Just a random thought which ran through my mind earlier this week whilst driving to Rathcormac.
The schools are out, and unlike last year, GAA clubs all over the country are holding summer camps this week. The official GAA events are called Cúl Camps and are sponsored by Kellogg’s.
Because of the ongoing Covid pandemic situation, the rules and regulations for these fun and sport activities are greatly increased this year and the numbers attending are capped at 200 per camp.
Since last Monday morning, my club, Bride Rovers, have organised their Cúl Camp at our ‘headquarters’ in Pairc ná Bríde in Rathcormac. Every morning, it’s a sight to behold as parents bring enthusiastic youngsters to the pitch for a fun-packed few hours.
The camps are all about teaching boys and girls aged from 6 to 13 about Gaelic Games. The skills of hurling, football, camogie and ladies’ football are practised on a daily basis.
Learning the basics of our native games is just part of the activities. The different coaches and trainers —we have more than 50 helping out this week — help create a great sense of fun and enjoyment for the five days.
There’s an Irish seanfhocail mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad, which means ‘praise the youth and they will flourish’, and in reality that’s what the GAA Cúl Camp concept is all about.
Well, on Tuesday morning, as I drove two grandchildren down to the camp, we stopped at Dr Barry’s Bridge on the ‘old’ main Cork-Dublin road, waiting for a break in traffic. “See that big huge field there on the left?” says I to my passengers. “Well, it was there the GAA started in this parish back in the 1880.”
I was asked where was the pitch and dressing rooms, the goal posts, the toilets and so on. I explained that back then there were no ‘facilities’ and the playing pitch was just a level — or fairly level — field given by the landowner at the time.
Questions, questions, questions — in fairness I’m always telling them to keep asking questions of everyone, that’s how knowledge is acquired, even for small children.
The ‘field on the left’ I told them about was the spacious lawn in front of the impressive Kilshannig House. Built in the 1760s for the Devonshers, a wealthy Quaker banking family, Kilshannig was designed by the famous Italian David Ducart.
The Devonshers were owners until the 1830s, when a financial ‘crash’ saw their fortunes disappear and they had to sell out. One story going the rounds down the centuries was that either Abraham or John Devonsher lost the house and lands ‘on a game of cards’!
They moved to their ‘Mountain Lodge’ in Bartlemy — indeed, relations of the family still live in the area.
The new owners were the Roche family, holders of the ‘ Lord Fermoy’ title. For a few decades the Roches, who were extensive landlords, used Trabolgan House in East Cork as their summer residence and wintered in Kilshannig.
After the GAA was founded in 1884, teams and clubs sprung up all over the country. The young men in the Rathcormac area got permission from the then Roche owner of Kilshannig House to practise hurling and football on the fine lawns in front of the great house.
Back in 1741, the owner of Lisnagar House, also in Rathcormac, was Colonel MacAdam Barry and he was a ‘sponsor’ to a hurling team — long before the GAA was even thought of. GAA historians noted that many landlords and ‘Big House’ owners liked the idea of a hurling team, drawn from their tenantry, ‘taking on’ and hopefully defeating other similar hurling sides.
In the 1880s, the Parish Priest of Rathcormac, Fr Edmond Barry, lived at the Bridge House in Rathcormac, close to Kilshannig. Though reluctant initially, he soon got involved and completely absorbed in the fledgling teams in the parish. Thy had three glorious years from 1888 to 1890 when the Rathcormac footballers and Bartlemy hurlers were amongst the top senior teams in Cork.
Tournaments were huge at the time and Kilshannig Lawn saw teams from Cork city and county, Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary vie for the coveted Winners Cup.
The Parnellite Split had major repercussions in the GAA — at one time there were three different ‘County Boards’ within the Rebel County. Politics threatened to destroy the newly-founded GAA but it recovered and prospered.
Fr Barry’s teams had a short but glorious innings and the foundations he laid down in the 1880s are still bearing fruit today.
The Roche family sold Kilshannig before 1900. One of the family that would have certainly frequented Kilshannig would have been James Burke Roche, the 3rd Baron Fermoy, a Nationalist anti Parnellite MP for four years. He won a by-election in East Kerry in 1896 but didn’t contest the general Election in 1900.
James was the great grandfather of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales — mother of Prince Harry. I suppose Harry is blissfully unaware of his family’s link with the history of hurling in our parish! The next time he visits Ireland we’ll invite him down to see a Bride Rovers game.
Fr Barry died in 1900 and his old hurlers from the 1880s teams shouldered him from Rathcormac all the way up to Bartlemy Church, where his mortal remains lie.
Tradition is hard to define and harder still to evaluate, but it’s an underlying thread that runs on and on.
The GAA in our parish had its ups and downs, like everywhere else, but that old spirit fostered and nurtured on Kilshannig Lawn all those years ago still lives.
Tradition on its own is useless — because you won titles a decade or a century ago is no guarantee of further success — but when the foundation of tradition is built upon with effort, determination and pride, well then, great things can happen.
The GAA truly is part of what we are, like our language and music and song. All these are brilliant and vital components of our Irish and Gaelic tradition, but they need nurturing always. That’s why seeing more than 200 youngsters in the pitch all the week enjoying our native games gives me such joy and pleasure.
Down the decades, GAA clubs all over the country ‘got the loan’ of a field from local landowners and they too played their part in weaving the rich and intricate tapestry that our native games have given us.
Back in 1977, our club bought a field to be our ‘home’ and we called it after the local river, the Bride — Pairc ná Bríde. Fittingly, when you look across the field, you can see Kilshannig House with the lawn beneath.
Oft times, if I was coming home late from a meeting or a match in Rathcormac, I’d open down the window of the car as I passed Kilshannig . In my mind’s eye, I can see the throngs of men and boys with home-made hurleys chasing the leather back in the 1880s.
In the midst of all the racket, the shrill voice of Fr Barry rings out, giving instructions on the finer points of the game. The genial sagart never bore the title of Manager or Coach or Trainer and never wore the Bainisteoir’s Bib.
Fr Edmond Barry and people like him in every country, town and city parish all over Ireland were truly the GAA’s ‘Founding Fathers’. Our Cúl Camp this week keeps the flame burning as we pass on the torch to the next generation.