Memory Lane 1

Chris McGinty recalls the sporting side of Scoil Damhnait in the early “Sixties” and his sporting memories of the time.....

On a lovely September morning in the early ‘60’s I started my secondary school education in Scoil Damhnait. I can vividly recall setting out from my home on my second hand bicycle which had been given to me by my dear aunt Mary from Ashlem. I cycled across the Sound  bridge, took the next turn left and into the secondary school which was situated on the historic grounds of the old Achill railway station.
The following year we transferred to a brand new school in Polranny which was built to cater for bigger numbers.
As I parked my bicycle I was mesmerised by the number of mini buses arriving from all corners of Achill. What an array of vehicles: Michael Mac’s bus from Lower Achill, Paddy O’Malley and Josie Cooney’s bus from Upper Achill, Doran’s bus from Dooniver, Doogort and Valley and Martin “Hop” and Sonny Gallagher’s bus from Currane, all spring to mind.
This was the start of a new era for me. All the students got to know each other over the course of the next few days. From my class in National school in Achill Sound half of the pupils transferred to the “tech” and the other half bar one went to the secondary school. The other pupil went to St. Jarlath’s in Tuam.
I used to cycle home for my lunch  and among my abiding memories of those times  are the sponsored programmes which I heard on the radio, including Mitchelstown Creameries, Lucozade,  Dear Frankie and the famous Walton programme with Leo Maguire exhorting people that if they wished to sing a song to “do sing an Irish song”. I could tell the time by the radio as each programme had a fifteen minute slot.
Life in the sixties was a mixture of school, family and football.
But my passion was football.
Although Scoil Damhnait was catering for the academic needs of students it also provided a sporting outlet for them.
During my first year there, the school entered a team in the Colleges Colleran Cup. The Achill Club had won a County Juvenile Football Final and with a blend of the new entrants and the older boys in the school, things looked promising.  The arrival of Roscommon star John S. Kelly, who played in the All Ireland Final in 1962 against Kerry, to teach added to the expectations. I remember the first training session under him with everybody giving their all trying to impress him so as to get on the team. His coaching tactics and pep talks were a revelation.
Our first colleges match was against Newport in Newport. We won the match and I remember the team being brought up to the Newport Hall for tea and sandwiches. The teachers looking after each team got both sets of players to engage in fisticuff s with boxing gloves on. It was toe to toe stuff with nobody going backwards. We progressed through the championship and played the semi-final against Westport CBS. After that match we were taken up to the Caffola Café for tea and sandwiches. The Jute Box in the corner was a great novelty in those days. The same song Guantanamera was played over and over again. We hadn’t a clue what the words meant as they were in Spanish but it’s another abiding memory. In the final that year we played St. Gerald’s of Castlebar who had a large number of Mayo minors playing for them. There was great excitement in the school on the day but sadly we were beaten by a bigger and more experienced Castlebar team.
Success again eluded us in my second year. But it’s strange how things work out and it’s often talked about, how people make connections through the GAA. We played St. Phelims from Ballinamore, in Castlebar and beat them on a score line of 5.5 to 5.4. Years later I played with Cavan full back J.J. Martin for my Dublin based Club Thomas Davis and JJ had played in that match. JJ along with Joe Fadian and Sean Grealish played in the All Ireland Senior Club Football final for Thomas Davis in 1992.
In my third year following the experience gained in the two previous years there was a growing confidence in the school that perhaps we could eventually win a Colleges final. We played Newport in Keel in hailstones. It was so cold we could not even open the laces of our boots after the match. We had no body warmers in those days. We eventually reached the semi final against St. Marys of Boyle and the game was played in Charlestown. They were a very strong team and had been playing at a higher grade the previous year so on the day we were given very little chance of succeeding. We made every effort to muster a full squad for the match. Anyone missing from school was collected whether they were sick or working on the bog. We started in whirlwind fashion and scored 2.5 in the first fifteen minutes. As expected St. Marys were not going to go down without a fight and slowly but surely they played their way back into the match. With a minute to go they were one point up. What happened next was only equalled in the All Ireland Football Final of 1982 when Seamus Darby scored a winner for Offaly in the dying moments of the game, snatching victory from the five in a row chasing Kerry team.
Scoil Damhnait had one last attack. Gerald Needham won the ball in midfield and kicked a high ball in towards the square to Cyril McGinty from Ashlem. J. D. McGreal from Dooniver and I shouted to him to break it out but it broke sideways and the awaiting Michael Masterson (Jetgar) with his long legs toe pocked it into the corner of the net for a famous victory. Years later I heard the move being described (in terms of the player’s professions) as the ball being won by a Barrister, passed to an Accountant and scored by a Millionaire. It was a magical moment and we were in our third successive final.
There was an incident in the match in which one of our players got a kick where it hurts most. The story goes that some years later this player got chatting to a man with curly ginger hair outside the courthouse in Charlestown and thinking he recognised him asked if he played against Achill College in the sixties. The man replied that he had to which the Achill man retorted that you must be the man who kicked me in the wrong place. The curly haired man asked him how many children had he and he said four. “Well no harm done then” said the ginger haired man.
Alas Lady Luck frowned on us for the third time in three years and we were beaten in the final by Westport.
Nevertheless I enjoyed every minute of playing football for Scoil Damhnait. I often think of some of the lads I played with during my time at the secondary school and after, players like J.D. English, J.D. McGreal, John Toher, Ger Needham, Cyril McGinty, Brendan Burke, Michael Masterson, Kevin Kilcoyne, Aengus English, Tommy McHugh, Tommy Lynch, Tommy “Mike” Gallagher, Brendan Gallagher (Currane) and Manus O’Donnell.
I was imbued with a love for Gaelic games from an early age. I remember listening to Micheal O’Hehir on the radio. Who wasn’t motivated and enthused by his commentaries as he enthralled the nation Sunday after Sunday? He introduced all the county players from all over the country to us and made them household names. Subsequent to my school years I came in contact with three of the great Galway three in a row winning team of the sixties. Noel Tierney, the full back, came to the Sound Hall and presented us with our County Juvenile medals. I played against the great Jimmy Duggan in an epic County Minor Football Final which Achill won against Claremorris. In later years my direct opponent in a London championship match, when playing for St. Marys of Kilburn, was my childhood hero Martin Newell.
The sixties, as we all know, were difficult times growing up in Achill. We had to endure the heartache of our fathers and older brothers being forced to emigrate so as to earn a living and provide for the mothers and children left behind. We are well placed to empathise with today’s young people and others who have lost their jobs and have to emigrate to find work, due to the current harsh economic climate.
It was a vibrant time also for us youngsters willing to learn and ambitious to do well. We are grateful to Padraig Sweeney who set up the secondary school in Achill. They were exciting times called the “The Swinging Sixties” with the arrival of the showbands, The Clipper Carlton, The Capital, The Royal and many more. I recall Doc Carroll reaching number one with his song Old Man Trouble. Sporting memories include Achill winning three County A Football titles in the one year, the aforementioned Galway three in a row All Ireland winning football team, getting up at three o’clock in the morning to listen to the Cassius Clay/ Sonny Liston World heavyweight title fight (which only lasted seconds), Manchester United winning the European Cup and watching England play Germany on television, in the World Cup, in McLoughlins pub. There was hope on the political landscape with Sean Lemass sowing the seeds of future prosperity for the country.
I am grateful to the teachers, John O’Keeffe, Mary McGinty RIP, J.S. Kiely, Sean O’Malley and the founder of Scoil Damhnait, Padraig Sweeney RIP who taught me and afforded so many of us the opportunity to be prepared for the World. Achill people are justifiably proud of Padraig’s achievements. The students he taught are not only spread throughout Ireland but all over the World. It is sad that our country is in such economic turmoil at present. People with the type of leadership and vision shown by Padraig Sweeney are needed to get us out of the current dilemma.
When I return to visit my birthplace and pass by the School memories keep flooding back to what were truly some of the best days of my life.
Chris McGinty.