Club Milestones - Official Opening of Liam Mac Carthy Park
On Thursday, 19th April, 1984, Eileen and I set off by car to make the journey to Ballygarvan, Co. Cork, where we had been invited to attend the opening of the Liam MacCarthy Park in honour of my grandfather.
We stayed in Rosslare that evening and on Good Friday morning made our way along the South Coast of Ireland towards Cork. There was a thick sea mist all the way and at Dungarvan visibility was down to 25 yards but it improved as we turned inland towards Cork City. It continued to improve to add to the memory of an unforgettable occasion.
By arrangement we met Edmond Forrest, Chairman South East Board G.A.A. in Silver Springs Hotel. From here we drove to the City Hall in Cork where we were joined by Michael Twomey, Chairman of Ballygarvan G.A.A. Club and were then ushered into the Mayor's parlour where we were welcomed by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor John Dennehy. There was a portrait of Terence MacSweeney on the wall and I was able to tell the Lord Mayor that I was carried as a babe in arms in the procession to Southwark Cathedral in London when this most eminent man had died on hunger strike. From the City Hall we drove out of Cork, on the road to Kinsale, where after about eight miles we saw a signpost indicating a left hand side-road to Ballygarvan. Underneath was another sign worded "Páirc Liam MacCarthaigh". We took the turning and by way of Bowens Hill we entered the village of Ballygarvan. Out on the far side of the village we saw a group of men playing bowls along the road. Just to the right of them there was an entrance and we drove into "MacCarthy Park". A huge limestone boulder from the local quarry was in front of us containing a plaque engraved in Irish. About seven acres of greenery rewarded our sight. Set in a valley just outside the village. This is a pleasant and peaceful place carefully laid out to preserve the natural beauty of the area. The grass on it was as green as only grass in Ireland can be. We then drove back towards the village but took a left-hand turn and climbed up the far side of the valley to the lovely farmhouse of Finbarr Marshall, where we were to stay. Here we met all the family and the easy, all-pervading Irish hospitality delightfully ended the day for us.
Saturday morning and I was handed the cup presented by my grandfather, the first time I ever touched it, and off we went to Shanagraigue, birthplace of my great grandfather, Eoghan MacCarthy. Here, I met the two brothers, Wolfe, who showed me a field that had been used for hurling in my grandfather's time, when the game was played "from corner to corner". They also told me that the MacCarthys used to grow flax on their farm using two oxen for pulling the plough. There were flax holes or ponds on the farm to this day. I also learned that the MacCarthys rented the land on an eleven-month basis so that they never had any security of tenure. They also rented or hired the cows they milked to provide butter and cheese, which they sold locally to make a living. This confirmed my father's view that the MacCarthys never owned anything but were hewers of wood and drawers of water.
So to Sunday morning, 22nd April 1984 and the big day for Ballygarvan had dawned. After Mass I met Donal Twomey, initially introduced to me as "Mr. Ballygarvan himself". Armed with the famous MacCarthy cup and ably chaperoned by Donal we proceeded to do the rounds of the local pubs! Our first stop was to the Sportmans Rest known in my grandfather's time as Twoomeys. Here I was presented with a most handsome carved walking stick; a beautiful keepsake of a most memorable visit! Further up the road was Paddo Dalys Pub where Paddo's mother made a present of a framed picture of the MacCarthy Cup, which Mrs. Daly told me she had drawn in three days. She also gave me a St. Brigid's cross which she had made from local river reeds. A further touching tribute to a never to be forgotten visit! Back then to lunch at Meadstown and the official opening of MacCarthaigh Páirc was drawing near. Finbarr Marshall drove me down to Ballygarvan in his Land Rover with me hanging out the nearside window with the cup held on high! A video camera followed our progress. At the school in Ballygarvan the Carraigaline Pipe Band was assembling, resplendent in dark green and silver kilted uniform. (Memories flooding back of my father and the Brothers Pearse Pipers Band in London (where were the traditional two drone Irish War-pipes and the saffron kilts?) We drove into the entrance of MacCarthaigh Páirc and down to the clubhouse where I met Con Murphy, Past President of the G.A.A., who had flown down from Belfast (where the G.A.A. were holding congress) in order to be with us! Members of the Ladies Committee plied me with sandwiches and I was introduced to a bewildering galaxy of people! Photographs with members of the committee and I would make my way up the field for the unveiling! Up on the rostrum with Con Murphy seated on my left and a distinguished representative of the press on my right who recorded every word in shorthand alternating from Irish to English without drawing breath! Michael Twomey, Con Murphy, the Parish Priest (Fr. John Crowley), the Lord Mayor of Cork, all have their say and then its my turn. I am the last to speak -after the Lord Mayors show -shakily I am on my feet - "Ah Gweenee Ooshileaghá!" Someone laughs and I am content! The rest of what I have to say comes tumbling out less nervously! "A dhaoine uaisle, beirim buíochas doábh os bhár gcineáltas!" As you will realise, these words have been hammered into me parrot fashion! For the benefit of those of you who do not have Irish, and indeed in sympathy for those who do - what I (hope) I said was, "Ladies and gentleman, thank you for your kindness". "Similar words could well have been said by my great grandfather, Eoghan MacCarthy, the father of Liam MacCarthy, when he arrived in London from Ballygarvan as a refugee from the famine some one hundred and thirty years ago. In his case, however, his listeners would have had a very hard job to understand him as he had no English - and indeed, precious little else."I am sure that during his lifetime in London my great grandfathers thoughts must have strayed back to Ballygarvan where he was born. I am equally certain that in his wildest dreams he would never have envisaged that one day he would be so honoured as to have the very land from which he came dedicated to his name! Bearing in mind that the name "MacCarthy" is the most numerous of Irish names beginning with Mac and out of every hundred MacCarthys in Ireland sixty of them live in County Cork, why is it that our particular family should be singled out for this overwhelming honour? The answer of course, lies with this extraordinary man, my grandfather - Liam MacCarthy! At this point I could go on to give you personal recollections of him but enough has been said and written about him to make further reminiscences boring and, whatever else, boredom was not part and parcel of this man!I would, therefore, like to thank all the people who have made this day so memorable and, with your indulgence, I would conclude with yet another parrot learned phrase ? Thank you for having me. (In Irish - Agus arís go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir). And so to the match itself. After the game there was a reception for the two teams at Frankfield House, a most beautiful, modernised Georgian building overlooking the City of Cork. The proprietor, Mick Ryan, is a most distinguished all-Ireland hurler who excels himself in the role of mine host. At the end of a gargantuan meal a presentation was made to every member of each team and to the referee and linesmen. Here I met the coach of the Ballygarvan Hurling Club team and listened to the comment of the famous Kilkenny goalkeeper, Noel Skehan, "If Cork can enlist the services of the referee we had today there is no question who will win the All-Ireland final!" Back then to Meadstown and Finbarr Marshall's farm where after a welcome respite we joined the final celebrations of this historic day. This took the form of a disco. During the course of the evening I was asked to come up onto the stage where Con Murphy presented me with a miniature of the Liam MacCarthy Cup; the same replica in Mullingar pewter which had been awarded to the Cork and Kilkenny teams earlier that day. By this time I was so emotionally drained that I could only reiterate that my cup had overflowed! In the heel of the hunt , what can one say? For me this is the culmination of the childhood fantasy where one travels to the end of the rainbow and becomes king for as long as the magic cup is in ones possession. As you will realise, all this has accrued to me simply because by accident of birth I am the boy holding the horses head! I am two generations removed from the real hero, embarrassed by the attention afforded to me but ever conscious of the integrity of the man who brought such recognition and honour to our family. I trust that the love of country, which motivated his every action, will be remembered and regarded as a source of inspiration for future generations.