Authors Posts by Shea Tomkins

Shea Tomkins


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    12 March 2015; Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh at the day's racing. Cheltenham Racing Festival 2015, Prestbury Park, Cheltenham, England. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

    With an eloquence bestowed on him by the literary gods, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh graced the Irish airwaves with his insightful and colourful GAA commentaries for six decades. He tells Seán Creedon that even though he has hung up the microphone, Gaelic games will always have a special place in his heart


    Down through the decades hundreds of young Kerry people have left their homes in the south-west for the bright lights of Dublin where they became teachers, gardaí, civil servants or maybe writers.

    Seventy-three years ago a young man left his home in west Kerry to train as a teacher, first at Coláiste Iosagáin in Ballyvourney, and later at St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra. He qualified as a national school teacher but also went on to become one of the country’s best loved GAA commentators.

    Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh was born in Dún Síon, a few miles east of the town of Dingle, in August 1930. He is famous for his commentaries ‘as Gaeilge’ and the one-liners that punctuated those commentaries, but he wasn’t born in the Gaeltacht area, which is west of Dingle.

    “Dún Síon would have been a ‘breac-Ghaeltacht’, a bilingual area. I was known as Moriarty until I enrolled as a boarder at Coláiste Íosagáin in Ballyvourney, a village between Killarney and Macroom on the Cork side of the county bounds,” he tells me as we meet during the build-up to the climax of another scintillating season of GAA Championships.

    Micheál’s father, Thady, was a farmer, the third generation of Moriartys to farm in Dún Síon since they moved west from Aunascaul. His mother Katie Quinn was from Coum Bowler, on the Conor Pass side of Dingle.

    He received his primary education in the Presentation Convent and the Monastery in Dingle. Micheál’s mother, Katie, died in 1944 at the age of forty-eight and the following year he was successful in an entrance examination for Coláiste Iosagáin, which at that time served as a preparatory college for teachers.

    Continue reading in the Ireland’s Own All-Ireland Finals Special Annual 2018

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      By Kieran Connolly

      Sam Maguire is buried in St. Mary’s Anglican church in Dunmanway, County Cork. That is because his parents were members of that church. He was the sixth of seven children, five boys and two girls born to John and Jane Maguire who owned a farm six and a half kilometres from Dunmanway. Despite the fact that there were seven children, there are no direct descendants.

      He began his education in the Model School in Dunmanway and continued in Master Madden’s school in Ardfield near Clonakilty, county Cork. Master Madden was a man of strong nationalist views and it is likely that he helped to convert Maguire to a similar prerspective.

      This school specialised in preparing pupils for the English civil service and post office examinations. Maguire went to work as a postal sorter in London in November 1897
      As with many young men who travel to work and live in other countries he immediately joined the G.A.A. in London.

      During the years in which he played London played the winners of the All Ireland in what was known as the “away final”. Counties were represented by the county club champions. Maguire’s club, Hibernians, represented London in several finals in the 1900s. They were never successful and in 1908 the G.A.A. decided to end the “away” final.

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        Jim Devereux recalls when Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison,
        50 years ago

        Folsom Prison Blues is one of the most iconic Johnny Cash songs and is forever associated with his live recording before an audience of inmates at Folsom Prison 50 years ago.

        Cash’s interest in Folsom Prison stretched back to 1953 when he watched the documentary ‘Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison’ which moved him to write the original song, which was released as his second single on Sun Records. The song was popular amongst prison inmates and encouraged Cash to perform live at several prisons, beginning with Huntsville State Prison in 1957.

        After considerable success in the early part of his career, by the mid-1960s Cash’s popularity was on the wane, partly because of his spiralling drug problems and consequent erratic behaviour.

        In 1967, Cash, invigorated by his burgeoning relationship with fellow country singer, June Carter, finally took steps to resolve his drug addiction and persuaded his record company, Columbia Records, to support his plan to record a live album at a prison. Cash’s producer, Bob Johnston, approached San Quentin State Prison and Folsom Prison, both located in California, and Folsom was the first to reply.

        Alongside Johnny Cash, the line-up for the concert included his future wife, June Carter, his backing band, the Tennessee Three, the Statler Brothers and rock ‘n’ roll legend, Carl Perkins.

        At the rehearsals on 12th January, Ronald Reagan, the then Governor of California, dropped in to wish the performers well.

        One of the songs that Cash, and his band were anxious to rehearse was Greystone Chapel which had been written by a Folsom Prison inmate, Glen Sherley. The song was given to Cash by his friend, the Reverend Floyd Gressett, who provided counselling to the prisoners.

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          By Eddie Ryan

          The GAA Hurling and Football Championships are now now in full swing, as the sweltering summer of 2018 has reached a sporting boiling point in more ways than one. While both championships are a jewel in the association’s crown, the ladies game of camogie is surely a hidden treasure of our national sports.

          Fast and furious, the ‘Sister’ game of hurling deserves to be judged on its own merits. It has all the attributes of hurling, yet it also has its own unique traits, which have thrilled fans of the game for well over a century now.

          The very first All-Ireland Camogie Final was held at the Galway Sportsgrounds in 1932, before an estimated attendance of 4,000 people. Fittingly, the home side, Galway, carried the day over Dublin, winning by a three-goal margin.

          The attendance at games has of course risen sharply, with well over 20,000 present in Croke Park for the 2016, and 2017, All-Ireland Finals. The record crowd for a camogie All-Ireland Final was a whopping 33,154 in 2007, when Wexford and Cork locked horns.

          With the birth of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884, the name ‘hurling’ was given to the men’s game. When an organisation for women was set up in 1904, the woman’s version of the game, was derived from the Irish name camógaíocht, and called ‘camogie’.

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            Dublin won the last of their All-Ireland Senior Hurling titles in 1938
            writes Noel Coogan


            Dublin are in joint fifth place on the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship roll of honour with six title triumphs but the last of them dates back 80 years, with first-time finalists Waterford narrowly defeated on September 4th, 1938.

            Before that, Dublin were crowned champions five times between 1889 and 1927 but they owed much for the successes to players from other counties working in the capital city. Remarkably, for the 1938 victory, the team included only one Dublin-native player.

            Thirteen teams, including defending champions Tipperary, took part in that year’s MacCarthy Cup competition with seven of them chasing Leinster honours. Four of Dublin’s five outings were in their own provincial championship.

            Dublin began their championship campaign with a 7-1 to 3-7 win over Wexford in Aughrim before outscoring Westmeath by 3-6 to 3-1 in a provincial semi-final clash at Tullamore.

            Then it took two hours of hurling against Kilkenny before Dublin were crowned Leinster champions for the 17th time. Some of the titles were easily gained in the early years of the GAA.

            In 1892, Dublin was the only team to enter the Leinster SHC; two years later they received a final walk-over from Kilkenny and in the 1908 competition Kilkenny refused to field in the decider fixed for Jones’s Road in March of the following year.

            There was a bizarre conclusion to the 1929 Leinster SHC. After Kilkenny defeated Dublin by 3-5 to 2-6 in the final at New Ross both teams were disqualified for being late on the field. Although no title was awarded, Kilkenny went on to play in the All-Ireland semi-final which they lost to Galway.

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              By Denis J. Hickey

              Although the event occurred over one hundred and thirty years ago at Exeter Prison, ‘the man they could not hang’ is still a source of animated discussion. Was the man in question, John Henry George Lee, actually guilty of the murder for which he had received the death sentence? Learned opinion would later cast doubts as to his guilt.

              On the morning of November 15th, 1884, horrified occupants of the hamlet of Babbacombe, Devon, learned of the violent death of a respected member of their community, Mrs Emma Anne Whitehead Keyse.

              A former Maid of Honour and friend of Queen Victoria, Mrs Keyse had lived in ‘The Glen’ along with servants, sisters Jane and Eliza Neck, cook Elizabeth Harris, and her half-brother, footman and handyman, John Lee. Lee had worked at ‘The Glen’ on leaving school until he left to join the navy in 1879. Discharged under an invalidity clause, he found employment in Torquay, but was imprisoned for theft from his employer.

              A deeply religious woman, Mrs Keyse took pity on the unemployed Lee following his prison release and employed him as a footman, paying him four shillings per week.
              Suspicion for the brutal murder soon fell upon Lee – mainly because of his earlier conviction. When the police arrived, Lee confided to a constable “I have lost my best friend.”

              The evidence was largely circumstantial; Lee was (apparently) the only male in the house at the time; he had a cut on his arm which he explained was due to him breaking a window to let out the smoke from the crude attempt to burn Mrs Keyse’s body. His blood-stained clothing, he explained, was from the wound to his arm.

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                By Joe Dunphy

                We often talk of the pursuit of pleasure. We say things like ‘Have a good day’, or ‘Let’s have a night on the town’. And most of us have complied with some or, maybe even, all of these suggestions, at one time or another. But I remember a great night out with a difference. Not a part of the night, but the entire night. And it wasn’t a night on the town and I was only nine!

                My night to remember was back in the 1940s when cot-fishing for salmon, a trade soon to end, was still permitted on the Nore. So my father, who always had two cots and a crew for fishing, decided to take me along to give me a lasting memory of the river at night. The cots were fishing boats, shaped like canoes and propelled with paddles.


                The crew met at sunset that lovely summer evening. My mother protested loudly about my involvement. She was nervous that anything unforeseen might happen to me, her only child. But Dad had decided to give me an awareness and appreciation of the river which was so much a part of his life.

                So, as dusk fell, armed with net and paddles, four seasoned fishermen and I headed to the cots at Polly’s Lane.

                Having left our moorings we were carried through the sweeping arch of the bridge as we headed for the deeper water downstream. Solitary trout anglers were still on the banks, dark figures whose presence was sometimes betrayed by the glowing tip of a cigarette. As a white mist spread along the river like a ghostly form, these anglers were hoping to lure the late trout whose occasional plops we could still hear.

                There were many sounds of nature all around us. I heard the high piercing call of water hens as they settled for the night in their little floating homes in the reeds and rushes. There was the occasional agitated quacking of a duck as some danger threatened her little brood but by degrees silence descended as if the whole world was asleep.

                We had become completely enveloped in a ghostly fog. But, rather than being the frightening experience that I had expected, this fog had a soothing effect. It was as if we had glided out of our known world and were now in some magical place where we were the only inhabitants.

                By now the river was all ours. The cots had moved apart to cover a wide expanse of river as the nets were played out. We drifted silently along with only little ripples breaking on a glasslike surface. The net men remained as silent as their gliding boats, a habit they had learned, to avoid disturbing the wary salmon.

                The only sounds were the muffled but well recognised instructions ‘fast’ and ‘pull’. ‘Fast’ indicated that the net had to be lifted ‘fast’ to avoid an obstacle deliberately placed in the river bed by some fishery owners.

                These well-known obstacles, I learned, were concrete blocks with protruding iron bars that would tangle the nets and damage them. They were put there to ‘discourage’ netting for salmon on their waters.

                The word ‘pull’ was used when one of the men holding the net felt a salmon hit the mesh and the net was hauled in as the boats came quickly together and the salmon was taken aboard and killed with a practised blow of a ‘smachtins’.

                This was a wooden truncheon used to kill the fish in case it would escape when it was untangled from the restraining net.

                The night was an exceptionally successful venture and, like the Bible story, there was ‘a miraculous draft of fishes.’ Little wonder that neither men nor child felt the night passing. It was, in fact, the early rays of the rising sun, dispersing the retreating fog, that told us it was time to haul in the net and head for home to a welcome breakfast.
                We had two sacks of silvery salmon, a goodly reward for each man for his night’s work. But, as we trudged the river bank through the wooded shade and finally come into the early morning sunshine of the open fields, my thought was of a wonderful night spent in a magical world.

                It was a night to be remembered – but never repeated- because the death knell was soon to sound for my father’s much-loved trade. I have never forgotten that night, a night of wonder and adventure, a night of observation and learning close to the marvels of nature.

                And at the end of it all there was a triumphant re-entry into the bright, beautiful world from which we had vanished, swallowed up in a fog, many hours earlier.

                Read memories of old Ireland every week in Ireland’s Own

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                  My late uncle, Peter Reid, always decorated a May Bush that grew, indeed flourished, on the hedgerow opposite his front gate. The bush stood, in the early summer sunshine, like a queen upon her throne, clothed in the little rags of hope and joy at the coming summer season.

                  At the beginning of the film ‘Maytime’ there is a wonderful scene of children singing as they danced around a great May Bush in the middle of their village. It is, I think, a mid-nineteenth century setting, but it had a kind of timelessness about it.

                  Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were the stars; but the great May Bush – I guess it could more properly be called a May Tree – otherwise I might confuse it with another cinematic icon of her times, namely Mae Busch, who starred in many Laurel and Hardy shorts (though ‘starred’ was hardly the operative word).

                  Asked about it, he would laugh and suggest it to be an exercise of the jocular variety. But I suspect that, behind it, ran a thread or two of seriousness; enough, at any rate, to sew together a rag with which to contend.

                  “I see,” said Johnny Begley, “that Dan still refuses to end a sentence ​in a preposition​.” Whereupon Little Jimmy demanded to know what kind of a sentence that might be, and how long was it, and was that the long and the short of it?
                  As the singer Johnny Nash said in his chart-hit reggae song of the 1960’s or 1970’s, there are more questions than answers, and this is particularly true when in the enthralling company of Mr. James Murphy, who was really only ‘Little’ when placed in direct comparison with the lanky proportions of the Irascible One.

                  Once, in Dolly’s Select Lounge, a child was heard quite clearly asking its mother why was Johnny Cash singing reggae songs and not country songs anymore. It took that good lady quite a long time to explain the difference between Cash and Nash (both of which were Irish names, by the way: there was the late lamented Carrick-on-Suir photographer of the early 20th century, who tragically lost his life when his premises-cum-residence went up in flames one December night; and then there was the boxer Charlie Nash who had, if memory serves, a distinguished amateur career, but didn’t enjoy a very successful foray into the professional ranks).

                  I’ve somehow managed to leave my uncle’s May Tree and wander into the realm of amateur and professional boxing, via the tragedy of a late-19th century-early 20th century photographer. That’s what happens, I guess, when ideas and memories start to bounce off of each other.

                  What my father used to call the ‘association of ideas’; something every writer and journalist understood; and every reader, too, perhaps, for my father pursued none of the former occupations, but he did read a lot.

                  There were books everywhere in our house when I was growing up. Detective novels, poetry, biography, books about great mountains such as ‘Kanchenjunga’ one of the three great peaks of the Himalayas; and Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain (a long-extinct volcano). Western and Detective novels. Old magazine such as ‘The Illustrated London News’ with black and white images of The Blitz. Smoke and ruins. Broken families.

                  I have a special edition of Coventry Cathedral as a smoking ruin; then as the restored great House of Worship after the war. And a copy of the Service of Consecration, in almost pristine condition, which I picked up some years back in a bric a brac store run by a chap named Brian Furlong.

                  I got locked in that very store one evening while ‘lost’ in a box of books down between two settees, and somehow didn’t hear the noisy rolling of the corrugated metal door along two dozen feet of metal tracks, nor its slamming shut – enough to have shaken rag and blossom from Uncle Peter’s May Tree. But that’s another story.

                  Read Dan Conway every week in Ireland’s Own

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                    Opening of the Pilgrimage season at Our Lady's Island on Tuesday afternoon.

                    Our Lady’s Island has been a place of pilgrimage for at least a thousand years. In the 6th century, St Abban is believed to have chosen Our Lady’s Island as the location for his monastery, and sometime in the following century it became a place of pilgrimage. It is by far the oldest – and second only to Knock in Co. Mayo – as the most significant Marian shrine in Ireland. Between mid-August and September over fifty thousand people visit the shrine. Pilgrims walk around the island reciting the rosary. The pilgrimage starts on the 15th of August and ends on the 8th of September with Masses twice daily at 3pm and 8pm, writes Paula Redmond.


                    Our Lady’s Island (Irish: Oileán Mhuire) is a small island in Co. Wexford, located a few miles south of Wexford town. The island is located within Lady’s Island Lake (Irish: Loch Tóchair) and is connected to the mainland by a causeway (tóchar) which gives the lake its Irish name. It is separated from the sea by a sand bar. There are some other islands and islets in the lake also.

                    It is one of the foremost pilgrimage sites in Ireland. Since the time of St. Patrick making pilgrimage to various shrines, both in Ireland and abroad, became common practice, and these journeys were made by the poor and the wealthy alike.

                    It is believed that St. Abbán founded the first ecclesiastical institution on Our Lady’s Island in the sixth century. One of the most famous monasteries founded by the saint was “Fionn-magh” or the “Bright Plain”. Scholars are divided as to where this site was located. However, some local historians believe that the monastery was situated on Our Lady’s Island and that it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, thus giving the island its name. One of the reasons for this theory is that when Our Lady’s Island lake is seen on a bright summers day it resembles a bright plain.

                    There are no records of pilgrimages to the island prior to the Norman invasion. However a tradition existed in the general area (known as the Barony of Forth) since early Christian times. Edmund Hore was a local and editor of the Wexford Independent in the 1800s. He stated that “peasants would not have flocked to a site that wasn’t of importance before Norman invasion”.

                    In addition, the area seems to have held importance in pre-christian times when it was used during the August festival of Lughnasa. Pagan worship sites in the locality included two sun veneration sites at nearby Ballytrent and Carnsore Point. Ballytrent was renowned for its ráth or fort, which was the most extensive of its kind in Western Europe.

                    In a 1903 publication of Irish place names the island is referred to as “Cluain-na-mBan”, meaning the “meadow of the women”. This is possibly because pagan druidesses were based in this area. Following the introduction of christianity in Ireland many pagan sites were christianised.

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