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.
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.
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.
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.