Echoes of 1951

This piece, written by my late father, John Gunnigan Snr, was published on the blog in December 2013 under the ‘Akamore Man’ nom de plume. It first appeared in the 2013 edition of the Annagh annual magazine.

In light of his passing on 11th November this year, it seems appropriate to feature the piece here again. Rest in peace, Dad.

Photo: The Green Above The Red

Now that we have picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves down after losing another All-Ireland, I have been hearing echoes in my old head from the last time we won. That as everyone knows was back in 1951, sixty-two years ago.  What a different place Ireland was then.

Living as I was then and, indeed, all my life on a farm. I have seen a lot of changes. I’m sure the young and, indeed the not so young, could not imagine living without electricity, running water, or central heating.  Not to mention any TV, phones of any kind.  No computer, no laptop, iPod, and all the gadgets young people now take for granted. Not everyone even had a radio, or wireless as they were then called. If you were lucky enough to live in a house that had one you wouldn’t be let turn it on for the week before Mayo were playing in a big match, in case the wet battery went down.

Ration book 1951

Times were hard living on a farm in those days. The war was only over a few years.  Rationing was just being phased out.  In fact the last set of ration books were issued that year. Those books were never used. I think that puts into perspective the hunger there is in Mayo for an All-Ireland when you think that ration books were issued the year we last won.

We produced most of our own food.  We worked six days a week, and we were lucky if we had the price of the pictures on Sunday night. Holidays were unheard of. They were something other people had.   The only people who had cars were priests, doctors, teachers, and big shopkeepers.

One of my sisters (I had seven of them!) got married in October 1950, just after Mayo had beaten Louth in the All-Ireland.  She and her husband Oliver were living in Dublin, and I was determined that if Mayo got to the final in 1951 I was going to be in Croke Park.  Well Mayo got there after a struggle and I got them to invite me to visit them and Oliver promised to take me to the match.

Everything was falling into place.  Now the big question was how to get there.  Money was very scarce. I had an uncle living in Claremorris who went to all the big matches.  I contacted him and he got me fixed up with a seat in a car.  He had already been offered a seat to Dublin and he cadged a seat for me too.


This was a very big adventure for me.   Apart from a week I spent in hospital in 1945 when I got my appendix out, I had never spent two consecutive nights away from the house I was born in, nineteen years prior to this.  I was determined if I got away I wouldn’t be in any great hurry back.   My father was impressing on me all the work that had to be done.  I can tell you that I let it in one ear and out the other.

I had to cycle in to Ballyhaunis to meet the car from Claremorris.  On my way there I called in on a neighbour in Aghamore.  I knew that he went to the cattle market in Dublin every Thursday. I asked if he was going the following Thursday. The answer was yes.  I asked if I could have a seat home with him. Another yes. I then asked if he would pick me up from my aunt’s house in Chapelizod.  My grandmother was living there at the time and I knew my neighbour often called in to see her.  I left my bike with another aunt I had in Ballyhaunis and I met the car as arranged in the square.

I remember the car was an Austin A40.   It was driven by Tom Keane.  A son of his – JP Keane – played for Mayo later. I sat in the back with my uncle and another man whose name I have forgotten.  It was my first time to cross the Shannon.  I think that was a bigger adventure for me than when I first crossed the Atlantic on a flight to Canada in 1991.

My sister and her husband met me in Chapelizod and took me to their home in Brookwood Avenue, Artane.  Their’s was a new house.  Oliver was a builder, he had built it the previous year.  Everything was strange to me. I had never been in a new house before.  I had lived all my life in a house built by my great-grandfather way back in 1873.

Croke Park

Next morning we got an early Mass in Donnycarney church and hit for Croke Park. There were no tickets at the time: you paid at the turnstile. I don’t know how much it cost to get in as Oliver paid for me. We got there in good time. We were standing all the time in what I now think must be the Hill.  We were right behind the goal posts, in the middle of Meath supporters.  Oliver was a Louth man.  We had beaten them the year before, so I don’t think he had much sympathy for Mayo.  He daren’t say that out loud or he would have his wife and me to deal with!

I don’t remember all that much about the match itself. Only that we won easy after a bit of a shaky start.  Another thing I remember was that the Meath supporters were great sports.  Of course they gave me a bit of harmless teasing, but it was all in good humour.

The next morning Oliver was gone to work when I got up.  He had men working with him who left their bikes at his house and went off in the car with him.  I soon took one of them out for a spin up Brookwood Avenue.  When I got to the main road – I was later told it was called the Malahide Road – I was very surprised to find what looked like a big circle.  I really didn’t know what to make of it.  I must have gone round it six or seven times on the bike. I thought it was great fun.  When I got back to the house my sister told me it was called a roundabout.  Oliver later told me that it was the first one in Ireland and it is still there. Little did I think that day that forty years later I would be driving a car round it.

On Monday evening I was taken to visit another aunt. She and her husband lived in Marino.  When we were leaving I told her that I would see her again the next day.  Next day I set off on the bike, did a few turns on the roundabout, and headed off down the Malahide Road.  There was very little traffic: a few cars, an odd bus, and plenty of bikes.  I found my way without any trouble.  I think I visited her every day I was there.  At night we went out to the pictures a few times.

On Thursday Oliver came home at lunch time and took me to Chapelizod. My neighbour picked me up as arranged, and we headed for home.  When we arrived back in Ballyhaunis, my neighbour offered to put my bike in the boot and take me as far as Aghamore but I decided to cycle home.  To tell the truth I was in no great hurry to get there.

Sam Maguire in Ballyhaunis

When I went to went to my aunt’s house, I was told that Sean Flanagan was coming to town with the Cup that night.  There was going to be a big bonfire in the square and a victory dance in the Parochial Hall.   Of course I didn’t want to miss all that. I asked my aunt if she could give me a bed for the night. Of course she could, after all I was her godson as well as her nephew.

Needless to say I enjoyed all the fun at the bonfire.  Seeing Sean Flanagan hold up the Sam Maguire Cup is something I will never forget. We made our way up to the hall for the dance. I don’t remember what band played that night.  The hall was full and everyone was enjoying themselves. At one stage I felt a bit tired so I made my way up to the balcony for a sit down and a smoke. Everyone smoked at the time. I wasn’t there long when a person sat beside me and asked me for a match.  I looked up and who was there but the great Tom Langan.  I thought I had died and gone to Heaven!

I had a good lie in the next morning, and it was well into the afternoon by the time I rolled in home.  My father could not understand how I could stay away for a full week and all the work that had to be done.   My mother told me later that every morning as he was getting up, he looked in to my bedroom to see if I had come home after they went to bed.

Those are some of the echoes I have been hearing for the past few weeks.  While we didn’t win Sam this year, I have no doubt that James Horan and his great team will do so in the near future.  I will finish up by thanking the Mayo team, James Horan and his backroom crew for the wonderful year they gave us.  Five great wins, one better than the other.  Five days when we were all proud to call ourselves Mayo men and women.

40 thoughts on “Echoes of 1951

  1. Class reflection and write-up there Willie Joe……Wishing you many happy memories of your Dad, and may he rest in peace.

  2. Words that paint a picture of a different time . The apple didn’t fall far from the tree I reckon. Great to have that archived for reflection and to show future generations. . Men like your dad w.j. encountered dilemmas/problems that this generation couldn’t even comprehend.

  3. I got so much pleasure from reading this Willie Joe; thanks for posting it again. I was two when Mayo last won the All Ireland so of course I don’t remember it. But… I did meet my wife at a dance in Ballyhaunis 50 years ago. Rest in peace John!

  4. Really enjoyed reading that. It had a Bukowski level of everyday detail and incidents with a touch of irreverence. Haven’t read any account of 1951 like it.

  5. Beautiful account of 1951 from your late dad, Willie Joe. Your dad lit the flame and as the song at the end of the podcast says carrying the flame is exactly what you are doing now

  6. That’s an excellent article which I don’t remember reading before.

    RIP John Sr and condolences to John and family.

  7. Lovely to read that, with memories of John, my Dad and Mam, my great gran aunts and those in the Lurgan household.

  8. Such a lovely Reflection by your Dad may he rest in peace It give a great account what mayo team means to so many of us Condolence John Louis you mum and all the Gunnigan family

  9. Greatest story to read delighted ,
    My first attendance to croke park 1952 donegal first apperance at senior level league semi final v Cork 3 3 donegal 0 7 my next cavan v meath all Ireland , Paddy Prendendgas spelling your full back arrived in dungloe 1946 played for donegal two games paddy told me many times down in his home near Tralee I didn’t want to leave donegal Sean Flanagan arrived looking for me many times paddy played for Dungloe and Adara,paddy played for Ballintubber up the lane passed Tony O Connor and his two famous Sons,we had many wonderful players arrived in donegal from Mayo the famous Michael Murphy dad Michael Senior ,we had john Ford Patrick Brogan and many others,we sent you martin Carney to mayo ,
    Your story interesting to read it reminds me when I left home in fintown 1951
    Wonderful memories all those years gone bye, myself when in bellacorrick power station during construction I played for Ballina Stevenites and Bangor Erris with Johnny Carey early sixtys
    Rgds Connie Mcmahon Fintown Co donegal

  10. Beautiful piece. You’re Dad paints a wonderful picture of Ireland in those days. He skillfully incorporates key everyday differences between modern times and the early 50s … and in doing so, brings the reader right back to those times.
    (He sounded like he had a bit of a wild streak.)
    I am sorry for your loss WJ. He must have been an inspirational and wonderful father

  11. A lovely piece that Willie Joe, enjoyed it all, thanks.
    There were plenty of fit men back then with all the cycling they did on heavy bikes and roads!
    God rest your Dad.

  12. Condolences to you and your family Willie Joe. When my father died the stories our neighbours and friends told us about him helped sustain us through the days and weeks afterwards. It sounds like you and your family will have many great memories to sustain you through your loss. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

  13. He was some man – was your father and lucky to have him in your life for so long. A life well lived no doubt…May he rest in peace ?

  14. Good to see that Keegan has said that he’ll sit down with McStay to discuss what he’s going to do next year- I believe therefore he’ll stay on. It’s in the online papers now.

  15. What a lovely account of life in Mayo and Ireland during that era. Times were tough back then but there was an innocence and an appreciation of simple things that we have lost, probably forever. We might have more creature comforts nowadays but I wonder if we’re any happier.

    A great story unobscured by the ego-filled, pompous writing that’s everywhere in the media today. Thanks to your father for giving us this window into the past-and of course what it feels like to win an All Ireland and thanks to you Willie Joe for posting it.

  16. Kevin McStay bringing alot of pressure on himself, dropping Fergal Boland and has brought only 1 forward into his preseason panel.

  17. Donniver,no previous manager gave Boland much play time.i assume the panel is open ended. Are there any outstanding forwards missing from the panel,some of the u17 and u 19 forwards look promising but time will tell.

  18. Openended , if your going trying out new players bring them in now for heavens sake or hold a number of trial games or combine at least James Horan done that, Kevin McStay has 7 players from Westport in the Mayo panel at present 2 more than JH had does he really believe Westport have 7 of the best players of 40 in Mayo at present, a team that were lucky to beat Garrymore by a point in a quarter final.Corofin hadnt that amount when they did the 3 in a row.Some of the Best players from weaker clubs getting left behind.Fergal Boland much better than Fionn McDonagh and Mark Moran on current form.

  19. While I agree 7 players from Westport is a stretch, I would still like to see Mark Moran on the panel. Longer term he could be a better player than Boland has been at intercounty level. He’s got more pace and can find a man with a kick pass and crucially is a much more powerful guy than Boland in the physical stakes.
    There was a reason why Horan preferred the likes of Bryan Walsh and Loftus to Boland, it is because they are able to get up and down the field all day from the half forward position and still fit into the teams defensive system better than Boland.
    The top wing forwards in the country at present are players like Conor Meyler, Brian Howard, Dara Moynihan, and they are the hardest working guys on the entire pitch. Diarmuid is probably the only player we have at a comparable level to those players mentioned. Powerful athletes that cover enormous ground both defensively and in attack. Plunkett is one guy I wouldn’t mind seeing tried at wing forward in the league this year.

  20. I have seen absolutely nothing from Mark Moran since that covid league game against galway to justify a callup. The brother Colm seems a better option for starters as he knows where the posts are

    Could niall walsh from moycullen be worth a look, half cavan half mayoman. Big rangey player who shoots well off both feet

  21. Fergal Boland told Mike Finnerty (according to latest pod) that he was very disappointed to have been let go from the panel.
    Based on that, you can assume it wasn’t his own decision

  22. Can someone post the panel if its public. Otherwise its posters speculating and some are good at that!!

  23. Niall Walsh – now that’s left-field!
    Lovely footballer but he wouldn’t be overly sure of his place in the Moycullen team, although in fairness he’s had a few injuries this year. I’m sure Padraic Joyce will have first dibs, but interesting to see would he go back with Cavan

    Agree with you on Mark Moran, Supermac, to be honest I don’t think he’ll even start with Westport next year at this rate – with Colm and McGraynor returning – unless he ups it big time

  24. Moycullen had 6 on the Galway Panel this year, and Westport now have 7 on the Mayo panel?

    Fergal Boland would be Westport’s best forward judging on the last few weeks, incredible if he has been overlooked really

    He still has hurling commitments (hopefully for the next few weeks) remember, maybe there’s been something lost in translation somewhere?

  25. A lovely authentic account through the eyes of a young man. We owe so much to that generation. They did so much to foster the love of the game and passed the torch. If we go on to win the All-Ireland, let it be in the name of all those who are gone before us. God be good to your Dad, John Snr Willie Joe.

  26. Downriver. I have to agree. Boland not making a 40 panel is an absolute joke. U would swear we had found 6 dessie connellys. Dont think diskin has been called either. We all know that mayo s big problems are in the half forward line. Mark moran honestly is a million miles away from Boland s level and plenty more. We have a habit of this down through the years. Mcstay better pray that keegan stays on

  27. Interesting that Lee seems to really be sending out a message to McStay. Possibly to look for some time away but still remain part of the set up in 2023??. It’s very hard to know what Lee is thinking with all his recent comments. He may very well pack it in altogether.

    Making exceptions for certain players generally doesn’t sit well with me as there’s the danger it could affect the greater player group. But if any player deserves it then it’s Lee. I recall he said a number of years ago that he was one concussion away from his career being over, so this should be a key factor. He should be wrapped in cotton wool and I hope McStay sees it this way. He’s still playing some of the best football of his life so McStay needs to approach him and meet him half way.

    Last but not least, his skill, drive and influence is second to none. Let none of the other players whinge (if exceptions are made for him). They’ll only have grounds to whinge if and when they start scoring goals in All Ireland finals and/or marking All Star opposition players completely out of the game.

  28. Apart from a proper fullback Mayo have plenty of defenders who can both defend and attack and even score a few points. Problem is now and has been for a very long time a few forwards that can score from play on a regular basis. A good few have been given plenty of game time over the last few years but very few of them have nailed down a place on the team. If McStay has nothing new coming through and has to stick with the players Horan used over the last few years, then a complete new game plan is needed, but what is that, for me quick movement of the ball going forward all the time and a more kicking game with players shooting from all angles and no more passing the ball back and over and going NOWHERE.

  29. Liberal yes it is all a bit confusing but to Lose mullin and keegan at the same time is unconcievable. Whatever Lee wants he should get. The years he has given us and the performance s at the top table are second to none. When o mahoney started to lay down the law to Mcdonald he was left a pale shadow of a man above in Longford 2010 on the worst day ever for mayo football.

  30. It’s always harsh when a player gets dropped but what do people expect. We have a new manager. Fergal Boland is a great lad by all accounts but he’s what, 27 or 28 years old now?
    If you are over the age of 23 or on the panel for 3 years or more and still not a guaranteed member of the match day 26, it’s a vulnerable place to be. Players like Conor O’Shea, Darren Coen and Fionn McDonagh fall into that category. Do you pick a 21 year old who is a 6/10 player now but could improve to become an 8/10 or more player in 3 years time, or do you stuck with the 26/27 year old who is a 7/10 player now and won’t go beyond that level for the next 3 or 4 years?
    Those are the decisions the manager lives and dies by really.
    It’s a long time ago now but I don’t remember Lee Keegan dominating club football as a 21 year old in 2011 when Horan first brought him into the panel. Club football is a guide to how players do at intercounty but it is not a 100% indication. It if was Neil Douglas and Jason Gibbons would have started every game for Mayo at 11 and 8 respectively for the last 10 years. There are many great inter-county players in the GAA that have looked very average at club level over the years.
    Anyway the Mayo panel is not a closed book. If a guy gets dropped and goes away and improves there is every chance they get invited back in.

  31. That’s a very good assessment mikey 3. Fair comment. I think the point is that are we that rich in talent up front that we can afford to drop arguably the one that can score from distance at times. And yes Horam deserves immense credit for giving us keegan. Has conor diskin been left out also.

  32. Beautiful account by your father John reminds me of James Lally’s book a Mayo football story with a happy ending!

    Sorry for your loss Rip

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