By Jim Herlihy
This account of a hurling match, which took place some time about the year 1770, is taken from a manuscript written in 1831 by Fr. Matt Horgan, the Parish Priest of Blarney. It is also published in Issue 1 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal.
Fr. Horgan states he received the account from a few of his parishioners whose fathers had been eye-witnesses to the event described. He recounts how baronies, and sometimes counties formerly, contended in this noble and manly game of hurling. Boundaries were generally on each side of a river, and the leaders could select men from every district along its course to the sea.
On the occasion in question, the leaders were Rowland Davies of Dawstown, Blarney, a landlord’s son and Denis Horgan of Ballynaraha, in the same parish, who was the son of a prosperous farmer.
Forty days were required to publish the terms of the impending contest and to assemble the players. Davies invited every hurler from Blarney to the western coast, brought them together and exercised them before the day appointed.
The plain on which the match was fought is by the River Awmartin, a little northwest of Garrycloyne Chapel, more popularly known now as ‘Waterloo’ and a few miles north of Blarney village.
Father Horgan states that the playing pitch was about three-quarters of a mile in length. Without fence, hollow or slough, surrounded by hills which sloped gently to its verge. The little river flows along by its eastern side in a southerly direction.
Tents were pitched on both sides of the river, well filled with provisions to feed the spectators and the match was held on a fine day in the month of July when the grass was dry and short and the ground elastic underfoot.
Davies had his men clad in a manner most becoming. On the head was worn a green cap fringed with a band. A green ribbon bound the collars and wrists of the shirts; a red sash was around the waist. A white trouser was worn but the feet were bare lest any covering on them may retard the speed of the player.
The number of players allowed on each side was fifty and at noon, Davies men were drawn up in order before the tents, whence they marched to the centre of the plain where they formed into line. The music of the pipes, under a green flag flying, swelled the gentle breeze.
Davies stood at their head dressed in a similar costume to his men, and distinguished only by his cap which was silk, fringed with deep gold lace, and decorated by a feather. He was then twenty-two years of age and deemed the most manly figure in County Cork.
Horgan could not exert himself to obtain men so far away as could the youthful son of his landlord. He contented himself with selecting his men from around Cork City and the districts of Whitechurch, Carrignavar and Glenville. They were well known to him as being youthful active and well acquainted with each other from their frequent meetings at local hurling matches. A few famous hurlers from the Youghal and Midleton districts heard of the forth-coming matched; offered to try their fortunes and were duly enlisted by him in the team.
Horgan’s men were on the eastern side of the little river and at a given signal he marched them into the field. Their dress was plain, simple and becoming, without any encumbrance. They were of hardy appearance, well inured to labour and seemingly not discouraged by the splendid appearance of their opponents.
Another signal was sounded and both sides formed extended lines, having each, three divisions. The strongest and ablest men were placed in the main body, consisting of twenty-six men and the more youthful and active constituted the two wings, twelve on each side.
At both extremities of the plain, two lofty poles had been erected between which the ball should be impelled to decide the victory. The teams consisting of one hundred handsome looking young men, with hurleys in hand, stood facing each other until the plain was cleared. On casting lots, Horgan won and decided to play facing the southern goal-posts though the sun’s rays were shining in their faces.
Then the round, elastic well-covered ball, thrown in and the battle commenced. Both teams flew like lightening to oppose each other and such feats of activity, strength and exertion, were never before witnessed on that plain.
The two captains were in the midst of the fray and did everything possible to encourage the men. The game continues for two hours and nobody succeeded in obtaining the much coveted goal. Sometimes the men of the East bore the ball south but O’Sullivan from Beara and Healy from the Shournagh Valley proved invincible. They are described as having the strength of heroes and successfully repelled all attacks.
At length, when the players showed signs of exhaustion, Davies called for a cessation. This was granted and all went to the tents where they had some refreshments. They rested their wearied limbs for a time and resumed the game with renewed vigour. Now, the MacForien Duv (O’Sullivan) from Kerry, O’Leary of the Rooves, O’Donovan and McCarthy, McDaniel from Dripsey, Barrett from Drimoleague and many more men of the west bore down all before them: but they met Barry of Dunbulloge, Buckley of Moah, Kiely and MacCody of Cuil, Murphy of Rath and the Millers brave son who was born and reared on the banks of the Dubhglaise (Douglas). The shock was tremendous: many were levelled to the ground, and the shouts of the spectators ascended to the high heavens, so that it would appear some great battle conflict between two nations was in progress. The Millers brave son had to withdraw being hurt in the shock between MacForien Duv of the sea-girt hills and himself.
The sun was now approaching the western hills and both side strengthened themselves for a deciding effort. Young Cronin from the Boggeragh watched keenly for a chance and stood a little distance from his opponent. When the ball came he impelled it before him with such velocity that no enemy could outstrip him until he directed it between the two lofty poles and gained the victory. The cheers and shouts then rent the sky.
Davies was so proud of his team winning that he forgave Horgan the wager. He entertained both sides and their friends at his hospitable mansion from which they departed the next day, each to his own part of the country. Some years later, Rowland Davies died in Antigua in the West Indies to the grief of everybody who knew him.
The hurleys used on that day, whether broken or whole, were kept by the players during their lives as a memorial of that well fought struggle on the bank of the Awmartin.