John Arnold: Tobacco, spuds, and trouser leg goals... hurling of yesteryear!

John Arnold: Tobacco, spuds, and trouser leg goals... hurling of yesteryear!

Tobacco growing at Cloyne in September, 1933. Chewing it was a great habit at the time

MANY years ago, the great broadcaster Donncha Ó Dúlaing interviewed a neighbour of mine for his Highways And Byways programme. On the same show, he interviewed people who remembered An tAthair Peadar O Laoighaire in Castlelyons in the early 1900s.

It must have been in the mid-1970s because my neighbour died at the end of 1978 at the great age of 96.

Johannah Morrison was born in the 1880s and grew up in the parish of Castlelyons before marrying into the Scanlan farm in Mellifontstown, Bartlemy. Her husband Richard died in 1943.

Mrs Scanlan had a wonderful memory right up ’til the end of her life. In the 1820s, when her grandfather was a young man, a great hurling match was reputedly staged at a place called Melaheen Moor, which is more or less where the districts of Castlelyons, Lisgoold, Clonmult and Bartlemy meet. This was about four decades before the GAA was formed and 80 years or so after the famous Cork v Tipperary game at Glenagowl, Kildinan, in 1741. Anyhow, the game 200 years ago was between teams drawn from the baronies of Barrymore and Kinnataloon.

They used call the ancient form of Gaelic football ‘rough and tumble’ and the same could be said of hurling at the time. Wrestling, third, fourth and fifth man tackles, blocking and tripping were permitted and rules were seldom written and even less frequently observed!

I recall on the RTÉ programme Mrs Scanlan explaining to Donncha that where that match was played was ‘a special place’. It was regarded as the playing ‘pitch’ for the Good People, or fairies as many called them. She remembered herself passing the area of a calm, moonlit summer’s night and hearing the thud and the ‘swish’ of the sliotar as it was belted up and down the Moor by ghostly figures.

In The Banks Of The Bride, published by Patsy Barry NT in 1942, he referred to that great hurling contest and wrote of the famous Garrett Barry, reputedly one of the most outstanding camán wielders of his day. Barry was supposed to be a man of Herculean strength. You’d hear the phrase when a player hits a sliotar high up in the sky ‘There’ll be snow on it when it comes down’, well that was Garret Barry to a tee.

While hurling one day, he gave the leather a massive wallop, sending it towards the clouds. He ran forward then to meet the sliotar on its return to the lower atmosphere.

In his path was a tent made from sticks and wattles, and over it he jumped, but unbeknownst to him wasn’t there a horse with a saddle on its back at the other side of the tent. Not a bother on him so, didn’t he land on the horse’s back, and while pirouetting on one leg he struck the returning hurling ball and sent it back where it came from!

That reminded me of a match I heard tell of in the 1950s played in a field in the Bride Valley. Well, this great hurler was lining up to a take a free about 50 yards out with his team down two points and the game nearly over. In the immortal words of Micheal O Hehir ‘He bens, he lifts and he strikes…’, up high into the sky but with forward momentum.

The free-taker took off like a scalded cat. By the time the sliotar dropped ‘in the square’ who was there to finish it to net only the man that had struck the free seconds earlier!

Lads, I hope in a few weeks’ time some of ‘our own darling hurlers ‘in the Blood and Bandage’ will repeat some of those feats of their legendary forefathers when we meet Limerick!

We had a lad playing against the Barrs last Sunday and there’s a great story told about his grandfather.

Back in the 1950s, indeed into the ’60s and ’70s too, tournaments and carnival hurling matches were as important as championships or leagues. For many hurling clubs, winning titles at divisional or county level was truly a bridge too far. Winning a set of medals in a local tournament was often the high point of the year for many a good hurler.

In one tournament game played in Bartlemy, in our Chapel Field, the match was late starting and it was finished in near darkness. Padna O Flynn was playing — he told me the team was very short of players on the night. Well, he had no togs and just rolled up the legs of his trousers a few turns and played away.

Anyhow, late in the game Padna was up n the attack with the sliotar on his hurley. He was tackled and the sliotar fell — not on to the ground but into the fold in the rolled up trouser leg! He told me ‘I kept on running with the hurley straight out in front of me and fellas clattering off it, but the sliotar was safe. I ran into the goals and the green flag was put up.’

Naturally, the opposition were furious, but after a heated discussion the referee allowed the score because he deemed that there was no rule in the GAA official guide stating ‘Thou shalt not score a goal with the sliotar in the fold of your trousers’!

Padna couldn’t remember whether they won the game or not.

Lads, how times have changed, in sport in general and with the GAA also. I was reading the Minutes of a Club meeting of 70 years ago. The team was going bad and the championship was approaching quickly.

“A discussion took place about playing some players from outside our district (in the championship) but the Committee decided not to cater for such players and recommended to the selectors not to play them, especially if they were illegal”.

Apparently, back then hurlers were ‘very obliging’ and ‘twas no trouble or problem for a fella to play with two or three different clubs in the one year — you wouldn’t get away with it now!

Seemingly, chewing tobacco was a popular habit long ago. You took a jot of plug tobacco and chewed away to your heart’s content, getting the ‘buzz’ from the nicotine, much like smoking a fag I suppose.

Well, on this particular Sunday there was a minor hurling game on in Rathcormac. It was a final and one team was leading by two points and time almost up. The opposition were going all out to get through for a winning goal.

Their star player — a Cork Minor — got possession out near the sideline and began soloing up along the line. About 20 yards out he threw up the sliotar for a shot at goal. Just as the ash was about to strike the leather a woman out on the line let rip. She had been chewing the tobacco for ages and just as the player was aiming to strike she left a mouthful of the black, gooey, sticky substance fly from her mouth. It hit the player on the face, half blinding him!

Naturally, his first reaction was to drop hurley and ball and wipe his face. The sliotar was cleared down the field and soon after the final whistle went!

Another yarn told about Garret Barry regarded his method of eating his dinner whilst out in the meadows at hay-making time.

Before the Famine, we are told that the Irish diet consisted almost entirely of potatoes and buttermilk with meat seldom. if ever, being consumed.

For the meal in the middle of the day, the bould Garret would eat 20 potatoes, boiled with their jackets on. He would put a spud in his mouth and then hit the sliotar high into the air. He’d have a second spud consumed before the sliotar would return and he’d strike it up once more and ate away again.

He repeated the procedure until all 20 potatoes were ate and never once let the sliotar touch the sward of the field. Boys, oh boys, but they were mighty men long ago surely.

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