The Magic of the North Kerry Championship

January 15th, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

In the 1995 epic and historical film Braveheart Mel Gibson playing the part of William Wallace a 13th century Scottish warrior leaps onto his horse and banishes his sword high into the air urging his men to follow him into battle against the invading English, they reply with a thunderous cheer and the battle begins as they respond to their leaders actions. Call it fanciful or farfetched if you wish but a scene following the recent North Kerry Championship final re-play acted out in the Frank Sheehy Park Listowel shortly after the final whistle had sounded reminded me in certain aspects of that film scene. Duagh had won their first championship since 1962 and the club supporters raced on to the field where they assembled in huge numbers before the stand where the cup was to be presented to the winning captain.

The magnificent Bernie O Callaghan Cup was resting on a little table as board chairman Billy Enright stepped forward to do the honors. And it was then that Duagh's magnificent captain and leader Kieran Quirke entered the scene. Without a moments hesitation he jumped on to the table, accepted the cup from Billy and then with one mighty sweep raised it high in the air, an act not only of acceptance but total defiance in many ways which brought a thunderous cheer from the success starved Duagh supporters who had travelled from far and wide to be there. It was a very special moment as cameras flashed, flags and banners waved, grown men cried, children were lifted high in their fathers arms and  cheer after cheer rent the biting cold January air. Fifty years of blood, sweat and tears, fifty years of fruitless endeavor was swept aside in that one magical act as their captain hoisted the gleaming trophy high above his head.  It was one of those special Kerry football moments that can be experienced only at certain times and is one of the reasons why Kerry football has always and will be there or there about at the top of the honors list at minor, junior, under twenty one and senior grade. Events such as we witnessed here are in many ways one of the "secrets of Kerry".  Kieran then went on to give a wonderful rousing acceptance speech, one of the best I have ever heard at a Kerry district championship final, and I have had the privilege of attending finals in all the areas.

It was heart warming stuff from the Duagh teacher as he literally spit fire and brimstone dedicating the win to all those fellow Duagh warriors who had suffered the bitter pill of defeat since their last victory fifty years previously. And how the huge crowd looking up at him in total admiration loved every word of it. Kieran had them in the palm of his hand and so passionate, sincere and vocal was he that he had to pause mid way through his delivery and gulp down half a bottle of water, and then he continued. It was great stuff, and it's only at a North Kerry final would you witness such scenes and hear such a passionate, uplifting and heart warming speech such as Kieran delivered to his adoring followers and team mates.

So what is the magic of the North Kerry championships, what brought out thousand of supporters from far and wide for those two games deep in the heart of winter? Make no mistake about it, it is different from all other sections of our county. The games are usually played at frenetic pace where passions even more than skill will prevail. If the skilful players want to make a big impact for their teams in the championship they need to add some serious steel to their game.  A club's position in the county league means nothing in a North Kerry Championship clash. This was proved this year in those two unforgettable games between Beale and Duagh.

But there may be much more to the great rivalry between the clubs, town lands, and parishes in the North of our county. Three great friends of mine, Luke Keane of Knocknagoshel, Eamon Brown the exemplary Killarney Librarian and Alan Groarke of Moyvane living in Colorado directed my thoughts back to the eighteen hundreds, maintaining that the fierce football rivalry is a throw back to the faction fighting that often erupted in the area and none more so than one famous day in
June 1834. Faction fighting where districts of people and extended families fought, combat with sticks was popular in the 19th century in Kerry.

The Faction Fight at Balleagh Strand on the Cashen Estuary near Ballybunion on Saint Johns Day June 24th was one such famous fight. In particular the 1834 fight saw a group in excess of 2000 people gathered on the strand. The annual horse races were the occasion for the gathering where musical entertainment and socialising would take place in conjunction with the racing. The fight was meant to be a sideline event but it escalated and a bloody battle ensued where military/police and local eye witnesses estimated in the region of 2,000+ fought.  The Lawler's and the O'Connor/Mulvihill's were the two main groups. At least 20 were killed or drowned in the river Cashen estuary, and hundreds wounded. It led to many official enquiries, including a sworn enquiry on the order of the then British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. After that the Ballyeigh Races were relocated to Listowel where they have remained since. Indeed some historians I have spoken to at the various finals around North Kerry maintain that the faction fighting is still ongoing, just that it has a more official name now - the North Kerry Championship.

The players of Duagh and Beale sacrificed a lot over the Christmas period as their final was postponed, then played, drawn and re-played. Drinking, over eating and celebrating the Christmas holiday was put firmly on hold without a murmur of protest. In this day and age we are bombarded with the cult of the television celebrity, nobodys who thousands look up to and adore. For me however sport gives us our own true heroes, people who can inspire us in our daily lives, figures we can believe in and for me those footballers I have written about here should be recognize and acknowledged as the real heroes not those so called celebrities who have graduated from one of those wretched reality shows.  Long live the North Kerry Championship.

Fogra: next Monday 6-8 pm on my Radio Kerry Terrace Talk programme you can hear a special  father and son interview with the new Kerry captain Eoin Brosnan as he looks forward to the coming year and with his father Niall looks back on their football careers.

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