At least it’s good weather for getting through all those books that have been piling up and I’ve just started reading the recently-announced Sports Book of the Year – Christy O’Connor’s The Club – which I’ll review here in due course once I’ve finished it. Before that, I want to mention two related books that I’ve just completed reading, although both are sure to become useful reference works for me in the months and years ahead.
I came across these two titles – Terry Reilly’s The Green Above The Red and The Goal of Victory – largely by accident a few weeks back. I’d known about the former but had assumed it wasn’t easily available anymore but then I got an email from Denise who was trying to find out about a book in which her grandfather – who had played for Ballina many moons ago – was mentioned. A quick bit of googling later and I was able to point Denise in the direction of Terry Reilly’s website and sure while I was there myself I thought it was as well to buy both of the books, which you can do directly from the site. Two days later, they turned up at my door in a big, fat jiffy bag.
The Green Above The Red, which Terry co-wrote with the late Ivan Neill, was published 25 years ago but it remains (aside from Keith Duggan’s House of Pain which isn’t a history book in its proper sense) the most recent history of Mayo GAA to be written. In fact, as far as I know, The Green Above The Red is only one of two such histories, the other being MA Clune’s Mayo’s Football Triumphs, which dates from 1954, i.e. when we had a fair few recent triumphs to talk about.
The Green Above The Red covers all of those old triumphs in an account that reaches back to the dawn of the GAA itself, tracing as it does the origins of the county colours and the formation of the first Mayo County Board in 1888. Terry and Ivan had, of course, a long association with the Western People and extensive use is made of that paper’s archive in shedding light on events and off the field in those early years.
As well as covering the high points of how we earned the title of the League Specialists and the supreme triumphs of 1936, 1950 and 1951, as well as low points such as the skulduggery that robbed us of what would have been our first All-Ireland back in 1925, the book also contains a wealth of information on our record at junior, minor, vocational and U21 levels. There are loads of photos in the book too, including that wonderful one from 1916 that I mentioned here a few weeks back.
Although the book dates from 1985, it should still prove of relevance to anyone who is interested in the county’s footballing history and, of course, the fact that it was written back then means that you’ll be spared any discussion on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries we’ve had to endure in the quarter-century since then. The book won’t always be as readily available as it is now so my advice would be to get your copy now while it’s still in stock.
The Goal of Victory is a centenary history of Ballina Stephenites, with whom Terry has had a life-long connection. It was published in 1986, a hundred years after club founder James Wallace Melvin told Western People editor PG Smyth that “I’m going out, Pat, to start a club that will shake all Ireland”. While this one naturally has a much narrower focus than The Green Above The Red, it is still a useful companion piece to it, especially for anyone interested in stitching together the county’s very early footballing record, given that dominant clubs within any county in effect doubled as the county team in those years.
In this respect, The Goal of Victory contains loads of information on the county’s championship record in the early years of the last century and, having read one after the other, it’s obvious that much of this could usefully have also been included in The Green Above The Red, which has little in the way of detail about our championship exploits prior to 1925.
As a comprehensive club history, there’s loads and loads of team line-ups, stretching right back to the first team the club assembled in 1886 and including all the famous Croke Cup winning teams, the many county championship winning sides and plenty more besides. As well as that, the book delves into the history of James Stephen’s Park and there’s even fifty-odd pages on squash and badminton activity within the club. Something for everyone, in other words.
The Goal of Victory also has a wealth of photographic detail, which I’m sure anyone connected with the club would find utterly fascinating. As well as studying these plates with my amateur historian’s hat on, I found it quite amusing to pick out Kevin McStay from a number of them, disguised as he was back then in various tousle-headed juvenile get-ups.
If you’re from Ballina, then you probably won’t hesitate before buying both titles while non-Stephenites will obviously get more mileage from The Green Above The Red. I’d still recommend getting both of them, both for their value as handy reference works and also because, as I mentioned, there’s plenty about the genesis of the county team intertwined with the early history of the Stephenites in The Goal of Victory. And, of course, there’s all those hilarious pics of our Kev as well. Go on, spoil yourself with the both of them.