By Charlie Keegan
ON a weekend when the blue and deeper blue of the The Dubs attained football immortality by completing ‘the drive for five’, the blue and white flew proudly in Carlow town as O’Hanrahan’s Gaelic Football Club celebrated their centenary.
Founded in 1919, O’Hanrahan’s, known far and wide in Carlow as The Blues, took their name from the 1916 executed patriot Micheál Uí Anracháin (Michael O’Hanrahan), a native of New Ross, Co Wexford who lived with his family in Tullow Street, Carlow from a young age. He was put to death by British soldiers on 4 May, 1916 in Kilmainham Jail at the age of 39, having been born on St Patrick’s Day in 1877.
The two-day sporting festival started with the focus firmly on the youth of the county town’s oldest football club, through the staging of a series of juvenile football blitzes for boys and girls of various age groups at the Blues headquarters on Dublin Road on Saturday, 14 September.
On Sunday morning the O’Hanrahan’s, Carlow and Irish flags were flying side by side on the approach to the club premises while blue and white flags, balloons and bunting were to be seen everywhere, providing a genuine festive atmosphere to the occasion.
Blues supporters, young and old, gathered in the club grounds and, led by members of Carlow Pipe Band, paraded behind the O’Hanrahan’s banner being carried by two club stalwarts, Hughie Walker and Ger Bermingham. Walking near the head of the parade were three direct descendents of Michael O’Hanrahan – grandnephews Pearse and Harry O’Hanrahan and grandniece Deirdre Lawler.
The parade made its way down Green Lane into the town for 12.30pm Mass in the Cathedral of the Assumption. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Denis Nulty.
Afterwards the parade reformed and made its way to the sports hall of St Mary’s Academy CBS, the CBS being the alma mater of Michael O’Hanrahan during his Carlow school days.
There was a mountain of Blues memorabilia dotted around the walls of the gym, recording the history of O’Hanrahan’s. The Nationalist press cuttings featured prominently in this extensive display. The greater majority of the newspaper reports related to the outstanding run of success the Blues enjoyed from 1999, when they emerged from the long shadow cast by Éire Óg between 1961 and that ’99 final victory over the Teach Asca men. The Blues went on to win the finals of 2000 and 2001, against Éire Óg and Palatine respectively – the climax of that team’s achievement coming in December 2000 when they claimed the Leinster senior club football title by defeating Dublin champions, Na Fianna.
That famous O’Moore Park, Portlaoise victory (1-7 to 1-5) on Sunday, 3 December 2000 spawned the page one politically-inspired sporting headline in The Nationalist: ‘Blueshirts sweep to power as Fianna Fall’.
In the All-Ireland semi-final the Carlow and Leinster champions were edged out in Clonmel by Nemo Rangers of Cork, on a score of 0-12 to 1-7
Photographs are always a great source of interest on such occasions and this was very much the case for The Blues celebration. On one table there was a collection of former prominent O’Hanrahan’s players who have gone to their eternal reward.
The largest photo was one in colour of Tom ‘Drakes’ Walker, a Blues legend who was the first Carlow footballer to be honoured with Railway Cup selection for Leinster in the 1930s. Photos of the club’s two other Railway Cup legends of the club, Jimma Rea – a hero of the 1944 Carlow team which claimed the county’s lone Leinster senior football championship title – and Eamon Long, were also on view.
Refreshments were sponsored by Ciss and Marc Carpenter – Marc playing his role in the weekend celebrations as The Blues chairman.
Anne Ahern, a member of the club executive, and The Blues secretary Peadar Bermingham, chairman of the Centenary Steering Committee and a major driving force behind the two days of celebration, formed a double act in terms of introducing the various guest speakers called to the podium.
Behind them was a collection of silverware – cups associated with The Blues down the years.
Pride of place went to two cups – the original O’Hanrahan Cup presented to The Blues at a function in The Workman’s Club in 1966 by Michael O’Hanrahan’s sister, the late Eily O’Hanrahan Reilly and subsequently contested at various times at club and inter-county levels. Peadar informed his audience, numbering several hundred people, that this cup was donated by the club to Dermot Mulligan, Curator of the County Carlow Museum. The cup, he said, is based on the famous Ardagh Chalice.
The next item on the clár was the formal handing over of the gleaming new O’Hanrahan Cup to club chairman Marc Carpenter by Harry O’Hanrahan. The cup bears the inscription: ‘From Harry on behalf of the O’Hanrahan family’.
It will now occupy place of pride within the club’s extensive collection of memorabilia at The Blues’ Dublin Road clubrooms.
A major highlight of events at the CBS hall was the fact that a book titled ‘O’Hanrahan’s Centenary History 1919-2019’ went on sale.
This magnificient 108-page production was compiled by Leo McGough, a self-confessed GAA fanatic, historian, archivist, statistician, sports journalist, writer of GAA club histories and former hurler.
The book charts the history of O’Hanrahan’s from 1919 to the present day, featuring on the front page an inset head and shoulders photo of Michael O’Hanrahan. The front page also carries two large pictures, showing a very early Blues team parading to a game and the 1954 O’Hanrahan’s team, led by the late Paddy Carpenter, parading before their Carlow senior football final defeat of Tinryland (2-6 to 1-3) at Dr Cullen Park on Sunday, 19 September of that year.
The book, selling at €10 is truly a collector’s item for anyone with an interest in O’Hanrahan’s GFC and its history. As Anne Ahern said: “It is an absoluely incredible publication.”
There was also a second publication featuring Snapshots of Years Past, which was distributed free, along with a Centenary O’Hanrahan’s pin of the occasion.
A photo of the first O’Hanrahan’s team from 1919 is carried in both Leo’s book and ‘Snapshots’ – providing a link to the very formation of the club, which is second in the roll of honour of Carlow SFC wins with 16, behind Éire Óg who sit on top with 28 senior titles.
Presentations then took place to former O’Hanrahan’s players of the mid-1950s and early 1960s, who played on county SFC medal-winning teams.
They included Luke Lacey who won SFC medals with the Blues in 1954 and ’58 and is a club vice-president. Luke could not attend on health grounds and his son, Walter, received the presentation on his behalf. Donal Lyttleton, originally from Green Lane was a winner of senior championship and minor championship medals on the same day in 1958. Hughie Long captained the 1958 team to final victory over Clonmore. Pat Somers won SFC medals in 1958 and 1961 and famously led Carlow to All-Ireland intermediate hurling victory over London in Croke Park in 1962. Paddy Condron was centre back on the team of 1954. Peter Flood was a SFC winner in 1961 when O’Hanrahan’s defeated town rivals Éire Óg 3-13 to 2-5 in the final, and he was also in the blue and white at number seven when they went down to the YI’s in the 1962 decider (5-5 to 1-7).
The all-town final of 1961 was unique due to the fact that three sets of brothers opposed each other: Eddie and Peter Walker (both deceased), Peter and Christy Flood and George (‘Lep’) and Pa Joe Hogan (both deceased).
On the Tuesday following the final of 1961, The Irish Independent featured a photo of the three sets of Carlow brothers, noting that at one stage the Walker brothers were marking each other.
There were also presentations to two great O’Hanrahan’s clubmen – Ted Brophy, who was in attendance at the presentation of the original O’Hanrahan Cup in 1966 and Martin Doogue, a great Gael, Blues supporter, member of a great sporting family and a generous sponsor to O’Hanrahan’s down the years.
A presentation was also made to Fr Brendan Howard, current president of the club and loyal supporter of the Blues.