The highlight of Carlow’s Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) 125th Anniversary celebrations in 2009 was the magnificent eleven-day county exhibition in Netwatch Cullen Park in late August, coinciding with Heritage Week. Coiste Chontae Ceatharlach (Carlow County GAA Board) developed this temporary exhibition in partnership with Carlow County Museum and the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society. This temporary exhibition has concluded but parts of the exhibition have been incorporated into the main museum exhibitions.
The exhibition was based in two locations within the county grounds. On Dr Dullen Park Road the gym room located under the Lennon Stand housed the display cases along with the Club and County Associations displays. On Oak Park Road the Board Room housed the County Boards photographic display and the wonderful Donie Nolan collection. The exhibition brought all aspects of Carlow GAA life together, each club in the county having their own display board as did the various County Associations such as Handball, Camogie, Ladies Football, Rounders and Scor. It was with delight that the Clubs and County Associations embraced the call to participate in this unique exhibition. Their enthusiastic response resulted in displays of photographs, match reports and club histories. The Clubs displays covered all aspects of club life from the past to the present, from boys and girls underage teams to mens and ladies.
As people entered the gym room they were instantly met with a dazzling array of silverware including all the current and former senior county championship cups including the famed Haughney Cup, which the majority of people hadn’t seen except in photographs. The first county football and hurling championships medals of 1889 and 1908 respectively were on display. The Christy Ring Cup was centre of the hurling display case in celebration of Carlow being the first county to win it back-to-back. A number of medal collections such as Christopher Callinan, Brendan Hayden Senior, Michael Nolan, Matty Doyle and Christy & Gerry Dalton spanned virtually the entire period of Carlow GAA. Alongside the current Railway Cup was displayed Peenie Whelan’s three unique Captain winning medals won with Tinryland in 1943 (Senior County Football), with Carlow in 1944 (Senior Leinster Football) and his 1945 Railway Cup medal (Interprovincial Football). Two woolen jerseys from the 1940s and 1950s, one worn by Ned Gladney with St. Mullins and the other a Railway Cup jersey from Graiguecullen gave rise to discussion on the changes in jersey manufacture and designs over the years. The County Board minutes of 1902 – 1904 and 1909 made for interesting reading as did the match programme and medal presentation menu card from the 1944 Senior Leinster Football winning team.
Handball, one of the oldest GAA codes, and incidentally has Carlow’s biggest role of honour, proudly displayed the Waterford Crystal trophy won by Kenneth Kane when he was crowned World Champion in 1997 along with his senior All Ireland Hardball medal. Mention of Paddy Coyne gave rise to many a story of his many famous victories prior to handball becoming part of the GAA family.
The Ladies Football displayed the Leinster Junior Cup won by Carlow in 2007 along with Leinster Championship medals from 1995, 1999 and 2007. Camogie had a wonderful display of photographs many of yester year when long skirts were the order of the day. Borris Vocational School displayed their 2009 Leinster Colleges Minor & Junior Camogie cups.
In terms of public recognition Rounders doesn’t get that much publicity but it was with pride that Carlow Rounders displayed their double All Ireland Senior Mens & Ladies trophies won magnificently in 2008 by Cúchulainn from Ballon and the Bagenalstown Rounders Club.
The walls of the room contained the role of honour for our inter county teams across all codes, county final results, Railway Cup players and two DVDs showing football and hurling highlights including Robbie Foley’s last-minute goal to win this years Christy Ring Cup. Virtually all the Clubs in the County have embraced a club logo, all of these along with our coat of arms and the new county crest were displayed. Subsequently they are now on permanent display in the Board Room. Journalist Paul Donaghy (RIP), who had been covering the county’s GAA since 1961, wrote an excellent summary and though provoking piece of Carlow’s fortunes and he came to the conclusion that “in a way, we could, or possibly should, consider the GAA community the original band of brothers.”
The Board Room has a permanent display of both the county hurling and football senior champions since 1950 along with photographs of the County Boards former Chairmen and Secretaries. Many of our county winning teams at both senior and underage level now grace the walls such as our Christy Ring winning teams and the men of ’44. Overseeing all these wonderful achievers is a large portrait of the Most Rev. Dr Matthew Cullen, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin (1927 – 1936) after whom our county grounds is named.
It was with delight that there were nearly two hundred photographs from the Donie Nolan collection on special display as part of the exhibition. Donie has amassed a large collection of photographs, many taken by himself of County Finals and visiting county teams including the Kerry team of 1985 playing Carlow in Dr. Cullen Park as part of the Centenary Cup. Donie’s collection also includes photographs of both club and county teams from the 1920s and ‘30s –the sight of their photographs brought back great joy to many a Carlow Gael. During the course of the exhibition small groups were regularly seen gathered round the photographs with the conversation starting with “do you remember ….”, “could you ever forget that game …” or “is that your man ….”.
The exhibition was officially launched on Saturday August 22nd, 2009 by Christy Cooney, Uachtarán Cumann Luthcleas Gael. This was Christy’s first official visit to Carlow as Uachtaran. In praising the exhibition Christy stated that the exhibition will “… bring back wonderful memories to everybody in Carlow not alone players but family of players and current day players who will get inspiration from seeing their heroes of yester year.” Earlier that evening he had unveiled a plaque to Nurse Margaret Kehoe in the grounds of Leighlinbridge GFC commemorating her sacrifice during the 1916 Rising when she was killed possibly saving the life of Dan McCarthy, later Uachtarán Cumann Luthcleas Gael.
The exhibition was organised to coincide with national Heritage Week 2009, coordinated by the Heritage Council. In Carlow County Council, through the Community & Enterprise Department and Carlow County Museum, Heritage Week is coordinated at a county level. Christy Cooney said that in this respect the GAA has made an important contribution to our national heritage over the years and that “it is important to remember the people that went before us and the wonderful games that they have handed down to us and the wonderful tradition that is Cumann Luthcleas Gael.”
The organising committee consisted of Tommy Murphy, Carlow GAA County PRO, and Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator of Carlow County Museum as joint coordinators ably assisted by County Board members Tommy O’Neill, County Secretary, and Fr. Brendan Howard along with Carlow Nationalist journalist Leo McGough and Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society members Seamus Murphy, Martin Nevin and Pat O’Neill.
Unless otherwise stated, all images are © copyright of Carlow County Museum.