Brendan O Sullivan

A Kickhams Childhood

February 23rd, 2013
by Brendan O Sullivan

The Sundays of my Dublin youth saw me supporting Kickhams GAA team. My father was club secretary and, as a child, I used to accompany him to matches.

The club was called after Charles Joseph Kickham, a Tipperary Fenian best known for his novel "Knocknagow" and song "Slievenamon". It was set up in 1885, three years after Kickham's death, by Dublin drapery workers, mostly from Tipperary. As Kickham's father had owned a large drapery store in Mullinahone, it seemed natural to call the new club C.J.Kickhams. The teams were very successful, All-Ireland champions in hurling in 1889 and football in 1897. They won many Dublin championships in both codes in those early GAA years, and two more football All-Irelands in 1905 and '06. They remained successful into the '20s when a Kickhams selection won the All-Ireland Hurling in 1924.

My father, a drapery worker, moved to Dublin from Kerry in 1935 and joined Kickhams. He had played for Laune Rangers in Killorglin so could claim that he played for two of the most famous clubs in GAA history. A broken leg in 1943 ended his career on the field but he remained involved and, in the mid 50s, he was both club secretary and senior team selector.

By then, the split had taken place. Brendan Behan famously joked that the first item on an Irish agenda was the split. In Kickhams' case, it took 70 years. Tension and bitterness developed between members, mostly non-drapers, associated with a successful minor team which had won 3 Dublin championships and-on the other side- the more traditional drapers' group. The Dublin Co. Board actually disbanded the club at one stage. The eventual solution involved the creation of a new club, Na Fianna.

Around this time, I began to attend matches. Kickhams usually played their home games in the Civil Service grounds at Islandbridge, an area now associated with the War Memorial Gardens. For away games, the meeting place was Cavendish House, headquarters of the drapers' union, in Parnell Square, opposite the Gate Theatre. We would pile into the cars and travel to faraway and exotic places like Balbriggan, Ballydowd, Blanchardstown, and Bohernabreena in the foothills of the Dublin mountains.

The senior team was in constant crisis, trying to avoid relegation from Division 1.They usually managed to do so with late wins or, on at least one occasion, an appeal to the County Board pleading their history as one of the oldest clubs in the association.
Some famous players played with Kickhams in those years. Gabriel Kelly of Cavan, a stylish fullback, John Egan, Offaly corner back who captained his county in the 1969 All-Ireland final against Kerry and, although I knew John, I was cheering for Kerry. Gerry O'Reilly from Wicklow, Gus Danagher from Tipperary were other well-known names.

Kickhams ran an inter-firm competition during the summer called the Kickham Cup. All the major drapery stores entered-Clerys, Guineys, Arnotts, Todd Burns, McBirneys and many more. There were objections and counter-objections, illegal players involved, a nightmare to administer. The final was always held on a summer evening in Croke Park and I augmented my pocket money by selling programmes. The competition died away in the 1970s and the Kickham Cup, along with its hurling counterpart, the Power Cup, is now on display in the Autobahn pub in Ballymun.

Some events stand out from my years supporting Kickhams. On one occasion, a Kickhams player actually struck the referee in a championship match in Croke Park. The dazed referee picked himself off the ground and ordered the player off. On a sadder note, I remember an elderly man, a Kickhams veteran, collapsing and dying while watching a match at Islandbridge, his daughter at his side. The match was abandoned and both teams said the Rosary in the dressing rooms.

The most memorable-and frightening- incident occurred when my father was attacked by two intercounty players at a League match. One of these players, on the field, got involved in verbal exchanges with Kickhams supporters. His language became colourful. My father hated so-called "bad" language and, probably feeling that four-letter words were not suitable for my innocent 11-year-old ears, shouted at the player to watch his language. He ran over to my father on the sideline, and struck him in the face. As people gathered around, I stepped back, a few paces away from the conflict. I can still vividly picture the other player running up behind the crowd and striking my father a cowardly blow on the back of his head. The case became famous because intercounty players were involved, a Dublin Co Board committee investigated, my father signed an undertaking not to take legal action over the assault. Eventually, the second player was suspended for 3 months, a suspension overturned by the Leinster Council, enabling him to line out in the Railway Cup. The entire episode left a sour taste. Murphy's Law decreed that the two clubs were drawn to meet in the first round of the Dublin championship soon afterwards, a match which attracted a huge curious crowd to O'Toole Park.

As I moved into my teenage years, my attendance at Kickhams matches became less frequent. In 1969, they merged with Ballymun Gaels to form Ballymun Kickhams and returned to former glories in the 1980s when two Dublin titles were won; the current team have progressed further and are Leinster champions. This weekend, they face Dr Crokes from Killarney, a club with an equally distinguished history, in the All-Ireland semi-final. May the best team win!

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