Scavenging for Jam Jars in a Killarney Dump Pit to buy our first Pig Skin Football

October 22nd, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

Its as inevitable as night follows day that any young fellow born and bread in Kerry will at some stage of his early development be afforded the opportunity to kick a football and if the desire is there go on and endeavor to fulfill the dream of all young Kerry lads, that of winning an All Ireland medal with his county in Croke Park.  Winning with Kerry is a burning desire that is in most cases, not all, handed down from generation to generation and I have yet to meet a Kerry footballer who didn't harbor that passion and dream  of wearing the green and gold and winning that elusive Celtic Cross in Croke Park.  I have found it fascinating during a lifetime of deep involvement to observe and wonder at that burning desire and passion for Kerry football which dominates every town, parish and townland in the county. It supersedes particularly everything else and it lasts literally from the cradle to the grave.

Yes indeed from the cradle to the grave Kerry football can be all consuming. When my own son Kieran was born a group of friends visited my wife Joan in the Killarney hospital and while still just a day or two old the first ever present the baby received was a football which was placed at the bottom of his cot. I know of a Kerry father who insisted that his son went to sleep at night with a football nestling by the pillow at his head. The father explained, "It's vital that when he wakes up in the morning the first thing he will smell is the leather from the pig skin". The expected natural first big outing  for every budding young Kerry footballer is a trip to Croke Park for some championship match or to stand in the side of the a street and  dream as the Sam Maguire Cup is paraded through the county towns following that expected All Ireland victory.  The visit of the cup to the schools around the county is just another method in which the youth is indoctrinated and become obsessed as dreams of emulating their heroes become deeply ingrained in their young minds.

Paudie o Se Kerry's legendary defender tells a great story about his late mother Beatrice. "When my nephews Dara, Thomas and Mark were small a visit next door to their grand mother was more or less a daily routine.  It was football morning, noon and night in our home and the boys were literally brainwashed in relation to going on and playing with Kerry. It was a regular occurrence and I enjoyed this so much. My mother would arrange the three lads one behind the other in a straight line and she would then take the lead, a few well chosen words such as "by the left quick march" and all four would set of around the tiny kitchen in perfect unison. They were marching (in their own minds) behind the Artane Boys Band. It was wonderful to watch and of course that practice in the kitchen conducted by my mother in later years stood the boys in good stead".  Those three young boys, Paudie's nephews  would go on and march behind that famous band on many a historic day in Croke park as they played major parts in helping Kerry to All ireland victory.

Oh, the simplicity and naivety of youth. September 1953, I was just eleven years old. The full time whistle had just been blown in the All Ireland final in Croke Park and Kerry had defeated Armagh in that historic encounter. As I have recalled in my memories of that win in a previous chapter we had listened to the match on an old Bush radio outside McNeill's public house and sweet shop in Lower New Street. While Dr Eamon o Sullivan and his selectors had been laying their plans for the final in the weeks before the game another group were also busy planning and plotting for what would be their own special All Ireland. I refer to the many young boys of my age group who lived in this area of the town which is just a stones throw from the Killarney National Park.

South and west of the town of Killarney in Co. Kerry is an expanse of rugged mountainous country. This includes the McGillicuddys Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland which rises to a height of over 1000 meters. At the foot of these mountains nestles the world famous Lakes of Killarney. Here where the mountains sweep down to the lake shores, their lower slopes covered in woodlands, lies the 10,236 hectare (26,000 acres), Killarney National Park. The distinctive combination of mountains, lakes, woods and waterfalls under ever changing skies gives the area a special scenic beauty.

The nucleus of the National Park is the 4,300 hectare Bourn Vincent Memorial Park which was presented to the Irish State in 1932 by Senator Arthur Vincent and his parent-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn in memory of Senator Vincent's late wife Maud. The focal point of the National Park for visitors is Muckross House and gardens the house which is presented as a late 19th century mansion featuring all the necessary furnishings and artifacts of the period is a major visitor attraction and jointly managed by the Park Authorities and the Trustees of Muckross House. Killarney National Park contains many features of national and international importance such as the native oak woods and yew woods together with an abundance of evergreen trees and shrubs and a profusion of bryophytes and lichens which thrive in the mild Killarney climate. The native red deer are unique in Ireland with a presence in the country since the last Ice Age.

Killarney National Park was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1981 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), part of a world network of natural areas which have conservation, research, education and training as major objectives. The former Kenmare Demesne close to Killarney Town is also part of the National Park and features Killarney House and Gardens and Knockneer House which is the education centre of the park. And it was here in the Demense just a stones throw from our home we spend our boyhood days. This was our playground. Fishing for trout and eels in the river Denaght, snaring rabbits, climbing the towering trees, playing cowboys in the dense shrubbery and always being on the look out for the estate gamekeeper.

Jack Lyne was the last of the Park gamekeepers. A low sized well built man sporting a mustache his mode of transport was a bicycle and always tied on to the cross bar was a double barreled shot gun. We had a fearful fascinating about Jack Lyne and were always on the look out for his approach; the legend was that he had one time shot dead a poacher somewhere on the estate so any sign of his impending approach would send everyone rushing for cover deep in the woods. Long lazy summer days were spend swimming in the lakes, it was a magical time. Darkness would descend by the lake shore, the bonfire would be lit, a frying pan produced and sausages and rashers stolen from home secretly wrapped in swimming togs and towel behind our mothers back would be soon sizzling beautifully over the blazing fire. The impending All Ireland finals of the fifties and sixties and Kerry contested eight during those decads would be discussed at length.

All our imaginations were vividly captured in the run up to the 1953 final against Armagh. The Kerryman gave the impending match great coverage. A special supplement was produced in the weeks leading up to the game. Players were interviewed at length. Of course there was no television or local radio back then. The Kerryman was the bible of Kerry football and their GAA journalist Paddy Foley who wrote under the initials PF was one of the best in the country. For us Killarney boys our heroes on that magnificent team were Jackie Lyne, Tadghie Lyne, and Donie Murphy all from the town.

Mulcahy's boot and shoe shop was situated at the top of our street. In the weeks preceding the final the shop windows were bedecked with green and gold flags, big pictures of the local players, old blackthorn football boots and socks and right in the centre was a silver cup which i later learned was the prize for the winners of the old Killarney Street League. And there nestling right on top of that cup was the wondrous sight of a beautiful white pig skin football with the words  o Neills printed boldly in black lettering. It was the first time I had seen a pig skin football  and I was dazzled by it pure newness and whiteness, this I remember best of all. We would gatherer every day after school and gaze at the wonders in this window and most of all our eyes feasted on the football. 

Danno Keeffe (not the legendary Kerry goalkeeper), was the man in charge of the sports section of the shop. In later life both of us became great friends, as he and I were members of the Killarney Legion Club. Danno had a great sports back ground, he was a member of the Kerry junior football panel and also played a few games with the Kerry seniors. Also an accomplished basketball player he was one of the stars of the Kerry basketball team that won the county's first ever All Ireland title in 1957. One day a few of us summed up the courage to enter the shop and ask Danno the price of the football. His answer. "Well boys" he replied. "Its five pounds, five shillings and sixpence, but if ye come in with the five pounds ye can have it, is that fair"?

We were determined to have that football and so we set about raising the money. Just outside the town on the Killorglin road was the Killarney dump pit where all the refuse from the town was disposed of. It covered a huge area, wide open to the elements the smell emanating from the refuse was horrible. But it was here the secret of raising funds to purchase the ball lay. We became known as "the New Street picaroons". We began collecting jam jars from the dump. Every day after school in the Monastery we would gather at Christy Healy's shop on our street and run the two miles to the dump. With the sea gulls and crows swooping and screeching over head, furious at being disturbed we scoured the vast area ignoring the horrible smell. My brother Geni had salvaged an old canvas potato bag from our fathers shed and this would be quickly filled with dirty filthy two pound jam jars.

Our next stop on the way home was the Denaght River running parallel with the Port road and just across from the St Mary's Cathedral. Off with the shoes, into the river and the washing and cleaning the jam jars commenced. T.T. o Connors shop in High Street was the next stop; they had stores at the back where we sold the jars to the man in charge. Two pennies for each jar, Donie o Sullivan was appointed the keeper of the money and it was an excited group of young picaroons who landed the five pounds on the counter to Danno. We watched in glorious anticipation as he retrieved the ball from the window. He then proceeded to pump it with a special valve attached to a bicycle pump and then with deft experienced fingers he laced the opening with a leather thong. The ball was ours, it was handed around from one another and I will never forget the soft feel and beautiful leather smell from that first ever football. Until then Geni and I had made our own ball, a bundle of pages from the Kerryman or Cork Examiner tied together with some of my mothers knitting thread.

During one of those days scavenging in the Killarney dump pit I had uncovered an old large silver plated oil lamp. I brought it home and watched enthralled as my late mother washed and shined what was to be our Sam Maguire Cup. Plenty elbow grease and a fair spread of Brasso had transformed this old dirty lamp into a beautiful shinning spectacle. And so that day in the dim and distance past when the full time whistle had sounded in Croke Park and Armagh had been defeated a crowd of young New Street boys raced to the St Brendan's Seminary field situated in the New Road not far from our homes. And it was there in that field now the site of Killarney Community College that our All Ireland final was played. Two teams of twelve a-sides battled it out until darkness descended. Michael Clifford was the winning captain and Brother Philip from our Monastery school who had refereed the contest presented the "Cup" to the captain.

Michael later immigrated to England where he began a very successful construction firm. Sadly however he died in a tragic accident when a trench he was inspecting caved in on top of him. Michael daughter is the renowned and hightly talented Sky News world reporter Michael Clifford. Michael was invited to Killarney a few years ago to lead the Saint Patrick's Day parade, I met up with her and conduced a long and in dept interview where I informed her of that "All Ireland Final" her dad had played in back in 1953. Little did I realize then that I would be so fortunate as to go on and become the first Killarney footballer to represent Kerry at all grades, minor, under twenty one, junior and senior, play and train with the greatest Kerry players the game had ever seen and travel the world representing my county. The seeds had been well and truly sown. Six years later I would don the green and gold for the first time, play for the Kerry minor footballers and suffer a heart breaking defeat.

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