‘Tip and Slashin’ - Clare’s Hurling Victories of 1914

Clare Association Yearbook, 2006

By Tomás Mac Conmara

The year 1914 was significant in both a national and international context. In June of that year Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian Nationalist, while driving through Sarajevo. This incident precipitated a chain of events, which would lead to the eventual outbreak of World War 1. John Redmond’s Woodenbridge call to arms for that war, in September 1914, created a split in the Irish National Volunteer Force from which would emerge the National Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteers. The latter would go on to shape the Irish political landscape in the years following the 1916 Rising. However, during this turbulent time, the subject dominating the headlines, in the Banner County at least, was the fact that the Clare hurlers had made history by becoming the first county to capture All-Ireland Senior and Junior honours in the same year beating Laois in both finals. The following is a brief history of that famous year.

On Sunday, October 18, 1914 Leix (renamed Laois or Laoighis following Independence in 1922) played Clare for the honour of becoming All-Ireland senior hurling champions. Experienced referee John Lalor from Kilkenny was the man selected to monitor the discipline of these two teams on the day. Contemporary newspapers recorded the characteristics of the opposing teams. Laois were described as “fast, clean and highly scientific with a strong flavour of dash and excellent combination [1] and Clare as “strong, self reliant and vigorous in the extreme [2] .

The media had anticipated an enthralling encounter between these two well-respected teams. Indeed, it had been a surprise in GAA circles that Clare, the home of the GAA’s founder Michael Cusack, had not made the breakthrough prior to 1914. Inadequate preparation, was the accepted reason for the county’s unoccupied trophy cabinet. As the Clare men prepared for 1914 they did so in the knowledge that the club orientated Croke Cup, won by O’Callaghan’s Mills six years previously was the most recent accolade secured by a Clare team, and they wished to ensure some fresh silverware was introduced to the county. Clare’s first victory in an All Ireland competition had been achieved in 1897 when a team styling themselves the Robert Emmets annexed the inaugural Croke Cup title by beating Crosstown from Wexford [3]. ‘Robert Emmets’ was the name adopted in the early years of the GAA by the Tulla hurling club [4]. In a period characterised by a Gaelic revival, many clubs attached themselves to various nationalistic figures and movements, reflecting the prevailing political environment of the time [5].

As the playing season of 1914 approached, the county board posted a notice in July, stating their dissatisfaction with the current position the county’s hurling team found themselves. They wished to “bring back once more to Clare the high prestige we once enjoyed”. To accomplish this, they appealed for subscriptions in order to take the team to Lahinch, where they could collectively train free from all “disturbing distractions" [6]. The intent on behalf of the county board would seem to have acted as a catalyst for a year of unrivalled dedication and concentration on behalf of the Clare hurlers.

A third generation blacksmith from Mountshannon, whose brother was a famous Clare and Munster hurler, informed me that his native parish Mountshannon had also facilitated the training of the Clare hurlers in 1914. It is quite probable that the late Tom Lyons was correct given the fact that many of the team hailed from north-east Clare and Patrick McDermott from Whitegate was a member of the panel.[7] Patrick or Paddy McDermott was listed as playing left corner back, in the match programme, which was published in the Evening Telegraph on the week prior to the final. He is also mentioned in post match reports as having participated in the game. Contradictory reports have led to confusion on the matter. Although he did take part in earlier tournaments with the Clare team, he did not actually line out in the All Ireland Final. Jack Hogan, who travelled to Dublin for the game, explains in an interview conducted for “A History of Gaelic Games in Whitegate and Mountshannon”, his feeling of happiness upon seeing his fellow parishioner on the match programme. His delight however was replaced with disappointment when “Paddy did not appear on the field”.[8]

The ambitious sentiment expressed in the county board notice was replicated around the entire county and with that in mind the Clare team approached the final of 1914 with a huge weight of expectation on their shoulders. However, this time they had prepared accordingly! The Clare Journal predicted on the week prior to the final that, considering the contrasting styles and unprecedented preparation both teams had put in to the campaign, the game would “mark a new departure for Irish Hurling” and that “sixty minutes of exhilarating hurling” was assured for anyone who would attend. On October 12, “Outlooker”, a Gaelic expert, in his weekly column in the Clare Champion predicted that the “most memorable contest of the century” was expected.[9] However, the thrilling encounter anticipated failed to materialise with the Clare men dominating, winning on a 5-1 to 1-0 scoreline. The Clare men, “excelling in both science and dash and giving a display of marked superiority” had claimed the ultimate prize and led by Captain Amby Power from Quin, brought home the Great Southern Trophy for the first time.

At the early stages of the championship, there was an indication that the year 1914 was destined to be an interesting one for the Banner hurlers. April saw victory in the Thomand Feis against Tipperary, which generated a reluctant confidence in the county. After defeating Kerry in the first round on a moderate scoreline of 7-3 – 4-1, the Clare team arrived at the Markets Field to play Limerick in the Munster semi-final. However, both the Clare and Limerick hurlers were astonished to find that the British Army had occupied the field in order to mobilise for the First World War. Ironically, many of the Clare hurlers that day would later join the Irish Volunteers and go on face the same British Army on a different field of battle a number of years later in the Irish War of Independence. It’s perhaps worth deviating from the focus of the article for a moment in order to discuss this thesis. A suitable example is Ned or Edward Grace who played centre field for Clare throughout the 1914 campaign. Grace was one of four O’Callaghan’s Mills players who had played on both the 1908 Croke Cup winning team as well as the victorious side of 1914. He, along with fellow 1914 team-mate Tom McGrath would in February 1918, be part of a group, who made an impromptu escape out of an Ennis court, as Magistrates Kelly and McElroy attempted to dispense justice for their part in the Derrymore Mills incident.[10] A document also exists, in which Grace appears as applicant ‘33191’ of E Company, 1st Battalion, Mid Clare Brigade IRA. The document, dated 1941, is part of the Frank Butler collection and relates to twenty pension applicants in the “Cases for discussion with Messrs. Seán O’ Keefe, P. J. McMahon and Frank Butler”. Grace’s appearance as an IRA member is evidence of a cross over from the GAA to the republican movement.[11] The aforementioned Tom McGrath, Tull Considine Séamus “Sham” Spellissy and Pa “Fowler” McInerney were amongst other members of the 1914 team, who later distinguished themselves as volunteers.

Its also worth noting the appearance of Patrick Hennessy from Quin on a Mid Clare hurling selection in early 1914. Hennessy, with his friend and comrade Con McMahon, was executed by Free State forces in January 1923, following an extremely questionable arrest and conviction, as the Civil War approached its conclusion. The Mid Clare side who faced a South Clare outfit, contained many players who later that year, would represent their county at the highest stage, including the Power brothers, Amby and Joe, as well as Willie Considine and Séamus Spellissy from Ennis.[12] The match was part of a tournament organised by the Quin Temperance Society in order to help prepare for the aforementioned Munster Semi-final against Limerick. Even though Hennessy would not play a part in the 1914 campaign proper, his inclusion on the Mid Clare side, coupled with the fact that he was later county secretary of the GAA in Clare, further illustrates the proximity of cultural and political interests in a formative period of Irish history.

While many GAA members entered the republican movement, John Fox from Newmarket, who played wing back for Clare that year later went on to join the British Army and served in World War I. This was seen as a major propaganda boost for British recruitment officers who sought to enlist “clean, strong, temperate, hurley playing fellows” [13] into their ranks for the Great War effort. It’s worth noting that Fox returned safely from the war where upon leaving the British army, returned to eligibility under Rule 21, resumed his hurling career with Newmarket and continued to play throughout the twenties and thirties. The encounter with Limerick temporarily suspended as a result of the British Army’s unexpected presence, was subsequently transferred to Mallow where Clare had a resounding victory on a scoreline of 4-2 to 0-2.

The Munster final was played in Thurles between Clare and Cork in the grounds of what we now know as Semple Stadium. In what was described as “a thrilling hours hurling” Clare emerged victorious by the narrowest of margins on a scoreline of 3.2 – 3.1.[14] The prolific poet and journeyman blacksmith Martin Kennedy from Belvoir, who composed many wonderful poems about various events in East Clare, didn’t let the Munster final success pass without creating a ballad in its honour. 1914 Munster Final is sung to the air of ‘The Garden Where The Praties Grow’ and contains eight verses. The following are the fourth and fifth:

Now these fiery teams were prancing, on each other goals advancing,
Camáns brightly glancing in the air,
No Milesian or Dalcassian, ever done such tip and slashin,
As the hurlin’ boys from Cork and County Clare.

At last, the game was ended. Oh, so nobly defended,
And the referee attended with ability and care,
When he shouted out the score it was number three to four,
And he gave the bunch of palm to County Clare!
[15]

A point worth noting is that the referee, commended by Kennedy, was none other than the Tipperary stalwart for whom the stadium was in 1971 named, Tom Semple. Semple, himself twice an All Ireland winner, articulated the ferocity of the encounter when commenting after the game that “it was as hard fought Munster Final as ever I saw”.[16] Further evidence of the ferocity was supported in the Clare Journal on October 8, when the paper reported that the Quin selection committee had, in advance of the All Ireland Final, appealed for hurleys, as “a reserve was ABSOLUTLEY ESSENTIAL given the large number broken during the match in Thurles”.[17]

The stage was now set for the All Ireland Final. As a result of the Munster Final being delayed, Cork had been nominated to represent the province in the All Ireland series in which they defeated Galway, allowing Clare to proceed directly to the Final in Dublin.[18] The Central Council had purchased the Jones’s Road grounds the previous December for £3.500 from Frank Dineen and it was decided that this would be an appropriate site for the memorial to the Most Rev. Dr. Croke. This initiative was jeopardised when legal proceedings against the Central Council were taken by the Tipperary County board who wanted the memorial to Archbishop Croke in Thurles.[19]

The matter was eventually resolved, Jones’s Road became the memorial to the GAA’s first patron and Clare, following their victory on October 18 attained the distinction of winning the first All Ireland Senior Hurling Final in Croke Park!

Jim (Andy) Hehir, father of legendary Irish commentator Micheál Ó Hehir, trained the Clare team. According to the Clare Champion of the time, Hehir had four maxims for his players; don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t overeat and don’t lose sleep. A logic that despite the advancement time has brought would place him amongst the elite of today’s GAA managers. Hehir also has the unique distinction of training the Leitrim footballers to win Connaught title in 1927. Willie Redmond also took a part in training the Clare hurlers and the MP for East Clare led the team out onto Croke Park.

As mentioned already, Clare, despite having wing forward Michael Flanagan sent off for “rough play” ran out convincing winners in a one sided affair in front of an estimated 15,000 people. Measured against attendances at recent All Irelands this may seem small but was considered to be comparatively high at the time. The failure of the match to produce the epic anticipated did nothing to belittle the magnitude of the Bannermen’s success or the scale of their celebrations.[20]

The juniors defeated Kerry, Tipperary and Cork on their way to the Munster title. Further victories over Galway and Laois coupled with the senior’s success gave Clare the honourable distinction of being the first county to win Junior and Senior All Ireland honours in the same year. The junior team, often overshadowed by the senior’s success, contained within their ranks some well-known Clare hurling figures. The most noticeable of these was Tulla’s Tommy Daly, then commencing his inter county hurling career. It would be a career, which would make him a household name in Clare GAA circles. Dr Tommy Daly was acknowledged to be the greatest goalkeeper of his time. In 1932 he was on the Clare Senior team who won the Munster title and subsequently lost the All Ireland to a strong Kilkenny outfit. In a career spanning twenty years, he won twenty-four major hurling medals including four All Irelands with Dublin in 1917, 20, 24, and 27.

The sliothar thrown into the fray on October 18, 1914 by referee John Lalor, contested for by the men of Clare and Laois and held for posterity by Jim Hehir can now, over ninety years later, be seen on display in the Energy section at Clare Museum. Two medals won by the aforementioned Ned Grace are also displayed. The sliothar, exhibited at Clare Museum, witnessed the interior of various Clare dressing rooms long after the final of 1914 had concluded. In an attempt to inspire numerous Clare teams, Micheál Ó Héhir would bring the 1914 sliothar into the pre match dressing room and demand a companion for the sliothar his father Jim had passed on to him.[21]

Eighty-one years would elapse before the infamous ‘curse’ of Biddy Early would depart and that companion arrive. When it did finally arrive in September 1995 a bridge between the two All Irelands was created in Creevaghmore, Quin. ‘The hurling field’ in which the Clare hurlers prepared for the 1914 campaign was proudly decorated with a Clare flag by the Carmody family, who own the land.

“We feel proud that our senior and junior hurlers annexed both All Ireland Championships last season”.

So read a triumphant notice posted by the county board in 1915, just twelve months after their proposal had become the catalyst for one of the Banners finest years. Their initiative had helped “bring back once more to Clare the high prestige we once enjoyed”.

Nóta ón Údair
The author would like to acknowledge the co-operation of all who helped provide information for this article, in particular Mary Carmody of Creevaghmore, Quin for her interest and assistance.

Photo links:

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. The Clare Journal, September 15, 1914
  2. The Clare Journal, September 15, 1914
  3. Byrnes Ollie, (1996) Memories of Clare Hurling, Dublin, Mercier Press
  4. The Robert Emmets (Tulla) hurling team that played in the 1897 final are reported to have all played in their bare feet
  5. Byrnes Ollie, (1996) Memories of Clare Hurling, Dublin, Mercier Press
  6. The team spent most of the two weeks prior to the All Ireland Final attending an intensive training camp in Lisdoonvarna
  7. The late Tom Lyons, was a well-respected parish and county hurler. He passed away to his eternal rest in November 2004. His brother Pakie Lyons (R.I.P) lined out for Munster and Clare, playing both with and against Christy Ring
  8. Madden, P. (1984) A History of Gaelic Games in Whitegate and Mountshannon 1825 – 1984
  9. The Clare Champion, October 12, 1914
  10. The Derrymore Mills incident relates to the Sinn Féin led obstruction of timber from the Derrymore Mill being taken to re-enforce British trenches in WWI
  11. Grace, along with the grandfather of the author, Batty McNamara, was once observed returning to O’Callaghan’s Mills at 6.00am on a morning during the War of Independence. The two men were returning home after attempting to ‘encourage’ a British Officer to leave the Whitegate area and had walked the entire distance
  12. The Saturday Record, May 2, 1914
  13. McCarthy, Daniel, (2002) Irelands Banner County, County Clare, Saipan Press
  14. Martin Cronin, writing on December 24, 1966 in “Ennis Long Ago”, a reminiscent column in the Clare Champion, tells us how the Ennis Brass Band, attending the 1914 Munster Final, had played ‘Death or Glory’ and at its conclusion in a prophetic tone played ‘Where Glory Leads’
  15. Ó Cillín, Seán P. (1976) Ballads, County Clare, Galway, Seán P. Ó Cillín & Patricia F. Brannick
  16. Smith R. Decades of Glory, Dublin, Little & McClean
  17. The Clare Journal, October 8, 1914
  18. Cronin, Jim. Munster GAA Story, Clare, Clare Champion
  19. Cronin, Jim. Munster GAA Story, Clare, Clare Champion
  20. The Clare team expenses for the All Ireland Final, submitted to the Central Council of the GAA, amounted in total to £36.11s.0d. Costs included transportation to Dublin, lunch before departure at the Old Ground Hotel Ennis, char-a-bancs (open top buses) to convey the team to Wynn’s Hotel, where the players spent the night before the final and board for two nights
  21. The Clare Champion Supplement, issued with Clare Champion, September 22, 1978

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