31 October 2020



Determination, achievement and teamwork are the words that spring to mind after watching our members accomplish their marathon miles this weekend. Firstly congratulations to Catherine Burke and Aine Quane who took on their very first marathon. With recent restrictions this was not an easy task so well done to you both. David Butler breezing through his half marathon on Saturday.
The strong winds did not slow John O Sullivan down as he held a strong steady pace on each loop around Ardfert , knowing every mile ran was for Banna Rescue.
Moises Olalde was hardly seen as he just flew through the miles in Kilmoyley on Sunday morning.
Linda O Sullivan was all smiles through her Half Marathon and Margaret Carlin rocked out another marathon with ease.
Club teamwork showed in abundance today with our support runners. Well done to the Kilmoyley boys Padraig, Gerald and John who ran alongside Moises offering support through each mile. Tom, Ursula and Joe kept John company in Ardfert. David Kissane ensured Margaret and Linda both finished in style. Thank you to the support cars and bike for keeping our runners safe.
In these hard times 2020 is a year that has been very hard for everyone, but the friendship within the club showed immensely today through the support that was given. Friendship like this is important and it showed throughout today.
Well done everyone!

05 October 2020

Vhi Women's Virtual 10K Mini Marathon - 2020


Congratulations to our brave women in the club who battled the strong winds and rain on Sunday, 4 October in Banna and ran their 10K for Vhi women's virtual mini marathon.🏃‍♀️💜 As the girls were preparing for this back in June, they decided to stick to the plan, trained together for this event and the results did not disappoint today..
Although conditions were tough, it did not stop these ladies from having the banter and laughs on the Banna 10K route followed by tea/coffee, Brownies and cake.☕🍰
Thanks also to fellow clubmates John O Sullivan who supported our girls with a lead car and David Kissane who kept the smiles flowing with his camera 📷 😊 Also To Ursula( coach) who ensured everyone was looked after and got back safely. Great evening amongst great friends was had
Congratulations to Ursula, Kirstie, Moira, Linda, Maggie, Aine, Irene and Cathy.

14 September 2020

In September Thoughts Turn to Cross Country

  In September Thoughts Turn to Cross Country Part 1 by David Kissane.

“The freedom of cross country is so primitive. It’s woman versus nature”, American athlete Lynn Jennings once said. As a nine-time national cross country champion and pioneer of women’s cross country, she should know.
So in September, an athlete’s thoughts turn to cross country. Who said that? Well, if no famous athletics writer said it, I did just now. Cross country is in the air and in the shortening evenings, in the browning leaves, the falling apples and in the outward flight of the swallows. And we were talking about it at training this week. If Covid guidelines and the hands of fortune are kind, cross country may even be in the fields and trails again in 2020.
Cross country did cross my mind again on Friday as Coach Ursula announced that the Saturday Fit4Life run would be in the Town Park in Listowel. That is where I was introduced to the sport in the late 1960s as a student in St Michael’s College nearby. It was called The Cows’ Lawn then and a dry sod on it was as rare as hen’s teeth. Tough hill on the east side which brings the best out of modern parkrunners. Race on Sunday said John Molyneaux and Johnny O’Flaherty, our energetic teachers and coaches in 1969. What do I have to do at the start of the race, I asked. Run like the wind, they replied in unison and hope for the best. I almost did and I did.
It could be a great autumn and winter for local cross country this year. With the cancellation of so many events, including the Dublin Marathon, road races, parkruns (and the European cross country championships that were to be held in Dublin in December), the possibility of local cross country participation (under guidelines) could be huge. Many distance runners are crying out for safe action, to express themselves and find solace in competition or participation. And what could be safer than cross country: open fields, quick turnover of activity, no hanging around, ample space for social distancing and a trusted formula already used in the national senior, junior and masters athletics championships over the past few weeks. But we await advice from the experts.
Cross country running was in existence since the dawn of life. When the first tetrapods crawled out of the crowded seas around Valentia and elsewhere over four hundred million years ago, cross country began. When life further evolved on land and had to continue to hunt for food, cross country flourished. No medals, no clubs. Just cross. Born to run to survive. Later on when folklore developed, runners were heroic figures. Caoilte Mac Rónáin was the runner of the Fianna, covering vast distances to deliver news. Further afield, Pheidippides unwittingly caused the invention of the marathon when he ran the twenty six miles to Athens, cross country, to deliver news of victory at the battle of Marathon. The fact that he is reputed to have dropped dead after delivering the news need not be considered. He obviously didn’t have the proper training done. Gordon Pirie considered that cross country running caught on in English public schools in the 1900s when fields became too wet for rugby. The alternative was cross country running or extra study. No problem making a choice there. And then in Ireland there was John Treacy and Sonia O’Sullivan and Maureen Harrington and Catherina McKiernan and more…
“Cross country is a mental sport and we’re all insane”, one athlete is reputed to have said once after competing over a particularly rough course. Indeed cross courses are rarely forgotten. Along with the Cows’ Lawn with its own Calvary, there was Scahies in Farranfore. Ten out of ten on the scale of tough. Nearly blocked the shower tray washing off mud in my early veteran years after a county championships there. Mud in the hair, mud on the eyebrows, mud in the ears and plastered on the legs and in places not normally reached by mud. Great feeling afterwards. Not during. Probably one of the best cross courses in Kerry. Then there was Moss O’Connell’s land in Moyvane on a county senior championships Sunday in 1979. Testing, unforgiving land and a great course laid out by Moss whose enthusiasm for athletics was infectious. Moyvane club loved cross country. There was a wooden plank, possibly bog-deal acting as a bridge over the troubled waters of a stream. You bounced up and down as you went across. Like crossing the River Styx on the way into the eternity of the otherworld of Greek mythology. I did Greek in St Michael’s. I consolidated my understanding of Greek mythology that now-distant day in Moyvane. On the second crossing of the Styx, my right spike shoe stuck in the bog-deal and the sole left the body of the shoe. That’s when I thought of the River Styx. The sole left the body. Into the otherness of running with only one spike. How do I know it was my right shoe? Because the raw, cold, vulnerable, other feeling that invaded my right unprotected sole, ably assisted by the kiss of briars, furze and nettles is a never-forgotten experience. Even Michael Mangan, who loves to run barefoot would surely find that course a challenge. Even Achilles was rendered vulnerable in his heel after his mother had dipped him in the Styx in his youth, thinking that it was good for him. Look at all the achilles problems since! By the way, Styx was also the name of a nymph, one of the three thousand daughters of Tethys and Oceanus, the goddess of the River Styx. The Greek all came back to me that day in Moyvane. Having three thousand daughters had made us wonder in Mr Given’s classics class in St Michael’s. Actually, Greek was interesting.
But that course in Moyvane yielded a great cross country day. Willie Counihan (St John’s AC) won his third senior title in a row, followed home by clubmate John Griffin and John Lenihan (An Ríocht AC). My God, what company we were in that day!
For more mud and games the Claremorris mushroom plant course was a truly memorable experience in the 1990s with rain before, during and after. It is especially memorable as it was the day that Niamh Kissane won an All Ireland U18 title for St Brendan’s AC. More recently, the Demesne in Killarney has been one of the centres of cross championships in Kerry and is testing when the going is soft, while the hilly Cahersiveen course is a treat on a sunny Sunday. Ask Paudie Dineen about that course. His eyes will light up. Last year the Gneeveguilla AC-organised county event outside Barraduff was memorable but my van had a job to negotiate the hill back to the gate after a most enjoyable day. No problem to you, says Paddy O’Donoghue. That’s not a hill. It’s a slight rise. Firies is always a popular course and is real cross territory and the juvenile relays are a sight to behold there. With the efficient Farranfore Maine Valley AC officials in charge, it’s a social occasion to savour also. Another type of course was the section of the Cúl Trá near Banna where Ardfert AC athletes loved to compete in the past. Grass on sand was heaven for the athletes who liked the fast pace in the 1960s and 1970s.
Racecourses were the scene of some memorable cross country events once. Killarney Racecourse was a good venue and was I was privileged to compete for the Kerry junior team there in a Munster championships in the mid 1970s. Kerry came third county but we got no medals for some reason. We were penalised for turning up although Pat Griffin did his best to negotiate with the officials. Listowel Racecourse was a popular venue while famous national championships were run in Mallow Racecourse. Dingle Racecourse with the salt air coming in from the Atlantic over the Blasket Islands saw Tom Shanahan of Moyvane at his best in Kerry on a Sunday afternoon in the 1990s. Galway Racecourse with a good testing rise on the west side was the scene of great performances at national level by Geraldine McCarthy of Listowel. And only last year the Munster championships attracted massive crowds of juveniles and intermediates to the well-appointed but very yielding Limerick racecourse.
Of course the world championship win by John Treacy in Limerick Racecourse on a wet and windy day in 1979 has identified race course cross country with folklore. I brought binoculars to watch the detail from the crowded stand. The glass steamed up in the manic euphoria as Treacy cut through the ankle-deep mud to win his back-to-back titles. The public address commentator warned the supporters near the finish to keep back or Treacy could be disqualified. Some chance of that as the Waterford man ambled into legend. Sonia O’Sullivan had much drier conditions as she doubled up on gold medals years later over two different distances in a warmer climate, while Catherina McKiernan collected her four world cross country silver medals and one European gold over a variety of courses.
I can recall a Munster cross country championships in Horse and Jockey on a Tipperary Sunday on a dry course when Fr Liam Kelleher, the dynamic priest and coach from Cork gathered his huge host of athletes around him before the competitions began and shared a prayer of positivity for the races ahead.
In Ardfert we are proud to have some great cross country runners over the years. Irish international Tom O’Riordan won five senior Irish cross country titles in the colours of Donore Harriers between 1963 and 1970 while Dan Murphy also represented his country and left his mark on the Munster and national storyboard. Further afield in Kerry, Maureen Harrington won two international bronze team medals for Irleand as well as a host of other honours and Shona Heaslip has already had a brilliant career and we will see more from Shona in the years ahead. John Lenihan, the Griffin brothers, Tom Shanahan, Sonny Fennell…One could go on. Read all about that cross country success in Con Dennehy’s upcoming book.
For some reason one particular cross country event from 2019 stands out in my mind. Two Mile Borris, a short distance outside Thurles in Tipperary was a place apart. The Munster juvenile and adult championships were being staged and as you approached the venue you were conscious that something special was happening. Club banners, coloured club tents, activity, crowds – big crowds – ample and well-marshalled parking fields, great public address system and that buzz of expectation that often emanates from outdoor concerts. Food vans, coffee and hot tea, flasks of soup and sandwiches, bottles of water, numbers being collected, course maps being scrutinised, spikes being checked, club tops being distributed. Coloured tape adding prestige to the route. An imaginative winding course laid out like a piece of ribbon on rolling hills with a commanding view of the vast countryside. Winter sun colouring the winter land. Calm as dreams. Magic moments. The splendour of cross country even before the races begin. Then the announcer asked for attention as the national anthem was played. A moment of stunning silence as young and old stopped and thought. Music spreading for miles across fertile lands where the kings of Munster roamed in ancient times. Four fields away cattle stopped munching the rich Golden Vale grass. An incredible bonding of spirits for a window of time never experienced before by most. A child in a carry-cot beside me lifted her head and opened her little blue eyes. Somewhere in her future she will have a vague memory of a happy elusive moment which enriched her life and the lives of those around her. She may even be a cross country runner on such a day.
And then an explosion of cross country as armies of athletes rush out in their different age categories from whistle to tape. All the counties of Munster in a rush of youth. Parents with tops and spare clothes under their arms full of excitement and expectation. Coaches roaring their heads off in support. A convergence on the sign that proclaims FINISH. Words of praise, comfort, support, sympathy. Numbers checked. Photographs taken for posterity. Niamh O’Mahony and her cousin Conor O’Mahony (An Ríocht AC) outstanding for Kerry. Ben O’Connor, Aoibhinn O’Driscoll and the Horgan brothers carrying the St Brendan’s AC colours with honour. Did we get a team prize? Can I have chips from the van? When is the next race?
There are a million cross country stories to tell. There is a Two Mile Borris experience in all cross country runners, parents, grandparents, coaches, supporters, officials. Cross country deserves a place in the philosophy of total athletics. In St Brendan’s AC we have the motto Athletics for All…That means all athletics, cross country, track and field, walks for all. It keeps more athletes interested. It provides a universal package. It has a holistic approach.
And why not have cross country walks!
Let’s hope cross country happens again soon. Let’s embrace the primitive freedom.

10 August 2020

The Quiet Man of Ardfert

 The Quiet Man of Ardfert

By David Kissane

Pat Maguire (left) with Patrick O'Riordan and Mikey O'Riordan in Leopardstown in 2002 at the international cross country championships.
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Many people in St Brendan’s AC may not be aware that the famous film The Quiet Man had its genesis just a mere thirty kilometres away from Ardfert. The story of the same name on which the John Ford film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara is based was written by Maurice Walsh, born near Lisselton Cross in 1879. His house is still there and a plaque reminds us that this prolific writer, who penned twenty novels, hailed from there. The story was inspired by a man called Paddy Bawn Enright who lived further up in Lisselton and worked on the Walsh farm. In the story, the character of Paddy Bawn Enright was called Shawn Kelvin, a young man returned from America, who was a quiet man, under middle size, with strong shoulders and deep-set blue eyes. He had been a boxer as an emigrant but was loathe to talk about that side of his career. He just wanted a quiet life.
Our paish here on the edge of the Atlantic has its own quiet man. And as well as being an athlete he was a boxer too. That man is Pat Maguire. He is the quiet man of Ardfert.
Patie as he is known to all his neighbours was born and raised in Ardfert. He became involved in athletics at a young age and joined St John’s AC Tralee, it being the nearest athletic club to Ardfert. Pat began running in 1967. That year began with one organisation for athletics in Kerry and ended with two. Broadly speaking, North Kerry (BLE) and South Kerry (NACA) were under different athletic bodies and would be until the new millennium when the two organisations happily became one at national level and in Kerry. Ardfert had the distinction of staging the first ever BLE event when the carnival committee hosted a road race from Tralee to Ardfert in 1967.
From round 1967 Pat and his neighbours Dan Murphy, Hugh Murphy, Patrick O’Riordan, Willie O’Riordan, Liam O’Riordan (brother of Tom), Pat Griffin, Tom McGrath and others were all competing with St John’s AC with success, especially in road and cross country events. Pat had one of his first ever cross country races in the 1967 Kerry junior cross country championships in Ballymacelligott. He was to be county junior cross country champion the next year showing his potential for the first time. In 1969 he moved on to senior level and was sixth in the senior cross country championships held in Castleisland. That race was won by Derry McCarthy (Farranfore AC) over a testing six-mile course while Pat’s near neighbours Pat Griffin and Dan Murphy were second and third, leading St John’s AC to the team title. In 1970 Pat was selected on the Kerry team for the national senior inter-county cross country championships in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Ardfert’s Tom O’Riordan (Donore Harriers) won the individual title over seven and a half miles while Dan Murphy was eight. In fact there were four Ardfert athletes on that Kerry team that came seventh with Patrick O’Riordan also being selected. Also on the team was Paddy O’Connor of London Irish who was to settle in Kilmoyley years later.
The skill of Pat Maguire was in evidence again in March 1970 in the county senior cross country in Killarney when he clinched the silver medal behind rising star Jerry Kiernan of Listowel and just ahead of team mate Patrick O’Riordan. Again the Ardfert men were key to a St John’s AC team victory. Open sports were a big feature of those summers and in 1970 alone there were open sports in Ballyhar, Milltown, Castleisland, Headley’s Bridge, Dingle, Knocknagoshel and the big one in St John’s in Tralee. The field evenings also featured athletic events and Ballyheigue had some top athletes on show that year. In fact Pat Maguire had plenty of inspiration locally as 1970 was an outstanding year for Ardfert athletes as Tom O’Riordan won the national 5000m title in Banteer for the fourth year in a row and Patrick O’Riordan won the Kerry intermediate cross country title in Tralee and led St John’s AC to yet another team victory. Dan Murphy from just down the Tralee Road from Pat was awarded a county sport star award that year, had come second in Spain in a junior international cross country and was on his way to the US on scholarship.
A major event was engineered in the winter of 1970 for Pat Maguire and his Ardfert colleagues. A new club, Ardfert AC was formed, inspired by the success of the local athletes with St John’s AC. They had put the pin to the periwinkle, as Maurice Walsh would say. Pat Maguire was the first registrar. Fr Shine was nominated first president while the chair was taken by Dan Murphy. Joe Duhig was elected secretary and treasurer while the PRO was John Hussey. Seán Spaight and Pat Lawlor who were to join later. The club was to have outstanding success in the years ahead.
The new Ardfert AC fulfilled its hosting duties straightaway and staged the Kerry senior cross country championships in the Cúl Trá (Sandy Lane) near Banna in 1971. Pat Maguire kept up his consistent cross country form by coming in fourth to ensure the bronze team medals for the new club. Pat O’Riordan had one of his most outstanding runs at senior level by clinching the silver medal behind future Olympian Jerry Kiernan in the seven and a half mile course. Incredibly there were 57 athletes in that championship race on the bouncy surface of the Cúl Trá.
Pat Maguire then helped to prepare the sportsfield in Ardfert as the club also staged the county novice track and field championships in May where Hugh Murphy, brother of Dan, was top athlete on the day. By then Dan Murphy had taken up a scholarship in Washington State University after a string of impressive victories. The Ardfert new generation girls also made a big impact on home soil with Martina McGrath, Máiréad Murphy, Bríd Kavanagh, Maura Kavanagh, Mary McCarthy and Marion Stack doing well in the juvenile races while in the boys’ events John Crowley, Frank Courtney, Tom Lawlor, Pat Courtney, Tim Crowley, Brendan McGrath, Anthony Carmody and Pat Kearney were in the medals. The inspiring of young athletes was continued by Pat and the club later with Margaret and Eileen Lawlor making the athletics podium at county championship level before going on to win numerous All Ireland titles with the Kerry ladies’ football team.
Pat and the new Ardfert AC club was involved in the cross country league which was popular that autumn. It was held over three legs in Tralee, Castleisland and Farranfore and Pat was a key athlete in those races and actually won the second leg of the series.
The following year, 1972 saw Pat and club secretary Seán Spaight lay out a fine course in the Cúl Trá for the county junior cross country championships and here Patrick O’Riordan showed the club’s progress by taking the title and leading the club to victory. Again Pat Maguire was selected on the Kerry team for the national senior intercounty cross country championships in January. Pat came sixth, one place behind Patrick O’Riordan in the Kerry senior cross country championships later that month in Ballymacelligott, helping Ardfert AC to the silver medals in a field of 38 runners. This was a great achievement for the new club and the spirit of Pat Maguire and his comrades. He was also active in preparing the sportsfield in Ardfert for the hosting of the Kerry senior championships in June. For the first time, women were comprehensively catered for with Patricia Deenihan starring (sister of Jimmy Deenihan who had huge success in athletics in those years before concentrating on football).
Success for Ardfert AC continued in 1973 when Pat Maguire again lined out for the county senior cross country in Farranfore where Patrick O’Riordan came a brilliant second to Derry McCarthy of Farranfore AC. Pat Maguire finished in ninth position. There is the iconic photo with the athletes bathing in a pool of water after the race and Pat with his distinctive hooped singlet is splashing Patrick O’Riordan with devilment. A year later he returned to top form and took the bronze medal in the 1974 county senior cross country in Scartaglin. He then capitalised on his fitness in a county road league on home ground in Ardfert when he came second to the consistent Derry McCarthy.
Among Pat’s achievements in his final years as an athlete were his selection once again on the Kerry team for the national intercounties cross country championships in Roscrea in 1975. Pat helped a strong Kerry team to an excellent fifth position. It was yet another existential statement by the Ardfert man. This was in a year that saw the county road championship being cancelled in April due to the fuel shortage but a host of open sports did go ahead in Kerry later that glorious summer.
That year of 1975 was memorable for Pat Maguire as he lined out at centre field for the Ardfert team that won the county senior hurling championship. That was one of the reasons why track and field during the summer was not an option for the Ardfert athletes as concentration on the sliotar was fundamental. Pat used the gifts for each season that were allocated to him and there is a season for everything.
The favourite training routes for Pat and his colleagues included the run from the entrance (now the prom) in Banna to the Black Rock and back. Sometimes over the amber-brown stones if the tide was in. Footloose and unfettered. This would normally be done in preparation for cross country in mid-winter under the pre-dawn sky with Kerry Head hardly visible…it wasn’t fashionable to be seen training in those days! Warm-ups were not an accepted custom…out of the car and hell for leather. There was something wonderful in the way Pat Maguire ran in those training sessions. The four mile circuit of Liscahane was a good road tester. The Banna-Barrow five miles with the stretch of soft Carrahane sand was a speciality. Some ancient impulse impelled me to run that course on a Sunday morning with Pat and his colleagues one time. The pace was hot and I couldn’t keep up and got lost and was very late for dinner! Times now endless and exotic on the recall.
One of Pat Maguire’s last cross country races was in the county senior championships of 1976 in Farranfore when he came home in ninth position. The race was won by Dan Murphy who had returned from the US. Later Ardfert AC won the Kerry ten mile road championship in Tralee, the club’s first championship win. New athletes like Willie O’Riordan continued the road and cross country culture for Ardfert as Pat Maguire focused on hurling from then on. The evening of his athletic life had come.
Pat Maguire had other attributes that entitled him to local fame. In the mid 1970s he was elected “Mayor of Ardfert” by the carnival committee for his fundraising work. The carnivals were a social phenomenon in those years and funded the local GAA clubs and organisations. Pat and his supporters roamed the North West Kerry area tirelessly over the summer selling the lines that were counted as votes. Victory was his and he became part of local folklore in his native place, just like Maurice Walsh’s Quiet Man.
A favourite pastime of Pat was pool. Pool competitions were all the rage in pubs in the 1970s and he discovered that his skill level in this sport was high. True to form he had a methodical approach to the pool table with that inner vision which allowed him to be calm and smooth in his play. His friend and colleague in Ardfert AC, Seán Spaight had a different style, more of a Hurricane Higgins. He could attack the table like a sídhe gaoithe and scatter balls in all directions, hoping they would find a hole somewhere. Not so with Pat Maguire…he won a major pool tournament in his favourite pub, Joe O’Sullivan’s to a packed house in the mid 1970s with grace and style. The win conferred huge local status on the Ardfert man and he quietly shrugged it off. Master of his task. A gentleman.
Trips to ploughing matches and All Irelands are well remembered by Pat. The Kerry win of 1997 was especially treasured as was the visit to the International Cross Country Championships in Dublin in the 1990s. His assessment of these events in Barry’s Hotel afterwards was a pleasure to experience as Pat has a keen eye for performance in all sports. There were nights of music and enjoyment in Ballyroe Hotel and at the Rose of Tralee. Cups of tea with his friend Brendan Griffin up the road. The quiet trips to Banna in his car and chats after mass in Ardfert. Stories read about Halberg and Viren.
And of course there is the key comparison to The Quiet Man. Pat Maguire was a boxer. His training premises was in his workplace up the road in Denis Griffin’s shed. A ladder was put up across the roof of the shed some twenty feet off the floor. Pat and his colleagues climbed up and hung on to the horizontal ladder rungs and hand-walked till they reached the other wall. Sometimes they attached weights to their legs to increase the input! Pat boxed in the county and provincial championships with success, making his an all-round sportsman.
As Pat Maguire relaxes these days, he can feel a sense of great pride in the memories of his sporting prowess in those idyllic days. He has a story to tell and the distant days of the 1970s are just a story away. The elation of the run lingers. His quiet personality is never at cross purposes with the world he has inhabited for seven decades. His contribution to athletics in Ardfert should not be forgotten. It was a vital link in the history of the village’s sporting history, between the landlord-organised sports of the nineteenth century and the modern St Brendan’s AC. Injury interrupted his chances of running as a master, but he is a constant supporter of the club which succeeded Ardfert AC. Local heroes should not be overlooked and the present generation of sportspeople can learn well from Pat’s achievements and from the achievements of his colleagues. The open sports, the road leagues, the cross country leagues, the founding of a club, the hosting of county events and the sowing of athletics on new ground. The milage and the memories. Part of Kerry and Ardfert athletics folklore.
To quote Maurice Walsh again, The play is over, friends and the curtain is down on the era that Pat Maguire will talk about when we can go to visit him again. But he will remind us Step on the stage if you like. Then we will see again the small smile of one, who has seen what he looked for, come to pass.

30 July 2020

Tom Kelly, A Personal Tribute

Tom Kelly (RIP), back on the right with his St Brendan's AC veteran's road running team in the 1990s
Front: David Kissane, Patrick O'Riordan and John Doran
Back: George McNamara, Tom Fitzmaurice, Danny Sinnott and Tom Kelly (RIP).
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Tom Kelly, A Personal Tribute
By David Kissane
“It was a fair year for primroses, a better one for hay and a woeful year for funerals” John B Keane said in his short story You’re On Next Sunday. This could describe 2020. With Covid added. There have been a fair few funerals in the Ardfert Kilmoyley parish this year. One of these was last Thursday.
The first time I met Tom Kelly was in McCowen’s in Tralee. “What can I do for you?” he asked from behind his counter, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m looking for a shovel” I answered. “A shovel is a dangerous thing!” he responded with a smile before handing over a shiny Spear and Jackson. My first ever shovel and my first encounter with a man who was to become a colleague and friend in St Brendan’s AC, Ardfert Kilmoyley Community Games and St Brendan’s Hurling Club. When I told him the shovel was to be the first step in building a house in Ardfert, he became more interested. Living in Tubrid at the time and married to an O’Riordan was enough to gain the trust of Tom. And that lasted until I walked beside his coffin with a huge crowd to accompany him to his final field of dreams last Thursday.
The Kelly family were well represented on the first St Brendan’s AC committee in 1987 and were central to the graft that is necessary to construct an athletic club. Tom was elected PRO at the inaugural meeting in The Tyne Bar (now Kate Browne’s). He didn’t bother doing the weekly notes for The Kerryman to be handed in to Tadhg Kennedy on a Sunday evening. “You’re a teacher, you can do the notes this week!” he told me in his persuasive way. I ended up doing them every week! But Tom fulfilled the PRO role in the wider sense. Massive networking skills, a way with people, a keen intuitive mind and a positive rogue when he knew it would benefit the club.
The club was fieldless when it was formed. A number of options were being tossed about for a short while.
Then Tom worked his magic and the Community Council had acquired the use of Walnut Grove Field very quickly. I accompanied him as secretary of the Community Council to meet Dick Spring in Tralee and before long St Brendan’s AC had the use of the field. We had a 300m grass track to be marked out with six flags (three for each bend) which the Kelly family provided, a whistle (which Tom used as a wand) and a dream…all you need to get started. Oh, and a hundred eager youngsters whom Tom shepherded at the twice-weekly training sessions. In that field ordinary evenings became extraordinary. The athletes loved his módh díreach! They became dizzy with ambition and self-value. If an athlete wasn’t using the full range of ability, Tom would immediately make it known! You knew where you stood and how you competed. It was clear and positive.
Field evenings were held in the new premises to raise funds. Runs, jumps, throws and walks along with a whole range of novelty events. Wellington throw, three-legged race, balloon race. Peggy Geary and Tom in charge. Electric evenings. The voices of children could be heard at Tubrid Cross. One time there was a long puck competition that Tom organised (his love of hurling was primal) and there was a queue the length of Station road to take part. Another time a soccer match between the juvenile athletes and the coaches…Tom suggested we come on the field with sticks and wellingtons and to pretend we were injured. John Cleary (a relation of the Kelly family who always seemed to know when there was an event about to happen) on the camera…his photo of the massive St Brendan’s AC group in Walnut Grove Field in 1989 is still a club treasure. Tom Kelly organised that.
When I last talked to Tom Kelly in the Palliative Care Unit in UHK he talked of evenings like that with warmth. He recalled the crowded buses we took to sports, championships and Macra Field Evenings. One evening on the way to Moyvane sports we stopped in Listowel for a few minutes to check why the bus floor was rubbing off the ground. It had 95 athletes on board. Plus parents and officials. “Drive a bit slower!” Tom told the driver.
Then there was his ability to multi-task. His hurling nous played a part in being involved in the introduction of rounders to Ardfert Kilmoyley Community Games in 1988. Any athlete who was interested was encouraged to try it out. A new set of expressions were heard in Walnut Grove Field. One good, one bad. You should have run. You have to run. Home base. First base. Denis Horgan sponsored a set of tops and county finals were won. Tom’s love of (correcting) referees was experienced to the full in the Munster championships one year when a number of dubious decisions were made. The ref was a better ref after his reffing that day! Tom Kelly could dart like a scythe through summer grass. I was to discover that he had a cultured temper when it came to getting a fair deal from officialdom no matter what sport was involved. It was part of his psyche and his success.
Resourcefulness was one of his many skills. He could source materials and athletes from diverse quarters. Many athletes joined the club through his connectivity and interpersonal brilliance. He introduced the famous Casey hurling brothers to our road runs in the dark of winter nights and had them competing in St Brendan’s AC singlets before long.
One of the most delightful occasions in Tom Kelly’s career occurred in Listowel in 1987. His love of drama inspired the setting up of a variety team for Community Games. “You will write a show for the young things!” he says to me. He was wonder-working again. Minds were put together. It happened to be the centenary of Australia or something and Mary Sinnott suggested an Australian theme. No Google or internet in those days so a big search for the words of Waltzing Matilda. God there were strange words in the chorus. Somebody found a cassette of the Clancy Brothers singing “For South Australia I am bourne” and bits and pieces. Susan Geary, Tara O’Callaghan, Derek McCarthy, Áine McKenna and a team of other athletes including Tom’s daughter Lorraine turned into stage performers. None of the coaches could sing or dance but that didn’t seem to matter. “We’re flying” Tom assured us. The county final was against Ballydonoghue who were coached by Micheál Carr and had won numerous national honours. People sympathised with us before the final. Thanks for coming anyway. Maybe next year. And the winners are: Ardfert Kilmoyley! Tom Kelly jumped a new high jump record that night! The celebrations in The Tyne Bar were unheralded. Diarmaid Lawlor gave the most magical speech. We were going to Mosney. We did. We didn’t win there but had a whale of a weekend with parents and supporters booking out every accommodation available.
Tom didn’t stop there with the drama. He encouraged this writer (!) to find a play suitable for Scór. We rehearsed every night on the stage in Ardfert Community Centre where showbands had performed in the 1960s in what was then the Hilton Ballroom. We weren’t quite sure what the theme of the play was but that doesn’t matter, Tom said. The big night came. There was a scene in the play where an old woman (Tom dressed up) was to take a hanky out of her bag at a poignant moment before she cried as part of the tragedy. I was to watch her doing this to build up the dramatic quality. But instead of a hanky, Tom pulled out an old knickers from the bag and held it up for the audience to see! I mumbled something that someone who had not chosen his destination would mumble. The judges said afterwards that the play was interesting, but that it lacked direction! Well, if you’re going to lose, lose with humour!
One of Tom’s favourite sayings was “Well, my point is…” and he had an opinion on all things that mattered. All good organisers have. When I told him that I was thinking of letting my name go forward for the role of Munster PRO in the 1990s, he looked me in the eye and said “We need you here!” Unstraight question. Straight answer.
When we both handed over our roles in St Brendan’s AC and Ardfert Kilmoyley Community Games to a younger generation after ten frenzied years, Tom persuaded me to take up the role of physical trainer with St Brendan’s senior hurlers. When I informed him that was a great honour but that I wasn’t from a hurling background, all he said was “You’ll be grand!” His advice (always quietly delivered at an opportune moment after training) was incise and loaded. I saw another aspect of the diamond that was Tom Kelly during the three years we shared with Na Breandánaigh: his reading of the game, “we are not that far away from the top”, his observation of referees, his incredible energy, extraordinary enthusiasm…
There are hosts of memories of Tom Kelly. Selling dance tickets at the far side of Kilmoyley on dark nights on roads I had never before travelled. Immediately recognised he was. “We have to make a few bob for the club”. Standing at church gate collections in all sorts of weather. Walking up Station Road with him in 1988 on a Sunday night after a few pints in Ardfert, listening to his dreams for the clubs he was in. Stopping at Tubrid Cross another twenty minutes under the stars to plan training for the week. Suggesting on a Sunday of the county athletics championships that I go back to Banna and get a few athletes who not turned up because they were vital for points. I did and they were. His praise and encouragement for all the athletes he nurtured. His admiration of athletes like Eamonn Ferris after an athlete performance at Clounalour Open Sports. His telling an athlete who had finished second last that her points made the difference to St Brendan’s that day. Telling an athlete in cross country that if he caught the runner ahead we would win the team race. The athlete did and Tom said in the next lap he would have to catch the next athlete ahead! His interaction with his friend Danny Sinnott over a few drinks. Tom was the first Ardfertman that Mary Sinnott met when she came to live in Liscahane. Mary Kelly with her native Gaeilge and her beautiful blas and her management of the project teams in national finals. Lorraine Kelly acting on stage and her beautiful walking style in races. Catriona Kelly’s loyal involvement in sport and Alan Kelly raising the cup as Kerry minor hurling captain. Damien Kelly in goals and in the forward line for the Brendan’s. Tom’s brothers Bill and John and sisters Mary and Peggy all working for the athletic club and Community Games. Stories tell other stories as long as they are told.
Somewhere on the eternal grass track Tom Kelly stands with his whistle poised to start another race. The evening sun shines and there are birds singing all round. Eternity itself is listening. There is expectation and joy. These are days without end. Cancer can take away all one’s physical abilities, but it cannot take away one’s soul.

20 July 2020

There are Places

There are Places By David Kissane

St Brendan's AC group with colleagues in Tullamore in the 1990s.
Image may contain: 16 people, including David Kissane, people standing, sky and outdoor
Saturday morning and off to Banna car park where I warm up for the weekly virtual St Brendan’s AC Fit4Life run. It’s a 5K today, the marrieds v the singles and the out-and-back route to Carrahane is selected. The oul legs are heavy after a sturdy 10x400m group session on Thursday last so this flat route should be easier.
Off I go with a blank canvas of the brain. But the persistence of memory takes over as the legs struggle straight away and the past begins to paint colours on the canvas. Places form a key soundtrack to the music of memory. For Ronnie Delaney there was only one place…first! For all mortal athletes there are places they like to run. They know where their feet feel alive and where their spirits are uplifted. Ger Carroll, Pádraig Regan and John Culloty are uplifted by the heights of the Gallán. For Coach Ursula Barrett it’s the 5K loop of Banna Beach and the Cúl Tráigh, especially where you turn onto the beach at Sandy Lane with a ragingly peaceful sun setting. For Cathy Flynn it’s the 5K Causeway loop or the Banna route. Anything that’s not hilly! Irene Butler likes the flat Banna run while David Butler likes Kerryhead where the scenery opens up as you stride on and offsets the hills which are the cost of enjoying the Ballyheigue region. “Sheer heaven” is how Paudie Dineen describes the run from Banna to Ballyheigue via the beach, refuelling with a creamy 99 and back again to Banna via the beach.
But as well as having our special training places, we also have special competition places and one of those is Tullamore Harriers track in Co Offaly. Sunshine and July bring back the annual trips there in the 1990s to generations of Kerry athletes and families. Around this time every July it was the ultimate national honour for St Brendan’s AC athletes to be involved. The occasion was encased in the place. It had a symmetry about it. Open sports over, county championships done, Munster championships savoured and qualification secured. A small but ambitious group Tullamore-bound. Training done in Station Road Field, Ardfert sportsfield and in the Cúl Tráigh. Friday night could mean a sleepover for a number of athletes in our house to ensure a quick departure at 6am on Saturday for the three-hour journey to Tullamore. Ceara Devane had to come from Annascaul early in the afternoon. It would be a long weekend for flyer who had joined the club at an early stage. Car always full as we head into the sunrise in the Rover 214 which knew the way to all athletic tracks. One or more cars would bring more athletes. By the time we got to Listowel, Natalie O’Connor would be asleep (on the floor of the rear of the car) and Paula McCarthy would be also in dreamland. Owen McCarthy would be stretching his legs on the dashboard on the passenger side, cool as a Ballinprior breeze. There was inevitably an orange sky as we passed Adare with its sleeping American tourists and onward to Nenagh where we would turn left as the endless sunny summer day beckoned. Sun was vital for a memorable national championships. Down memory lane all days in Tullamore were sunny. A lot of chat then in the car as lost sleep was retrieved. No mobile phones to interrupt the interpersonal intra-car involuntary intercommunications. Did I put my spikes into my spike bag? Oh, my mother packed them last night. Have you got your St Brendan’s AC singlets? There were always spare ones in the boot anyway. I have a sore ankle, David. We stop to stretch on the side of the road somewhere. Calf stretches in Offaly where calves as big as cows roamed the fields. How long more? This is going to be our day. It’s a bonus to get here. All the other athletes in the club will be waiting for news when we get back. Your performances will inspire them. They will be here next year. No pressure ladies and lads.
Certain journeys to Tullamore stand out. The morning we saw an injured baby rabbit on the side of the road about twenty miles from Tullamore. “Stop” says Owen McCarthy. I did. Out with Owen and talked to the poor rabbit for a few seconds. “We have to take him with us”, says Owen. I couldn’t say no to the top male sprinter in the club. He had already won the Celtic Games 200m in Scotland the year before. Baby rabbit put into the boot of the Rover with a spare St Brendan’s AC singlet around him and a pair of runners to stop him from rolling. Water in a sand shovel (anything could be found in the boot) and a piece of banana beside him. Did rabbits eat bananas? Off then to the track. Rabbit still alive when we got there. Would he survive the day? Let’s run for the rabbit, ladies and lads. If we do that, he will know. Medals won but the rabbit was in the great burrow in the sky at the end of the day.
On another occasion, Liam O’Riordan was driving. Took eyes of the signs which in the 1990s could be turned anyway. Left the map at home. Satnavs wouldn’t be invented for another twenty years. I think this is a shortcut. After some time there is grass growing on the middle of the road. Somebody said he saw a sign for the Aran Islands. Turn around! Stopped to ask a farmer saving hay laughed. He answered with a question. “Where are ye from?” A big discussion then about the Munster football final which was on later that day. Kerry V Clare. The farmer laughed…at the car-full of lost Kerry people or the chance Clare had of beating the Kingdom in a Munster football final. One of those possible reasons was not funny at the end of that Sunday afternoon. “How’s the hay in Kerry?” he called after us as we sped away after all the meaningful negotiations and news that Offaly would be back next year. Oh, and he did mention something about five-in-a row RIP tops that were still being sold in Tullamore!
Tullamore is enclosed by trees. An amphitheatre of athletics. Hot hot hot on a hot day. Pick a cool spot to establish base camp. At the west side beyond the finish line on the grass was ideal then. Check the programme. Listen for the announcements. Decide on a time to meet to warm up for the different events. Have a 7Up and a ham sandwich. Let the games begin.
This week was the 30th anniversary of Radio Kerry. Did my first live commentary on a cell-phone (as big as a sod of turf and as heavy as a brick) from the stand in Tullamore a few years later. Found out about it about an hour before the race from Séamus O’Mahony back in the studio in Tralee. Geraldine McCarthy (Listowel AC) was running in the 800m final and the people around me in the stand thought I was joking as juvenile athletics usually didn’t get live commentaries at the time (or now). May have tried to emulate Micheál Ó Hehir as one of our athletes held the programme up and pointed out the other competitors to me as they made their bid in a fast race. It was the longest 2 mins and 30 secs of my life and of course the gifted Geraldine played her part with a typically uplifting performance in the last 100m. Roared her home. Honour for the Listowel girl and a round of applause for the amateur broadcaster.
Kerry athletic clubs were always well represented in Tullamore with coaches, parents, officials and supporters sharing hope and dreams, chatting about which road they travelled up that morning and what they saw on the way. Damien McLoughlin was usually head time-keeper before electronics and was as good at timing as any machine. History and Con Dennehy will record the St Brendan’s AC athletes’ exploits in national championships in due course but Mark Griffin from England finds a place on the canvas of Tullamore with doubles in the 800m and 1500m with gifted performances. Mark’s father worked for Kerry Group in London and his aunt is Bridie Griffin from Kilmoyley. His cousin is Mike Griffin. Mark later represented GB in European competitions. An magic athlete who lit up a magic place. One of many.
Overnight on the Saturday was usually in bed and breakfasts around Tullamore. Ceara Devane didn’t always like the runny Sunday morning eggs for breakfast. In 1996 I booked accommodation for the athletes and two coaches but when we got to the house on Saturday evening after a good day of competition, the landlady could only accommodate one adult. I left Anne Crowley in charge and went to seek another b and b. No luck and I ended up in Roscrea quite a distance away before I secured a bed for the night. It also happened to be the occasion of the Olympic final in Atlanta of the men’s 100m which was due to be held at around 2am Sunday morning. A must-see. Good TV in the room (not always a given in the 1990s) and all I had to do was wait. The next thing I remember is waking to the news: “And after the drama of last night’s 100m final, Linford Christie explains how he was disqualified after two false starts”. It was 7 am and I had missed one of the most intense finals in Olympic history. Quick breakfast. Back to Tullamore where David Crowley had some super triple jumps. I didn’t miss that.
Road home Sunday evenings. Talk about who won what and who saw whom and who was the fella with the headband in the 200m. One evening we were stuck in traffic approaching Limerick and the road was full of Clare hurling supporters coming from the Munster final. I wound down the window to ask a crepe-hatted Bannerman who won. “We were beaten!” he said mournfully. “How much were you beaten by?” I asked. He looked at me earnestly with a Burren look in his eyes and repeated with emphasis “We were beaten”.
Stop at McDonalds in Limerick. Owen McCarthy loved the Big Mac. Ceara Devane loved curry sauce on her chips. Then westwards into a sun setting of another national championships. Another canvas coloured. Following generations of the club's athletes and mentors would enjoy Tullamore as well. Their storytellers will tell their stories. Stories painted for the future to be remembered after school, college, years-out, summer travel, relationships, changes of direction, rivers crossed, mountains climbed, life’s twists, life’s turns, dances remembered, dances forgot...
I finish my wobbly 5K in Banna carpark and turn on the radio. The Beatles are singing
“There are places I remember
All my life…”