Singing the Blues: Now I’m an honorary Waterford GAA man!

John Arnold had to Swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Waterford Hurling team recently...
Singing the Blues: Now I’m an honorary Waterford GAA man!

FUN AND GAELIC GAMES: Pad Flynn (left) bestows John Arnold as an ‘Honorary Waterford GAA man’ in North Cork last week. The pair are friends from GAA and visits to Lourdes

IT was in the plush and opulent surrounds of Doneraile Court in the North of County Cork that the Hon. Elizabeth Aldworth ‘created’ her own bit of history in the early 1700s, writes John Arnold.

Daughter of Arthur St Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile, Elizabeth, according to tradition, was reading in a room in her ancestral home when she fell asleep. Upon waking some time later, she heard voices from the adjoining room. She listened intently and soon realised a meeting of a Lodge of the secret Freemasons Order was in progress.

Discretion being the better part of valour, the bould Elizabeth tried to tiptoe away quietly but she was seen.

The Freemasons were a strictly male-only Secret Society, so that left the men in a bit of a quandary. Elizabeth had heard some of the goings on of the gathering, so in order to preserve the secrecy of the Freemasons, a decision was taken there and then to initiate her into the Order.

Well, something kind of similar happened me last Friday! I wasn’t kidnapped or held against my will, but nevertheless ended up as a member of a ‘Society’ that heretofore I nor any Corkman would have had any truck with.

I too was in opulent and lavish surroundings in North Cork- not in Doneraile but Charleville, not a million miles away from the Freemasons base.

On Friday last, I was driven in the company of three others to this location - mind now, I wasn’t kidnapped, no, I’d gone freely and with no threats or force.

The plan was that the four of us friends would meet for an afternoon of relaxation, chat and refreshments before going on to a further evening celebration. It was February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and also World Day of the Sick.

On February 11 in 1858, young Bernadette Soubirous first saw a ‘vision’ at Massabiele in Lourdes and, as they say, the rest is history. Then, in 1992, Pope John Paul II declared the same day as a special occasion to remember all Sick people throughout the world.

So, us fearsome foursome were meeting to catch up with all the news - we haven’t been to Lourdes on Pilgrimage since 2019 so there was much to cogitate on.

With a Mass celebrated by Bishop William Crean to follow on Friday evening in the Church in Charleville, I was anticipating a few hours of sheer bliss, good food, great company and powerful prayers. What’s that they say about ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’?

Believe it or not, last Friday evening, I, John Anthony Mary Brendan Arnold, was initiated as a fully fledged life member of The Waterford GAA Supporters Club!

It was in May of 1974 that I first saw the Waterford senior hurling team in action. Cork met the Decies in the first round of the Munster Championship below in Walsh Park. I travelled to the match with my sister and, beyond Kilmeaden - ‘knee knaw, knee knaw’ - with blue lights flashing - we were stopped for speeding! We got to the game barely in time.

It was the day of the broken hurley hitting the umpire and Paddy Barry, our goalie, being put off. We lost by 4-9 to 3-8, there wasn’t much singing coming home that evening!

Waterford hurling went through a barren spell after that, right through the ’70s and ’80s.

Ironically, two Cork hurlers who played on that fateful day in Walsh Park, Gerald and Justin McCarthy, led the Decies out of the wilderness and into the land of winning Munster Championships.

In the last 25 years, Waterford have had great teams, and as the Kilcoo manager Mickey Moran said, ‘no-one deserves to win an All-Ireland’ - but with three Final appearances and class hurlers, they should have won one at least.

Waterford being the closest ‘hurling county’ to us in East Cork, we’ve always engaged with Decies clubs in practice and tournament games. I got involved with my club Bride Rovers in 1972 and can recall great, brilliant and woeful clashes with Tallow, Ccappoquin, Tourin, Melleray, Shamrocks, Modeligo, Ballysaggart and of course Ballyduff.

Three times Ballyduff (Upper) have been crowned Waterford Senior Hurling Champions - a great record for a small community.

The schemer, the plotter, the man who ‘crowned’ me in Blue and White last Friday hails from Ballyduff. Pad Flynn is one of those legends that colour and enrich the lives of so many people in villages and parishes all over Ireland. He played hurling and football with his native club and undoubtedly was a much better player than I ever was - not much of a compliment, I know!

One Sunday, coming out from Mass in Ballyduff, the man in charge of the local football team met him. “Hey Pad, will you bring your gear to the game this afternoon?? Pad hadn’t played much football that year but did as requested. He played and ended up on a Championship winning side!

Occasionally, he joined defensive forces with his brothers Owenie and Jimmy to form a ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ full back line.

Bride Rovers often played Ballyduff and I can recall huge crowds at Fr Smith Cup Carnival games between us in Castlelyons.

Pad Flynn was a businessman in his native place - a man who never saw anyone short and gave plenty credit. A long-time club treasurer, he was and is a true Gael. A man with great faith, and when I started going to Lourdes in 2007, I got to know Pad even better.

Though a proud Waterford man, Ballyduff is close to Fermoy and Pad got involved with the Lourdes Committee there and facilitated many assisted pilgrims going to Lourdes over the years.

Two others, Donie Cahill from Cloyne and Jerry Galvin, Ballingeary-born but domiciled in Fermoy with years, became great friend with Pad Flynn and myself. We’ve heard of the Three Wise Men, The Three Stooges but the Four Amigos have a whale of a time in Lourdes and have become inseparable.

In Lourdes, religion is important and Faith also, but for those who’ve never been there, I must say the fun, the enjoyment, craic and ‘divilment’ is part and parcel of that special place. 

Don’t worry, folks, St Bernadette was a mighty girl for playing practical jokes on others - it’s not all sackcloth and ashes!

During Pilgrimage, the four of us stay in The Agena Hotel - a home from home. Often in June, when we’re there the Munster Hurling Championship is on and the Cork v Waterford rivalry is at boiling point.

Pad is witty and so full of fun and has really enjoyed the magnificent hurling his county has played over the last two decades. At mealtimes in Lourdes, any surplus helpings of food are passed from Pad to me - and I trying to lose weight! You know the phrase ‘splitting your sides with laughter’ - well that’s an ailment the three of us have to endure daily and nightly when in Pad’s company!

Then, down at the Grotto or at the candle burners or doing the Stations, the humanity and sincerity of the man shines through as he names out all those who sought his prayers in Lourdes. The other three of us in this ‘Holy Foursome’ are blessed to have Pad as a friend.

So it came to pass last Friday, in a Hotel in a North Cork town in the presence of witnesses, Daniel and Jeremiah, that I had to Swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Waterford Hurling team. Pad Flynn of Ballyduff formally and solemnly declared me to be an ‘Honorary Waterford man.

He placed the Blue and White cap on my balding head, ordering me to wear it with pride. I am, however, allowed a Dispensation when the Rebels play Waterford on May 15 below in Walsh Park! Two weeks later, the Munster Hurling Final is on and that’s just two days after the plane leaves Cork Airport for Lourdes!

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