry was a brilliant scholar, author, historian, genealogist and academic. Sport didn’t seem to be high on his agenda — in fact, he seems to have had a certain amount of scepticism about the fledgling GAA. When asked by sporting locals to get involved in forming hurling and football clubs, he politely declined on the basis the games were too rough and dangerous.

He was persuaded, however, to at least read the newly published Playing Rules for both codes and then reconsider his attitude. That’s exactly what the Sagart Aroon did and when he again met the local ‘deputation’ he agreed to get involved. In a few months he took on the roles of team trainer, coach, advisor, manager and club president.

At the time teams were 21-a-side and such was the local enthusiasm that before 1888 had run its course two teams were regularly fielded in both hurling and football. Even when 42 players were getting regular games there were still plenty more hurlers on the ditch. One Sunday afternoon, a kind of Probables v Possible hurling game was played in Kilshannig lawn to determine if a third XXI could be fielded. Fr Barry missed the ‘trial’ game because he was at a funeral in Castlelyons. On his return to Rathcormac the hurling contest was just finishing. A huge crowd had been present to witness the proceedings. One local man was loud in his praise of the endeavours of the combatants. His final comments to the PP were ‘Do you know what Father, they are holy terrors altogether’.

Fr.Barry was delighted with the description of the team. From that day on the third team was called ‘The Bartlemy Holy Terrors’. So now ye can see, dear readers why, almost a century later I suggested this historic name as a suitable one for an Under 16 Hurling team of the 1970’s! Now in truth I wasn’t overly upset that my suggestion wasn’t accepted. Three years ago our third XV won the East Cork Junior C Hurling Championship — so the legacy of Fr. Barry’s Holy Terrors still lives on.

As we passed through Mitchelstown on the way home last Sunday I thought of the stories of the great hurling tournament played there in 1888. Kilfinnane from Limerick were one of the top hurling teams in Munster at the time. When they qualified for the Mitchelstown final against new-comers Bartlemy it was thought the result was a foregone conclusion. In an upset far greater than Cork’s victory last Sunday the Bartlemy team won a famous victory over their illustrious opponents.

The newly formed GAA was riven with divisions in the late 1880’s and Fr. Barry felt shabbily treated by those in positions of power within the association — some things never change! After three years of unprecedented glory Fr Barry and others involved decided not to take part in any competitions in 1891. The boots were hung up, the trusty camáns and leather ball put away. It was the end of an era.

Fr Edmond Barry died at his residence, Bridge House, Rathcormac, 119 years ago on May 23 1900. Many years later, Richard Barry wrote ‘Some of the boys are dead and gone, others far away. Poor Fr Barry died in May, 1900, and the boys of the teams shouldered his remains up to Bartlemy Chapel. It was many the pleasant trip the poor man gave us. There was no priest in the county took such an interest in Gaelic Pastimes. May God have mercy on his soul.’

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