'On summer evenings, during my late teens, I was out in the field with other Clonkill players hitting a hurling ball around'

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'On summer evenings, during my late teens, I was out in the field with other Clonkill players hitting a hurling ball around'


Frank remembers the Clonkill Hurling Club.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

Is Part Of

Adolescence and Early Adulthood


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Clonkill, Westmeath

Temporal Coverage


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Following the hurling success that I had experienced with Johnstown school, it was a natural progression for me to join Clonkill hurling club. The club had no playing field of its own. It reached agreement with my father that the players could use one of his fields in Monkstown for practising in return for helping him with cattle that fell into drains or got into some other difficulty. This arrangement worked well for both sides for about 30 years, by which time the club had bought and developed its own playing field. When I was a teenager most of the young men in Clondaliever played hurling with Rickardstown, where there was a successful senior team but no underage teams. Clonkill had a glorious history at senior level before falling apart in 1950. While I was in St Finian's, Clonkill was regrouping, with the focus on underage teams. The link with the field and the possibilities for involvement with the underage teams made Clonkill a more attractive option for me than Rickardstown. In many counties GAA clubs developed in line with the existing network of catholic parishes. In north Westmeath the GAA hurling clubs were not based on a parish system. They emerged from a network of cricket clubs that did not follow the existing parish boundaries. This resulted in Taughmon parish playing host to all or part of four hurling clubs - Turin, Clonkill, Crookedwood and Cullion. There is a history of great rivalry between these clubs. Keen rivalry between Clonkill and Turin around 1960 helped to bond the Clonkill players into a closely knit unit with great team spirit. At that stage the club was driven by youth and enthusiasm and I was fortunate to be part of it. My first outing in a Clonkill jersey was at under 17 level, against Raharney, in their field in Joristown. It was an evening match. A number of the Raharney supporters had just finished moving cattle, and still had the cattle sticks in their hands as they stood on the sideline. It was a close exciting match. During the second half I remember seeing a number of animated angry stick wielding supporters. I was terrified, not knowing what might happen next. I recently checked with one of my Clonkill colleagues to see if my memory of that evening was correct. He assured me that close to where he was playing there were two men with slash - hooks in their hands. We gave them the benefit of the doubt and presumed that they were on their way home from cutting hedges. My first outing with an adult Clonkill team was for a junior match against Turin, played in Collinstown. There was an unhealthy rivalry between the two clubs that year, and everyone was a bit on edge before the match. During the first half the player I was marking struck me on the leg. It was a harmless enough strike, but it looked bad from a distance. The referee sent him off. There were no red cards then; just the referee's index finger pointing towards the sideline. As he walked off fighting broke out on the field and a lot of players got involved. The fighting was harmless, even amusing, with no serious injuries inflicted. One Clonkill man, who had taken a long deliberate inaccurate swing with a hurley, was overheard saying 'Lord, I missed him'. As the fighting stopped I was amazed to see my father among the spectators who had come on to the pitch. He was calm and composed when he came to check that I was all right. He was not the kind of man that would get involved in a melee. He attended GAA matches occasionally, but that was the only time I saw him on the playing area. Apart from these two early unsettling outings, my hurling days with Clonkill were most enjoyable. Most evenings during my summer holidays I was out pucking a ball around with a few of my Clonkill colleagues. During grey days in St Finian's it helped to lift my spirits just to think of Clonkill where I always felt welcome, relaxed, happy, and among friends. There I could enjoy life in a natural environment and enjoy my hurling, free from the silliness of college life. Considering that I was relying more on determination than skill to see me through on the playing field, I was fortunate to be part of successful Clonkill teams, winning medals at under18, junior and senior levels. From Clonkill club I learned much that was to be of great benefit to me in later years. I learned something about what it means to be a good team player, to think of and to involve others, to bond together and to succeed. I got the experience of celebrating victory and coping with defeat. As I became more active in the running of the club I learned a lot about meetings - organising, participating, chairing and reporting. I have benefited greatly from this aspect of my involvement with Clonkill. Is it any wonder that I now travel regularly from Dublin to see Clonkill play? The proudest moment of my sporting life was on the 9th February 2008 when, under floodlights in Croke Park, Clonkill became all - Ireland intermediate hurling club champions. On summer evenings, during my late teens, I was out in the field with other Clonkill players hitting a hurling ball around. There was no coaching, no skills development and no tactics to work with. It was simply a case of trying to get to the ball first, and then hitting it. During the winter nights 10 to 15 of us used to come together in Mick Doolin's house to play cards and discuss the club's affairs. Years later I discovered that the man's name was Michael Dowling. For us the place was simply Doolins. This small thatched house was situated below road level about 500m from where the existing clubhouse stands. We sat close together for hours in the small kitchen area in front of a log fire. There was no electricity and no running water. Almost everybody was smoking. There was never any alcohol or drugs. Nobody played music or sang. There we played cards till well past midnight. We always played 'twenty five'; we never played poker or pontoon. Each player put one penny on the table for each game played. On the nights that we met to discuss hurling club affairs Joe, who was treasurer, would arrive with his glass jam jar. The money that was in the jam jar was what we had, which was usually about 10 pounds. Fundraising involved booking a dance hall and hiring a band. Joe might innocently ask 'How much would Bridie Gallagher cost for a night?' On frosty nights, when there was ice on the roads, I frequently fell off my bicycle as I tried to cycle back to Clondaliever after leaving Doolins. There seldom seemed to be any warning. One moment I was on the bicycle and the next moment I was flat on the road. Thirty years later Paddy and his wife Betty organised a reunion of the 'Doolins Cardplayers'. I think it was ten of us that turned up, and we had a wonderful night reminiscing. Larry arrived on his bicycle, just as he had done 30 years earlier. When I now look at Clonkill's excellent playing field, and the substantial ongoing developments around the clubhouse, my mind drifts back to those humble beginnings in Doolins, with the jam jar and the crowded dark smoke - filled kitchen. In the early 1960s when I travelled with Paddy to play cards we usually went to Crookedwood Hall, where a Dover stove in the centre of the floor kept us warm on frosty nights. There we played pontoon for about a year, before moving on to poker. One Christmas night our card playing continued non - stop well into St Stephen's day. I recall one dark wet night that Ray arrived into the Hall looking very dishevelled and with scratches on his face. It was obvious that he had been to a pub earlier. All we could hear was some muffled swearing about a Mrs Reilly. Slowly and bit by bit we got the picture. On his way home from Mullingar on his bicycle a certain Mrs Reilly had asked him to come to the assistance of a swan that had been injured by an overhead electricity cable. When Ray went to assist he got a few good whacks of the swan's good wing across his face. By the time he joined us he had identified Mrs Reilly as the main culprit


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