John Arnold: Farewell to my friend Brendan - buried in his beloved Tracton

In his weekly column John Arnold recalls his friend Brendan Barry who died this past week
John Arnold: Farewell to my friend Brendan - buried in his beloved Tracton

The Tracton team in 1957, with Brendan Barry fifth from the left in the row of players sitting down.

WHAT had Denny Lane, Sonny Ireland and Brendan Barry in common? Three great Cork men, Lane was dead long before the other two saw the light of day, but they all loved their native place and were conscious of getting the ‘local story’ written down.

Some on Leeside thought that Carrigdhoun — or The Lament Of The Irish Maiden as it was originally styled when written by Lane — should have been the Cork ‘anthem’ instead of The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee. In truth, both are gorgeous compositions and evoke stirring emotions in Corkonians wherever they are.

Just over 20 years ago, an unlikely ‘foursome’ came together here in Cork with a common aim. Maybe I’m wrong to describe us as an unlikely group because we all had a passion for the GAA and its history and we were three Corkmen and a proud, famous son of the Banner County.

So, Jimmy Smyth, of Ruan in Clare, Jim Cronin, of Millstreet, Brendan Barry, of Tracton, and myself took on the task of compiling a collection of ballads and poems associated with the GAA in Cork. In 2001 The GAA Ballads Of Rebel Cork was published, a weighty tome of nearly 700 pages.

This week I’m a bit lag-misneach agus beaganin chroi bhriste freisin as with the death of Brendan Barry, I feel like the ‘last man standing’.

Ah sure, I know Jimmy, Brendan and Jim were all a good bit older than me — Jimmy was playing with Clare a decade before I was born, and in that year of my birth, Brendan won a County Junior Hurling title with his beloved Tracton. Jim Cronin was a true GAA historian with a list of books to his credit and was Chairman of the Cork County Board when the ballad book idea came to fruition.

When we were compiling the book, we had some great sessions with ‘will this poem go in or will that be left out’. In fairness to the four of us, we didn’t cast aside too many of the poems and ballads at all. Metre and rhyming couplets were not our forte — we just wanted the content of the book to reflect the history and passion involved with Gaelic games.

Passionate was surely a fitting description of Brendan Barry. He was born in Tracton 94 years ago and though he lived in Cork city for the greater part of his life, in reality it could be said of him: ‘You could take the man from Tracton but you could never take Tracton from the man’.

He loved his native place and hurling was in his bloodstream, in his very DNA.

I first got to know him when I became a delegate to the Cork GAA County Board — Brendan served there for close on six decades. Though he was thirty years older than me, we were both countrymen, with a gra for our duchais, heritage agus bhi gra againnn don Gaeilge.

Unlike me, Brendan was an accomplished hurler initially, with Farna and then with his beloved Mainistir Ban Club. Winning the County Junior Hurling Championship in 1957 with his neighbours and friends meant so much to him. Anytime he spoke of that victory, his eyes lit up, and how he cherished that medal — it was taken up to the altar in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ballinlough on Monday last at his Requiem Mass.

Just a few of that ’57 team are still alive, some were at Minane Bridge on Monday to bid farewell to their friend, their Giolla Mear. In decades to come the deeds of those champion hurlers of 1957 will be remembered thanks to the writing ability of Sonny Ireland.

The Postman from Belgooley wrote several stirring ballads lauding different generations of Tracton hurlers. I learnt a lot about Sonny in the last few days. A true character, he delivered the post on his bike. Back in the 1940s, when cars were scarce, a certain lady was reversing her automobile out from her house onto the public road just as he was passing by on his bike. Whether she actually struck him or not is debatable, but he ended up on the ground. When he got up he was furious. “Madam,” he demanded to know “have you a license to drive that vehicle?” She replied instantly: “I have a license to drive this car over Ireland” — and she nearly did!

In 1927, Sonny composed a song celebrating Tracton’s victory over Carrigaline in a South-East Semi final — that ended up with objections and appeals! 

Thirty years later, Sonny versed again when Courceys were beaten in the Carrigdhoun Final. Of all the ballads in the book, I think it was Brendan’s favourite!

Brendan Barry worked for Esso and was a popular man when he called — even though he was ‘calling for the money’. His son Brendan recalled many Esso customers would pay no- one else, while others insisted he’d call and help them with the ‘Spot The Ball’ competition in the newspapers!

Brendan’s wife Therese was the love of his life, they reared their four children with a love of music and all things Irish. Brendan was always proud that both he and John Reidy (Sean O Riada) were UCC pupils of Aloys Fleischmann.

His absolute devotion to Therese was demonstrated every single day when she was in St Finbarr’s Hospital and Brendan was always by her side. ‘Dilis do Dia agus do Eireann’ was a true description of him.

His gift of music was shared with so many and for years he was the choir musician in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ballinlough. For many years he would provide the musical accompaniment at Pairc Ui Chaoimh at the Mass which preceded the Annual Convention.

Paddy Hegarty was the organist before him at Ballinlough, so it was fitting that Paddy’s daughter Mary was soloist at the Requiem Mass. Mary Hegarty sang angelically and her rendition of Denny Lane’s classic Carrigdhoun at the end was awesome.

The heath was green on Carrigdhoun.

Bright shone the sun o’er Ard-na-Lee

The dark green trees bent trembling down

To kiss the slumbering Owen na Buidhe.

That happy day -- ‘twas but last May -- ‘Tis like a dream to me,

When Donal swore, aye o’er and o’er,

We’d part no more a stór mo chroidhe.

Not alone did Brendan serve his club, Tracton, for the greater part of his life, he also served as a Cork U21 and Intermediate hurling selector and was elected as Vice President of the Cork GAA Board. He loved the Irish language and, as the sagart aroon said, Brendan thought that ‘Gaeilge briste’ was better than no Irish at all.

He loved the GAA talent competition Scor and served on the Cork Coiste for years. A natural entertainer, he played keyboard and piano at functions and sessions wherever a few friends would gather.

A few years back, Denis Kelleher and myself were at the GAA Club Finals in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. Birr were in the Hurling final. The Tullamore Tribune is a weekly Offaly newspaper owned by the Alpha Group, headed by John Taylor, the former Ulster Unionist MP. Well, the bould John was at the games in Croke Park and Denis and myself got talking to him about Unionism and hurling and Stormont and all that.

Well, when Brendan heard who we were associating with, he threatened to have us both expelled, defrocked and excommunicated from the Cork County Board!

On Monday, the hurlers and camogie player of Tracton lined the road into Minane Bridge as ‘one of their own came back’ — truly bringing it all back home. Brendan was returning to his own place and his own people — a place his heart never left.

He was laid to rest with his wife and relations near the beautifully restored parish church.

In 1988, Brendan wrote the history of Tracton GAA Club, Tracton Goalers, In Song And Story, and that poem of Sonny Ireland’s about the 1957 Junior Hurling Final in Kinsale against Courcey Rovers features prominently. I read it by the graveside of my friend Brendan Barry — he would have liked that, I know he would.

We shall sing of Dan Joe Murphy and Joe Lynch’s fine display

And that illustrious player Castleton in the middle of the fray

We will sing of Brendan Barry with skills and style supreme

Always kept the green flag waving in that grand old Tracton team.

Wherever and whenever Cork people gather and meet, here on earth or in Heaven above, we recall bygone, golden, happy days of yore and

How oft do our thoughts in their fancy take flight

To the home of my childhood away

To the days when each patriot’s vision seemed bright

Did I dream that those joys would decay?

When my heart was as light as the wild winds that blow

Down the Mardyke through each elm tree

Where we sported and played neath each green leafy shade

On the banks of My Own Lovely Lee.

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