John Arnold: Tale of two journeys, including a trip from Ballinhassig to Tipp

Fair play to the brave Ballinhassig men and women on the roads of Munster this week for their Trip To Tipp - a major fundraiser for their club, writes John Arnold 
John Arnold: Tale of two journeys, including a trip from Ballinhassig to Tipp

Some of the Ballinhassig GAA club members as they travel to Thurles on their ‘Trip To Tpp’ to raise funds for the club.

‘ I’VE travelled far, by land and by sea, beautiful places I’ve happened to see...”

That was a song recorded by American crooner Andy Williams around 1960. The lyrics reflect the beauty and pleasure got from travelling far and wide, but in this song the centre of all ‘travel gravity’ was Lourdes - as the song says, ‘The village of St Bernadette.

It might have been Andy we first heard singing it, but it was Kilworth native, the late, great Tony O’Brien, who really made the song ‘his own’ and when Cork people gather still in the village near the Pyrenees, Tony is always remembered with a smile, a laugh and of course - a song!

Strange, isn’t it, that I’ve never been to the Giant’s Causeway, the Vale of Avoca, Patrick Kavanagh’s Inniskeen, Ballyjamesduff, the Glens of Antrim or Rosmuc, yet I’ve been in France, or more importantly in Lourdes, almost 30 times.

When you love a place, it draws you back. 

To be honest, I could never be described as an ardent or adventurous traveller, though I adore going to new places. The places and the faces mean everything to me, so much so if given a choice I’d always travel the ‘old road’ to Dublin if heading for the capital.

I’m not a fast driver by any means, and then the motorway causes me endless anxiety, with my paranoia and unfounded fear of passing out a truck or a bus on that - or any other - motorway.

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. Earlier this year, I took my first ever train trip from Midleton to Cork city - it was wonderful.

I know I’m probably in a minority, and I also know that walking is getting bigger and bigger as a leisure activity, yet it saddens me to think that once greenways are installed, train tracks are gone forever.

I always harboured hopes that some day we’d see a direct rail link once more from Cork to Youghal, and even on to Dungarvan and Waterford; well, my dreams are shattered now, gone forever.

How travel has changed. Normally, in this last week of August/first week of September, sporting fans, especially hurling fans, would be making arrangements to head for Dublin for Hurling Final weekend, but even that bedrock of Irish sporting certainty has been dispensed with.

All this week, intrepid members of the Ballinhassig club have been on the road as they travel to Thurles. In a throwback to simpler times, when fans walked and cycled and went by train, these hardy bucks from the south-east of the Rebel County are following the footsteps of past generations who thought nothing of setting out for Thurles the day before the big game.

I recall Tim Riordan, who lived in the Kildinan district of our parish, telling of going to Munster Finals in the 1920s long before 2RN (Forerunner of RTÉ Radio) was on the air. The folks back home in town and country waited eagerly for the results.

Tim told of a time when pigeons were taken to the games, and when the final whistle went the score was hastily written on a piece of brown paper. This was tied with twine on the leg of the pigeon and off home the bird went.

Allowing for crowds and refreshment stops, the pigeon often relayed the good or bad news nearly three hours before the ‘fans’ got home - there’s technology for ye 1920s style!

This week 50 years ago, I was all excited at the prospect of seeing my first ever All Ireland Final in Croke Park. Cork lost that one - to Kilkenny of course. While I remember Pat Delaney hopping the sliotar under his hurley and the brilliance of Eddie Keher, the thing that sticks in my mind most from that trip happened the night before the match.

A group of us 15/16-year-olds went up by train on Saturday and stayed overnight in Ballsbridge. Well, we were on a thronged O Connell Street around 11pm after coming out of a cinema. I can’t remember the film but I’ll never forget the thrill of being able to buy ‘tomorrow’s paper today’ - you see, the Sunday papers ‘hit the streets’ before midnight on the Saturday night - phenomenal altogether.

Back then, a full colour wrap-around with pictures of the hurling finalists was the norm for the greatest sporting day in Ireland.

Talking of travel and walking, imagine the things players did long ago for the sheer love of sport. I read a letter one time written by Dungourney and Cork hurling captain Jamesy Kelleher - not exactly complaining but outlining the ‘player welfare’ issues of 120 years ago.

For a big game in Thurles or Ennis or Limerick, he stated his team would leave Dungourney and Clonmult maybe around 7am to walk the few miles to Mogeely train station. They then faced a three or four hour journey on the railroad and played their game. The term ‘post-game function’ had not yet been invented! After maybe ‘tay and cake’, it was back on the train for the return journey, often reaching their own homes after midnight.

Fair play to the brave Ballinhassig men and women on the roads of Munster this week for their Trip To Tipp - a major fundraiser for their club. 

The famous Coleman clan - generations of them have served their parish and county so well - have deep roots in our parish. Where their Murphy ancestors came from is only ‘over the fields’ from where the hurlers of Cork and Tipperary first crossed camans in an Inter County game back in 1741.

We all heard of the famine in Ireland in the 1840s yet pro rata the Famine of 1740/1741 was even more devastating. It is believed that towards the end of 1741, the awful weather of the previous 18 months began to improve. Things were looking up at last and maybe that’s why a team of 20 or 30 hurlers travelled down to Kildinan to take on a Cork side.

Don’t ask me the result - it’s still disputed! Suffice it to say that epic Gaelic poems were penned by bards in both counties claiming the laurels for their own men - so now we know where the Cork v Tipp rivalry came from!

“Now Cork is bet and the hay is saved, the thousands wildly sing, they speak too soon, my sweet gorsoon for here comes Christy Ring”.

At least this year we bate Tipperary, and the hay we saved was never better, but God knows, ‘tis grass we want now so about three days and three nights of ‘nice soft rain’ would be just grand entirely.

Oh yes, and speaking of the famine of the 1840s and the resultant drop in our population in a decade by two million, they say a million died and another million travelled away from these shores. There are estimated to be well over 50 million people scattered across the globe who claim to have Irish roots.

By sheer coincidence, on this very day, September 1, I am planning to meet a group of those well travelled sons and daughters of Erin. From Rochester in Minnesota, Peggy, Nancy, Jackie and Mike Riley are coming to Cork, the place their ancestors left.

They are coming on an emotional journey - in Peggy’s own words, “This is the trip our dear dad would love to have taken”.

They’ll be coming down to Cork as the Ballinhassig people head in the other direction. Two groups on journeys, long and short, by foot and by plane and car - travelling to destinations close to their very souls. Safe travelling to all concerned.

C J Boland penned a poem called The Two Travellers in which a conversation is recounted between one who has been all over the world and another who scarcely ever ventured outside his own county and is delighted to have been ‘a home bird’.

And I’d rather be strolling along the quay,

And watching the river flow,

Than growing tea with the cute Chinee,

Or mining in Mexico.

And I wouldn’t much care for Sierra Leone,

If I hadn’t seen Killenaule,

And the man that was never in Mullinahone

Shouldn’t say he had travelled at all

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