Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, that wily boy who is the subject at all times of mega eulogies and sometimes weary of the endless and infinite adulation. Gold and silver for the Barrystown children, as I always say. I will put the text of my lecture on Thursday night at the outset of this blog.  On the night I left out small bits of the text as the lecture was going on so long in order to cover two subjects. It was appalling weather and I assumed on Thursday that the lecture would be postponed and was surprised that a crowd turned up. The problem of postponing an event is the hassle of organising it again and notifying all concerned. The rest of my blog is a bit short as with no electricity for two days it was difficult to get anything written up. The text of my lecture is:–

“At the Wexford Quarter Sessions in June 1884, Major Boyse obtained a decree to evict against John Barry for the lands of Upper Bannow at the rent of £89 10 shillings and the amount due including arrears was £280, 5 shillings. A landlord could not evict by his own unilateral action; he had to prove to the courts that the tenant had breached the terms of his lease. Boyse technically evicted Barry but allowed him temporarily to hold the premises and land as caretaker. Mr Barry signed such an agreement on the 13th of April 1885. On the basis of this agreement J. T. Edwards, the agent to the Boyse estate, wrote to Barry on October 17th 1885 that he was now required to give up possession and that he would attend on Thursday the 29th of October at half-past twelve o’clock “to receive possession of same.” The Carrig-on-Bannow branch of the Land League, after this notice was read to it at its October meeting, passed a resolution calling on members of this Branch and neighbouring Branches plus all sympathisers with Mr Barry to attend at Bannow on same day to protest. John Barry had ten sons and about thirty-eight acres, possibly Irish measure, amounting to about 50 acres in modern statute measure.

On the eve of the proposed eviction The People asserted that Mr Barry “will be driven out upon the cold bleak world under the pretext, we believe, of non-payment of rent; the fact being that rent which the poor man was required to pay was not only an oppressive but an impossible rack-rent.” The editorial suggested that most of the Boyse estate was acquired by the appropriation of commonage; even if such applied to the 120 acres (Irish measure) of the Moor of Bannow it was otherwise untrue.

On the Thursday a large crowd came from the surrounding parishes “and the Fife and Drum Band from Ballymitty dressed in their handsome uniforms attended and performed some spirited airs.” A body of the Constabulary, carrying their rifles, were seen strolling towards the scene” but they did not appear there. While there were groaning and expressions of disapprobation as Major Boyse and his agent Mr Edwards entered the farmyard the polemics of the People emphasised the peaceful and lawful nature of the protest: no higher compliment could be paid to the people of Bannow than to state that Major Boyse and Mr Edwards passed through the crowds “in more perfect safety from injury than if he were surrounded by glittering bayonets or the drawn sabres of military and police.”

John Barry refused to give possession and after Mr Wade of Bannow referred to an offer of a deal made by him, a voice in the crowd shouted to the Major to give fair play to which—in a sign of his anguish and uncertainty over the moral enormity of eviction—Major Boyse said he would and if any man there had anything to say to come forward.

There followed a long and spirited debate between the Major and certain spokesmen in the crowd: Mr Edward Walsh, the editor of the People; Mr Wade; Mr Mayler of Harriestown, the opulent gentry farmer and Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh. There was a comical part when Mr Walsh implied that Boyse needed tenants to work his vast estate and that any tenant succeeding Barry could not pay the exorbitant rent and Major Boyse riposted:–

“That is a matter of practical experience. How do you know that I might be a better farmer than he and farm it myself?

Mr Edward Walsh—I don’t believe you will. We have many examples to show that landlords have not proved successful farmers.

Major Boyse—I wish I could make as much money as some of them.”

The debate in its totality was published in the People newspaper. Towards the end Major Boyse seemed to imply that if he could get an assurance on the vast arrears he might be amenable to negotiation; he left them to discuss the matter among themselves and bade them good morning.

After Major Boyse and his agent departed the people proceeded to a field of Mr Barry’s where a monster meeting was held at which Fr Thomas Meehan C.C., Ballymitty, presided. Fr Patrick Sheridan the Parish Priest of Carrig-on-Bannow was also present. Fr Meehan said that he was only accidentally over in Bannow when he heard that possession of his home was about being demanded from Mr Barry by the landlord. He defined the duty of the priest in radical and absolute terms:–“It is the duty of a priest and more particularly of an Irish priest to stand between the tyrant and his victim, to stand between the persecutor and the poor and oppressed and above all to occupy a front position in the struggle between the people and landlordism. We all know that the misery and all the wretchedness of this country was caused by tyrannical landlordism.

Voices—Down with landlordism.”

I respectfully suggest that Fr Meehan’s definition of a priest’s duty was strictly in the present tense: in pre-Famine Ireland the Catholic clergy sought to coalesce with the liberal landlords and progressive Protestants to win valuable concessions for the Catholic community. Fr Edward Murphy (the Father Martin of Mrs Hall’s fiction), the early nineteenth century Parish Priest of Carrig-on-Bannow, would have gone every Sunday to George Carr’s of Graigue to dine. In the closing decades of the nineteenth century men in Ireland were influenced by the tides of democracy, socialism and revolution. They were not as before. Fr Meehan referred to the downturn in the agricultural economy that had exacerbated the land agitation:

“Look at low prices of everything. There is no price now for anything which the farmer can sell. Foreign competition has brought the farmer almost face to face with starvation. There is no price for cattle and the trade of the country is gone to a certain extent.” The importation of cheap food from the new world of the Americas had, indeed, been calamitous for Irish agriculture: the dilemma for landlords was that the costs of maintaining their mansions, paying their workers and repaying loans on their estates remained as onerous as before and defaulting tenants left them with less resources to meet their commitments.

Fr Meehan told the crowd that—“Mr Parnell—loud cheers—and his noble party are prepared to make every sacrifice for the people of Ireland and the people must be prepared to make sacrifices for Parnell and the Irish Party (cheers).” He did not specify the nature of the sacrifice required but I suspect that Fr Meehan was enjoining self-restraint on them and directing them not to blight the great project of winning Home Rule by impetuous resort to violence; towards the end of his speech he became more specific:

“Go to your homes quietely and calmly like men who have done their duty to their countrymen. I trust there will be no disturbance or violence of any kind. Remember the words of Parnell—cheers—moderation, self-restraint, self-control—and if you do, you are striking one link from our fetters. Let there be no drinking above all and let there be no demonstrations or exhibitions which could in any way be wrongfully interpreted by the enemy, or that would give them a handle to defame our cause.”

Fr Meehan was conscious that Parnell was seeking the support of moderate British people for Home Rule for Ireland and images of drunken, brawling and irrational Irishmen would antagonise those people. He informed the meeting that “he understood from his friends around him that some settlement was about being effected between Major Boyse and Mr Barry (applause).”

There was a big crowd at the meeting but the conundrum—to latter day observers, anyway—was that the men and women of Bannow had not turned out in great numbers! Mr W. H. Lett of Balloughton, a Protestant supporter of the Land League, pointedly referred to that:

“I will not say men of Bannow, as our Rev. Chairman has said, because as I know Bannow well, I see that it is but poorly represented here today. The men who should have been here today are in their potato fields (groans). I see people from far away districts but some of the Bannow men have not come forward as they ought.”

Mr J. E. Mayler, the rich gentry farmer from Harriestown, asserted that he did not expect to see such a large crowd there but “I did expect to see a great many present from Bannow who are not here….”He reiterated Fr Meehan’s thesis about foreign competition—the whole country was deluged with imported corn, he said.

The structural problem with the Carrig-on-Bannow branch of the Land League was that the farmers in Bannow had a long tradition of amity with the Boyses and they were loath to align themselves with the land agitation. Their standard of living was always better than those of the tenants of other landlords. Most of the land in the Ballymitty area was held from the Protestant bishop of Ferns and leased to avaricious middlemen and their agents. Jonas King of Barriestown was an instable and hyper personality who was totally unable to accept the sea changes taking place in popular mentalities in the Ireland of the latter decades of the nineteenth century. In the closing months of his life he drew his gun on a Land Leaguer in Taghmon. Leigh of Rosegarland, “the leveller Leigh” as the People dubbed him, was an exacting landlord and prone to attempt evictions.

The impression is that Major Boyse was more bluster than substance and the attempted eviction at Mr Barry’s had not the grim gusto about it that marked the evictions on the Brook Estate in Coolgreaney in 1887. Fr Meehan rightly thought on those lines: “We all must congratulate ourselves upon not having to witness such a scene as the eviction of Mr Barry. It was a manly act on the part of Major Boyse to come here to-day for it showed that he had, at least, a wish for settlement.”

In his opening remarks to the meeting the editor of the Wexford People Mr Edward Walsh made an obvious observation about the power of the Land League in that changing era:–

“Although we are here today in a very obscure part of the county of Wexford, still I can assure you and I can assure Mr Boyse that our proceedings shall be heard far away beyond the borders of this county—far away beyond Ireland. Our meeting shall not be an obscure one; the doings of this day will be talked as familiarly by the clubs in London as by the people of Bannow (cheers). [A voice—Hurrah for the eagle wings of the Press].” The famous Land League priest Canon Tom Doyle once spoke of how in, circa, 1860 a number of tenants in the Campile area were evicted in mid-winter and no word of it was reported anywhere—he was a Curate there. The media enabled the Land League to portray itself as a great pioneering democratic and social movement across the British Isles. The Wexford People, itself, recorded every detail of the land agitation and its files are a good source to check in for one’s family tree. By 1880 the newspapers were powerful and voluminous. Mr Walsh (and this trait is observable in the speeches of Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh of Knocktarton, also) had a visceral and atavistic hatred of Landlords:–

“You must be aware that there is a question for solution before the English people today and that question will be answered by the English people if the Irish people never raised a finger in advancing it. The question is whether the institution known as landlordism (groans) should be abolished—utterly abolished with or without compensation. The question is whether landlordism should be erased from the face of the earth by a scratch of the pen—by the same mode of confiscation by which it was created?”

These comments of Mr Walsh were in my opinion unrealistic and intemperate to the point of derailing the strategy of Mr Parnell. The Landlords would have to be compensated—such was the common practice of British law. And the fundamental strategy of the Land League was for Mr Parnell to use his alliance with the Liberals and Mr Gladstone—who needed the support of the Irish members to create a governing majority—to pressurise Mr Gladstone and his Liberal government to solve the Irish land question. Mr Gladstone, by his Liberal ideology, was well disposed to the objectives of the Land League and, in a memorable phrase, denounced, eviction as death. Mr Gladstone had already given proof of his goodwill by enacting his first Land Act—admittedly minimalist in nature— and Mr Walsh, as Chairman of the presenting committee, at the presentation of a testimonial to Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh at the Land League Cottage at Ballymitty on April 1st 1883 implicitly acknowledged the intricate connection of the Land League objectives with British politics:–

“According to Mr Gladstone’s admirers and eulogists, he has immortalised himself by passing the Land Act, but gratitude should induce him to acknowledge at least the assistance which he received from Mr Davitt, Mr Parnell and the now proscribed Land League.” In the now familiar whirl of Party politics, the Conservatives followed the lead of the Liberals and in 1903 Mr Wyndham enacted legislation that arranged for the Land Commission to purchase the big estates and to give the tenants fee simple ownership of their tenancies, on the basis of the payment of annuities.

Mr Nicholas Moore the Secretary of the Bannow Branch of the Land League in a letter published in The People on September 3rd 1884 wrote:–

“It is one of the fundamental rules of the [Land] League to abolish all sectarian differences.”

The absolute confidence of the both the ordinary Land League activists and the Catholic clergy in Parnell as leader of the Irish people would seem to signal that they felt that Protestants could play a prominent role in their new Ireland. Furthermore the Land League had no objection to Protestant tenants becoming owners of their tenancies or farms. The converse argument would be that the local branches were very much gatherings of Catholics, and the local Catholic clergy were de facto members of each branch committee. The polemics of the Land League were more or less uniform from branch to branch and speaker to speaker as if the higher echelons sent out instructions to be replicated across the movement. At the meeting at John Barry’s, Mr Walsh of the People spoke of the indefeasible right of Mr Barry “to live upon fair terms in the old home of his fathers (cheers)” Peter Whelan of Loughnageer put this thinking in bolder arithmetical terms:–“Himself and his ancestors were in that farm for 600 years, long before the Leighs came to the country.” The message was sharp: the landlord class were not really of Ireland. A member of the Ladies Land League wrote in laudation of Fr Davey O’Hanlon-Walsh:–

“He has been labouring most assiduously and unceasingly to root the Irish people into the soil, created for them by Almighty God that they might till and cultivate it and live righteously and honourably and not as an enslaved people.” The Land League ideology asserted a mystical continuum between the farming people and the ancient Gaelic soul of Ireland which was deemed to be authentically Catholic. The speakers at the meetings anticipated an independent Ireland, most likely the form of Home Rule sought by Parnell but at the subconscious level, at least, these yearnings invited a more separatist Ireland, more on the lines of Pearse’s Easter Rebellion. The O’Hanlon-Walsh family had lost immeasurably in their eviction; their prosperity, even their home, was left in ruins but Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh spoke when they made a presentation to him at the Land League Cottage at Ballymitty of his pride in making this sacrifice. His words resonated with the centrality of sacrifice in his Catholic faith:–

“I have always felt …it a sacred duty to assist and forward our country’s cause in any way I can and I have never expected any reward other than the consciousness that I have endeavoured to act man’s part. I cannot conceive how anyone can look upon the squalor, misery, poverty and wretchedness that pervade the land and not try as far as he is able, to ameliorate them. This can only be done by the abolition of landlordism and the establishment of a peasant proprietary—by making the people owners of the soil which God created for them and their support and not as a provision for laziness and of furnishing the means of indulgence in indolence for their hereditary enemies….There is nothing in my life which I regard with greater pride than the fact that I have spent a few month’s in a suspect’s cell for the sake of Ireland and the people of Ireland. It was, indeed, hard to leave the old homestead in which my fathers had lived and died and in which I, also, hoped to live and die but I felt that the advancement of the popular interest required that I should go out and for this no sacrifice is too great.”

The above raises a host of historical issues: on that night Mr Edward Walsh of the People recalled the first meeting of the Land League at Westport, Co. Mayo, in April 1879 when Michael Davitt demanded “The Land for the People”. Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh’s vision of the tenant farmers becoming owners in fee simple of their lands accorded with the wishes of the ordinary members of the Land League generally. Michael Davitt, however, was of the revolutionary disposition and anticipated that the land of Ireland should be transferred to the entirety of the people of Ireland; the obvious legal device to do this would be nationalisation of the land that is state ownership of the land. The British administrators favoured the objective of the tenants becoming owners of their farms. I believe that this was the best solution but the deficiency in it was that the sub-tenants and farm labourers did not do so well—or so the left-wing historians insist. Charles Stuart Parnell, the other founding father of the Land League, insisted on the peasant proprietorship that Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh alluded to.

The Land League committed itself to a pacifist approach and conversely the avoidance of illegal and violent acts although disposed to stretch the relevant laws to nigh breaking point. In Davitt’s own mind there were ambiguities on this vital issue: at the meeting after the brutal eviction of helpless people on the Brooke estate in Coolgreaney in 1887 Davitt asserted that they should have fought the evictions forcibly and sarcastically remarked that the men of Wexford were only good for talking about 1798 but no good at fighting. His remarks were tactless and grotesque and provoked a sharp reaction from the other speakers there. Davit under this pressure seemed to back track and amend what he said.

Ever after 1798 a series of prominent Irish leaders had cautioned against violence and rebellion on the most practical grounds: as Tom Boyse once sarcastically remarked a rebellion would only profit those paid to put it down. Dan O’Connell felt likewise. The emphasis in planning national campaigns switched to matters of self-discipline, of civil disobedience and individual and collective sacrifice. I think that is why Pearse before Easter 1916 was so fixated on martyrdom as a counterweight to the overwhelming military superiority of the British.

Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh recalled that he was one of the so called suspects sent to gaol as a result of Balfour’s coercive laws. The Land league polemics insisted that these men had not acted illegally but this may strain credulity at little bit too much.

A core strategy of the Land League agitation was that they ostracized those who took evicted lands or co-operated with evicting landlords. The principle of solidarity, then resorted to by trade unions, was essential to the land agitation: all farmers and labourers had to restrain their urge to take evicted lands either by long term lease or by con-acre. It was deeply ingrained in the psyche of the rural Irish people that one grabbed land as it became available and all is fair in war, in love and in regard to land.

There was a branch of the Land League in every parish and it met once every month and the local band played Irish airs before the commencement of the meeting. A report of each meeting was carried in the People newspaper with a cornucopia of fine detail; of use not only to research on the land issue but also of relevance to the study of family history. It is clear from the reports of the Carrig-on-Bannow branch that, like countless other branches, they were fighting a constant and serious battle with men who took evicted farms or, at least, grazed their livestock on evicted lands or worked as blacksmiths, labourers, builders and car men for both the evicting landlords and occupants of evicted farms. Some of them made disingenuous claims: a car man in Wexford town who drove Constabulary men to the eviction of the Widow O’Hanlon-Walsh wrote in the People that the police did not tell him where they were going and if he had known he would have cut off the horses’ legs sooner than go. Fr Davey O’Hanlon-Walsh rejected this story most contemptuously.

The names of those who were on evicted land or associating with men on evicted lands or serving them in anyway or aiding the evicting landlord were published as part of the report of each meeting on the Land League branches. Some remained obstinate but a large proportion attended the next meeting of the branch, apologised for their behaviour and promised to amend their ways. To be so named had most negative consequences: shops might not serve such persons and blacksmiths and builders, artisans and labourers would not work for them but some remained defiant and found means around the boycott. I suspect that there was a hidden pressure on such men to go before the local branch of the Land League and repent their ways: in other words occasional hints of intimidation and the men who went to gaol under Balfour’s Coercion Act probably did strongly persuade farmers to maintain solidarity with the evicted ones. The suspects– and Nicholas O’Hanlon-Walsh was one—were free to receive numerous visitors in prison, they played handball and bet on various things; some months later they returned to huge celebrations in their localities with bonfires blazing. If you became one of Balfour’s suspects then you were made for life—your trajectory was henceforth stellar.

The Land League at local level was contending with quotidian history: up to 1850 at least it was accepted that the axis of tenant and landlord was in the providential plan, that all authority on earth reflected Heavenly majesty. The Catholic clergy and the moderate, Liberal landlords were in a de facto coalition of interests and in 1838 the Catholic Bishop of Ferns spoke of Sam Boyse of Bannow as the lord of the soil. Fr Peter Corish P. P., Carrig-on-Bannow, revered Tom Boyse. It was routine for other men to take lands from which tenants had been evicted: in the 1830s the White Feet visited horrendous retribution on some of these men and their families but the overwhelming majority of the Catholic community were revolted by their wild justice of revenge.

After 1860 the Catholic clergy took a more radical approach on the land issue and swung in favour of national independence via Home Rule. Their influence on the Land League was to usually restrain activity outside the law and common decency: Fr John Browne of the Shelburne branch in his attack on the breakaway Tintern branch wrote rhetorically in January 1882:

“If it be honourable in the League to send out its emissaries at night, or perhaps on the holy Sabbath morning, to stick up infamous placards and threatening notices, surmounted by death’s heads and coffins—and that ladies (?) should be found in it—oh shame—I am not of the League.” The courts heard cases of intimidation—in July 1881 a man in Littlegraigue prosecuted at Duncormack Petty Sessions two named men seeking by intimidation to prevent him “from doing an act which he had a legal right to do—namely taking the grass of the Quitchery farm.” These men were struggling desperately to eke out a livelihood for themselves and their families and the temptation to take evicted land must have been nigh compulsive—with precedents for doing so. The Land League was not only a struggle against the landlords; it was, also, a conflict between those who sought solidarity with the evicted and those who wanted to take such evicted lands. In that sense the Land League was battling with the agrarian history of their society.

The land leaguers were touched by the new ideology of socialism or at least of social reform. Legislation enacted at this time provided for the construction of labourers’ cottages by the Poor Law Unions; by 1880 the Land League in the Co. Wexford had elected majorities on the four Board of Guardians of the Poor Law Unions of Wexford, New Ross, Enniscorthy and Gorey. These Unions were also responsible for the dispensary system of health care, the Workhouses and outdoor relief. At its July meeting the Carrig-on-Bannow Branch passed this resolution:–

“That we think that in all cases possible the labourers’ cottages should be built and let to the labourers at a rent they are able to pay and let the remainder go on the rates, as no ratepayer would grudge paying a little to assist the labourers to obtain any benefit which his hard lot would entitle him to…” There was an impatient sense of breaking shackles, to use a revolutionary analogy, as this extract from a letter written by Nicholas Moore secretary of the Carrig-on-Bannow Branch on July 31st 1883 indicates:

“But now I address myself once again to the rising youth, you have learned to stand up for your plundered and confiscated rights, don’t wait to listen to your old grandfathers, whose very souls the rust of slavery has corroded.”

At its meeting in November 1884 the Carrig-on-Bannow branch gave its version of the controversy over the hotel at Wellingtonbridge:-

“We are aware that Michael Murphy started on a bare field and raised up a property for Mr Leigh, who flung out Mr Murphy and his family out on the roadside, confiscated their industry and handed it over to another.” In April 1885 the Branch spoke of the Murphys “spending hundreds of pounds to construct the premises.” Michael Murphy was not long for this world and his widow used to sit on the bridge taking down the names of those who entered the hotel and public house. These names were published in the People newspaper each month and the Carrig-on-Bannow Branch accused the men of Clonmines as being the chief offenders in giving custom to the evicted hotel and public house. There was a clear resonance of the sea weed wars between the men of Clonmines and the men of Carrig-on-Bannow in this, almost, interminable controversy; Mrs Murphy had suffered grievously.

Another eviction in August 1885 was pure pathos:–

“On Friday the death sentence of eviction was carried out on Mary Kinsella, an old decrepit woman, over 70 years of age, residing in Tullicanna, in a wretched mud-wall cabin, on an acre of poor bog land. The landlady is Mrs L. Heaton, of same place. This old creature’s family has been in possession for a great number of years….” The report of the meeting of the Branch in September 1885 slightly amends that:–“John Martin of Tullicanna, an evicted tenant, came before the meeting and stated that he himself and his old mother-in-law Mary Kinsella had been flung out of their home in Tullicanna bog by Mrs Louisa Heaton of Tullicanna.”

Evicted tenants were legally entitled to be accommodated in the Workhouse but few did so: the importance of this entitlement was that it signified the distaste of the authorities for eviction. The Land League, superb at propaganda, had alluded to Mr Gladstone’s (the Liberal Prime Minister) equation of eviction with death in the report of Mary Kinsella’s eviction. Neighbours provided accommodation and the Central Branch of the Land League provided limited amounts of money to evicted people. The Land League sought alternative accommodation or put up make-shift huts. The prosaic reality, however, was that most evictions were a result of the Plan of Campaign where the tenants resolved to pay only a rent equivalent to Griffith’s Valuation; the landlords refused this and sought decrees to recover their lands in the courts. Sheriff’s sales resulted: at these bidders on behalf of the landlords bid the price of the land up to an amount equal to the arrears of rent plus legal expenses. The tenant usually bid a marginally higher amount and recovered his farm. Most tenants applied to the Land Commission courts to fix a judicial rent generally lower that the previous one.

The issue of names is a constant of the history of the G. A. A. in Carrig-on-Bannow: at the beginning was the Ballymitty Club, then the Bannow Isles, later Erin’s Hope and by 1912 they were called the Bannow-Ballymitty United. There was continuum between the assertive Land agitation in the Ballymitty locality and the footballing tradition there; the Mc Cormacks of Arnestown from generation to generation created continuity in that respect. Clubs had their dynamics in the intensely local: the impediments to easy transport and rudimentary communications ensured that. On Sunday March 10th 1913 at a field at Gusserane, with a slight decline, Campile and Bannow-Ballymitty contested the Co. Final of the first division of the 1912 Junior Football championship. It was a dour game with a paucity of scores; the ball travelled much less than in latter times, as 50s was sent towards the opposing goal. The teams played 17 a side. At the end Bannow-Ballymitty won on a score line of 1 goal, 1 point to 0 goal, 2 points. The Bannow-Ballymitty team that had created history were:–

Jack Mc Cormack, Tom Crosbie, Tom Cullen, Patrick Kelly, Jem Kelly, Moses Mc Evoy, Tom Wade, Patrick Mc Cormack, Jem Kane, Jack Walsh, Pat Bowe, Nick White, Nick Cleary, Ned Corcoran, Pat Byrne, Lar Stafford and Phil Wade. I am puzzled by the absence of Jim Buller Cullen from the team. The joy in Carrig-on-Bannow was surely unconfined as soon afterwards the Co. Committee (as it was called) made a special presentation to P. D. Breen, its secretary, a native of Carrig village and elected Jack Mc Cormack as its Chairman for a further term. Jack Mc Cormack was captain of the Bannow-Ballymitty team. In late May he sent a letter of protest to the Co. Committee from his club.

The Free Press noted on June 7th  1913 that “The G. A. A. crux re medals is the principal topic in the Bannow district at present and the Bannow and Ballymitty boys vow they will never touch the “leather” again.” In essence, they were offended by the cheap medals provided for the junior championship! The County committee were of necessity into austerity. To telegraph the story for time reasons, on Sunday November 10th 1913 a meeting was held at Carrig to consider the medals issue with Fr Hanton presiding and attended by eight players and Jack Breen secretary. Their decision was convoluted; they wished to adhere to their previous decision not to take the medals but it was suggested that two players were not agreed to that. Further communication with the Co. Secretary took place and in early January 1914 Jack Breen as secretary wrote to the Free Press in angry refutation that his players were retiring with honour after long service. A further meeting on Sunday January 19th 1914 effectively closed off any possible resolution of the issue. While clubs like Ballyfrory Erin’s Pride, Bannow-Kiltra United and Tullicanna Shamrocks continued on, the effective close down of the Bannow-Ballymitty United Club—the central G. A. A. outfit in the parish— retarded the growth of football in the Carrig-on-Bannow area for a very long time. The impetuosity of all concerned impeded football in the area on a long term basis.

On February 20th 1954 the I Hear column in the Free Press announced:–

“That the Corah Rangers Football Club has been formed at Wellingtonbridge

That the boys from the “Bridges” will be seen out in the New Ross district championships.”

Two details in the above are wrong. The name of the new venture was Corah

Ramblers—not Corah Rangers— and it did have a hurling team, albeit a rather mediocre one! On Sunday May 9th 1954 Horeswood defeated the Corah Ramblers in the New Ross district junior hurling championship by 9 goals two points to one goal, two points. One part of the genesis of the Club was the calculation that it was easier to win the Co. Junior Football title as distinct from persevering in seeking to win the Senior title. The other and greater part is the tradition of Clubs bursting forth like the mushrooms in late summer: pre 1960 or a bit earlier there were parish leagues, novice clubs and teams, tournaments like the famous Cleariestown one, seven-a-side contests; there had been a series of such teams in the Rhubarb City, as they called Wellingtonbridge in a previous era. Francis Cullen spoke to me of a group of young men playing football near the cross of Ballymitty transforming into the nucleus of the new Corah Club. In that era young men played football and hurling instinctively and impulsively—in an era devoid of much counter attractions—and it is hard to avoid the conclusion, as Larry Fanning related, that some young men who were not confident that they could get a place on the senior Ballymitty team opted for the Corah Ramblers. The gifted Fintan Campbell would have gone straight to the Corah Club and not come via another Club. The prime movers in forming the new Club were—Joe Wallace, Markie Murphy, Jack Mc Cutcheon and Charlie Cooper. It was a time of austerity, although the word was not invented then.

Larry Fanning spoke of listening to a lot of games on the radio; they went to a neighbour Jim May and during the broadcast of the famous Kerry V. Cavan All-Ireland final at the Polo Grounds in New York there were twenty in the house. Tom Murphy told me of how upwards of forty lads would leave Ballymitty after Mass on a Sunday to travel by bicycle to Wexford to watch the matches. They were young men on fire with enthusiasm for Gaelic football and that is a big part of the romantic character of the Corah Ramblers Club. They trained at Colebrooke.

Members of the Ballymitty Club moved with accelerating momentum as time went on to the new Club. Dermot Roche, an exquisite footballer, on my asking him if he was annoyed by the setting up of the new Club smiled genially and said “that would be putting it mildly”. He was convinced that Ballymitty, after a narrow defeat to Taghmon in 1955, as he looked at Corah Ramblers on the sideline, if united (then before Fintan Whelan and Sean Eustace went back to Clongeen) that they would have won a senior Co. Championship. On March 6th 1954 the Forth and Bargy notes in the Free Press noted:–“Mr W. Hillis, son of Mr and Mrs John Hillis, Wellingtonbridge and a prominent member of Corah G. A. A. teams and formerly of Ballymitty senior team went to employment in England during the week.”

The Free Press on May 29 1954 carried this charming item;

“A unique feature of the “Corah Rangers” football team which defeated Cushinstown in the New Ross district championships on Sunday was that a father and son played for the Club. Veteran footballer Mr Bill Carthy of Ballygow was their goalie and his son Jem, was in the full forward position.”

Garda John Hayes who became Secretary of the Ballymitty St Aidan’s in 1959 wrote to me to say that money was always in short supply so it was necessary to have fund raising events. The converse reality was that very little money was needed to maintain a club and this facilitated the founding of new clubs. Larry Fanning spoke of raising £28 at a whist drive in St Brendan’s Hall in Bannow; they bought four pairs of football boots and had £2 left over at the end of the year. According to The Free Press Forth and Bargy notes on March 6th 1954 Messrs P. and R. Walsh were winners of the Corah G. A. A. Club card drive in Clongeen Hall the previous week.

The team travelled in John Cullen’s scut lorry, a two ton truck. The Club fielded under-age teams during the entirety of its existence. The initial signals from the Club’s main team were not good—if this report in the Free Press on August 7th 1954 is reliable:–

“Corah Rangers football team travelled to Carrig on Tuesday evening to play a friendly challenge game with the Bannow footballers. After a keen and exciting game Bannow maintained the upper hand and were victorious on the scores: Bannow, 4 goals, 7 points; Corah Rangers, 7 points.”

There is a genuine ambiguity as to the identity of the Bannow footballers—they may have been the Ballymitty team but I suspect that they were the St Brendan’s Bannow team. Wexford contested the senior All-Ireland hurling final on the first Sunday 1954 so the club championships were delayed but not too much so.

On Sunday October 18th 1954 in the final of the New Ross district junior football championship the Insurgents defeated the Corah Ramblers on a score-line of 2 goals, 3 points to 1 goal, 3 points. The conditions were adverse with a strong wind blowing. In the opening moiety the Insurgents aided by the wind were constantly on the attack in the opening quarter but were beaten back by the stubborn Corah defence. The Corah Ramblers in one of their few bursts upfield scored their solitary score in the first half. The half time score was: Insurgents, 2—3; Corah Ramblers, 0-1. I quote the account in the Free Press of the second half:

“On resumption Corah attacked strongly and aided by a strong wind they forced their way through the Insurgents’ defence but sent many good scoring chances to waste. M. White led the winners’ defence in brilliant style at this period and was well assisted by his fellow team mates in breaking up many Corah attacks. Due to a misunderstanding between the Insurgents’ defenders and their goalkeeper, Corah slipped in for an easy goal. Subsequent play produced two further points for the Ramblers to narrow the gap to one goal. Some exciting play was witnessed in the closing stages but a gallant Insurgents’ defence held out to save the day. Final scores—Insurgents, 2—3; Corah Ramblers, 1—3.”

It was a regular feature of Gaelic football in that era that on windy days there was a see-saw effect with one team aided by the wind building up a massive lead in the opening moiety and then the other team in the second half when in turn aided by the wind, amassing a big haul of scores. The ball was invariably kicked down the field, not passed and certainly not brought up or down the field by courier method as applies in latter day football. The Corah Ramblers teams were listed as follows:–

J. Byrne, W. Carty, N. Bennett, P. Tobin, R. Byrne, J. Carty, E. Cullen, T. Byrne, J. Culleton, L. Fanning, A. White, P. Colfer, P. Waters, P. Dyce (2).”

It was a creditable performance by the Corah Ramblers and augured well for the future; the significant influx of well established players from the Ballymitty St. Aidan’s Club had not yet taken on a big momentum. Jim Byrne does seem to be there, however. Jim Byrne told me that he played at centre-field for the Wexford minor team in 1946; he also said that he played with the Carrig-on-Bannow national schools team that won a County National School League in 1940. I checked out the latter item and the information is correct. Mr Simon Murphy the master at Ballymitty National School claimed after the success of the Ballymitty/Bannow team in 1947 that a group of those who played on the school’s team in 1940 provided a nucleus to the 1947 team. Jim Byrne came on as a substitute in the 1947 Co. Junior Football final. He said that the game was very physical but he was never knocked to the ground and in relation to his challenged stature he said that he knew where the ball was going to land. He referred to the negative effect of emigration. On wet days they contended with a big wet leather ball and there was a lot of shouldering; you could be driven out into the seats! The game had not really changed in his time but lately it had. He felt that Ballymitty and Gusserane were arch enemies but that the town’s teams were more sporting. There was a touch of nostalgia as he spoke of what may be seen as a parallel Gaelic football universe of parish leagues, seven-a-side-competitions; an environment from which the Corah Ramblers I suggest emerged. The parish leagues were intense localism; as Jim Byrne said “all playing for their own part of the parish” and he had in one particular year won two suit lengths playing seven-a-side football.

The trajectory of the Corah Ramblers was rapidly upwards. In 1955 Wexford won the All-Ireland senior hurling championship bridging a gap going back to 1910. The Club championships were delayed until the All-Ireland final was over. On Sunday December 1st 1955 on a dreadfully wet day with a cross-field wind Corah Ramblers contested the Co. Junior Football Final at O’Kennedy Park, New Ross. There were only a handful of spectators present with gate receipts of a mere £21. It was a superb Ballyhogue team who were magical with the wet, muddy ball on a greasy sod in the second half. The Echo opined that it was “evident from the Ramblers display that they would have been far more effective under dry ground conditions. Some of their players, too, were on the small side and they found great difficulty in handling the ball. Besides their sense of combination left a lot to be desired and the indecisive work of their defenders often gave the attackers a chance to make ground.”

It was a game of totally contrasting halves. The Ramblers played with some confidence in the opening moiety with their defence proving strong but in the second quarter Ballyhogue seized a slight advantage but at half-time the score was Ballyhogue 0–4 and Corah Ramblers 0—3.

In the second moiety the Corah Ramblers disintegrated and Ballyhogue “ran up the scores with the nonchalance of a team giving a public work-out.” The final score was Ballyhogue 2—11 and Corah Ramblers 0—4.

The duel on which most attention was focussed was that of the two senior inter-county players—Aidan Mc Cormack of the Ramblers at midfield against Mickey Byrne and, disappointingly, for the Ramblers the smaller Ballyhogue man performed better—his kicking from both play and frees was the acme of perfection. Kicking was the routine feature of the game then. The opportunist and skilful Pat Murphy at full forward for Ballyhogue had the better of his duel with Jim Mc Cormack. The Mc Cormack brothers had moved from the senior Ballymitty Club to the Corah Ramblers in 1955 as had John Moran, a native of Adamstown. The Ramblers team was:–

F. Campbell, H. White, J. Mc Cormack, N. Bent, R. Tobin, P. Dyce, L. Fanning, A. Mc Cormack, J. Byrne, P. Tobin, F. Cullen, P. Colfer, P. Colfer, S. Culleton, J. Moran and E. Conlon. The influx of players accustomed to senior football with Ballymitty may have diluted the sense and novelty of young men crossing for them a new frontier that had defined the Ramblers. Jack Mc Cutcheon, the bard of Ball’owen, a poet and balladeer has helped found them and a touch of the poetic always attached to them.

After the game Sean Browne M. C. C. the County Chairman in presenting the massive new Cup said that it has been donated by a well known parish priest who did not wish to have his name made public—a signal in itself of the importance attached to all levels of Gaelic Football in that era. The 1955 Co. Final was a learning experience for the Corah Ramblers.

The scourge of polio struck in 1956 and the main response in that era, with medicine much less sophisticated that now, was that of prevention of this infectious malady. Many public and sporting events were postponed and the All-Ireland Senior hurling final between Wexford and Cork was not played until October. It was meant to be an epic contest; Wexford who regarded their triumph over Galway in 1955 as an anti-climax felt that they had to defeat either Cork or Tipperary on All-Ireland Day to rate as truly great. On the day Wexford were the better team with the lead from the outset but had to withstand a storming late Cork rally that started after Christy Ring goaled a 21 yards free. Actually Ring had grabbed the Wexford goalkeeper’s hurley but inexplicably the referee awarded a free in on the basis that Art Foley over held the ball. A very late Nicky Rackard goal put the issue beyond doubt and the famous commentator Micheal O’Hehir shouted: “Croke Park has gone wild”. The emotions in the Co. Wexford were massive and a rich mythology arose about the game itself. The culture of the Co. Wexford in the 1950 was one of the heroic, with a resonance of the 1798 myths; the hurlers of Wexford became its new heroes. This ecstasy permeated every aspect of life in the County and simply electrified all who played Gaelic games.

The Club championships were postponed into 1957.

On Sunday March 24th 1957 the Corah Ramblers defeated the Wexford Volunteers at Bellefield, Enniscorthy in the Co. Junior Football semi-final on a score-line of 3—4 to 1—2. The report in the People newspaper described the game as poor and predicted that Cloughbawn would have little difficulty in winning the Co. Final. It did note, however, the display of young Peter Tobin:

“The highlight of the hour was the display of Peter Tobin on the wing. Probably the smallest player on view, he delighted the crowd with an exhibition of the trickiest football seen at the venue for some time. Bobbing and weaving, he went through the Wexford defence time and again and capped a brilliant display by shooting a very clever goal in the final minute of the game.”

The impression that I have from both speaking to some of the survivors of the Co. Final played on April 28th 1957 at Wexford Park and, also, from the newspaper reports is that it was contested with intense fervour and was quite physical at times. The prestige attaching to success at Gaelic Games in the Co. Wexford at that time was stellar.

The score at half-time was Corah Ramblers, 0—10; Cloughbawn, 1—0. To quote the People seldom could “any man have done so much to discourage fifteen opponents as did inter-county player, Francis Cullen”; the Cloughbawn defence persisted in fouling all through the first moiety and Francis Cullen converted frees from varied angles into points. All through the game Cullen ranged up and down the field. Five minutes into the second half Sean Culleton rattled the Cloughbawn net leaving the Corah Ramblers ten points ahead. There followed a storming onslaught by the Cloughbawn team; this is the account of it in the People:–

“Sensing that points were inadequate at this stage Tim Flood wandered far out, secured possession, burst through the Ramblers defence in characteristic fashion and tapped the ball to Gerard Forde who finished to the net. Minutes later Cloughbawn gave the winners a rare shock when the ball was bundled into the net after the Ramblers goal-man delayed a clearance from a free by Martin Flood.”

Tim Food was one of the key players on the All-Ireland winning Wexford senior hurling team; an icon in his era. He was fixated on winning all matches and the Cloughbawn Club very much wanted to reach the senior grade in Football. The deficiency in the Cloughbawn forward play that day was that his comrades persisted in passing the ball to Tim Flood in the closing stages when they might have done better to have essayed at scoring themselves.

Fifteen minutes of relentless pressure on the Corah Defence followed but the Ramblers defence were unyielding and Francis Cullen “came back into prominence and crowned a first class display with two further points.”

A wonderful characteristic of the type of game then played was the capacity of a player of special genius and ability to dictate the outcome of a game. Jim Byrne told me succinctly that Peter Tobin was a wizard. The Free Press had this extraordinary and lyrical passage in its account:

“….the truly amazing antics of Peter Tobin, the diminutive, livewire Ramblers’ wing forward, brought gasps of admiration from the large attendance. His lack of inches was no handicap to Tobin, who literally went “up in the clouds” for balls, beating even six footers to the jump. Once in possession, it was virtually impossible to wrest the ball from him, his ball control, electrifying burst of speed and his nimbleness causing mounting despair in the Cloughbawn men as the game progressed. Besides registering 0—3 of his side’s total, Tobin contributed a giant share to the making of other scores.” He was in 1957 just out of the minor ranks according to the People. It was suggested in the Free Press that Paddy Garvey N. T. gave him his first lessons in the game.

The report of the Corah Ramblers’ victory was accompanied by a ballad or poem written by Jack Mc Cutcheon. He gave the Gaelic version of his name, “Sean Mac Uisthin”. The writer Francis Mac Manus used the analogy of an archaeological dig to conceptualise the determination of the people of his time to reach back beyond history to a mystical Gaelic soul. An evocation of place was a constant of his poetry, a feature of Paddy Kavanagh’s poetry, also. There is ever a touch of the avuncular to his poetry and he refers repeatedly to the admiration of the young girls for the footballers and hurlers of Carrig-on-Bannow but he may have been tilting against the reticence of the young men of that era to commit to marriage. A bonfire blazed at Wellingtonbridge opposite Wallaces and the General Providers Stores; Jim Byrne said that no bonfires were lit in 1947.

On Sunday January 11th 1958 the medals were presented to the Corah players in St Mary’s Hall, Carrig by Paddy Byrne of Ballyknock, a member of the victorious 1912 team. He noted that he had played beside the fathers of some of the present team. Jim Byrne spoke of his great pleasure to lead the side that brought back the championship to the historic parish of Bannow. Jack Mc Cutcheon asserted that all areas of the parish were represented on the team and “that the people of Ballymitty, Wellingtonbridge and Carrig-on-Bannow could equally feel proud to be associated with the victory.” Parochial unity was a priority of Mc Cutcheon.

The following received medals: Jim Byrne, Aidan and Jim Mc Cormack, Francis Cullen, Larry Fanning Pat Dyce, Peter Tobin, John Moran, Mick Molloy, Rich Howlin, Fintan Campbell, Matt Fanning, Sean Dunphy, Rich Tobin, Sean Culleton, Hughie White, Pat Colfer, Sean Cullen, M. Keegan, T. Cleary, Sean Byrne, Tom Byrne, Nick Bent, S. Codd, Ned Conlon, T. Murphy and J. Doyle.

Representatives of the three clubs in the parish, Corah Ramblers, St Aidan’s Ballymitty and St Brendan’s, Bannow, met at Wellingtonbridge in late January 1958 and agreed to join together to form a united parish club, to be known as the Ballymitty Ramblers. Two senior teams in the same parish was unrealistic, a matter exacerbated by the constant emigration from the parish. The meeting selected Aidan Mc Cormack as senior football captain—an inadvertent irony as the immensely tall Arnestown midfielder emigrated to Canada in late April 1958 and later went to Chicago. Both in the name of the Club and in the selection structures the meeting sought to embed the concept of parish unity. The football selection committee was to be composed of the Chairman Joe Wallace and a representative from each of the four areas of the parish.

The changes in modes of transport and better means of communication must have exerted an influence towards the formation of unified parish teams at this time: people were not as locked into their immediate localities as before and the amalgamation of clubs into an agreed parish one increased the chances of success, certainly, at senior level. After 1959 it would be an improbable undertaking to create another entity like the Corah Ramblers. Taghmon, the neighbouring parish in the mid 1950s with a unified parish team, had a total hegemony in senior football in Co. Wexford. They, also, has a quota of gigantic men on their team.

In the summer of 1957 it seemed quite feasible for the Corah Ramblers to flourish as a senior team—in the senior championship in August they defeated Gusserane. The irony quickly unfolding was that instead of having two senior teams in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow, the perennial blight of the parish was operating to deny even one senior team: back in the spring of 1951 the Irish Times reported that one third of the Ballymitty football team had emigrated at a single