A Conjunction of Dated Irish Cliches
Where would you find the following? "After the hurlers left the field yesterday, Gaelic football teams named after County Kerry and County Tyrone immediately took the field. The game includes elements of soccer, rugby and barroom brawling. As the two teams battled, the long-time Kerry team chaplain, the Rev. George McGowan, sat inside at the end of he bar, his cane hanging on the bar top. Told that Kerry was winning, he smiled. His locker room prayer session was working.'
Answer: The New York Times, April 9, 2001 ! It's a report of a visit to Gaelic Park by their reporter the previous Sunday. It made me cringe. It was so cliched, so out of date, so sickening. I read the same kind of crap in American newspapers in the 1920s and here it was all repeated. I immediately sent a letter of protest to the newspaper. At this moment I don't know if they will publish it.
Perhaps I may have been over-reacting, but I wasn't. I met Ian Conroy, and his brother Niall, on Tuesday and they were equally disgusted. 'Who does he think we are?, a reference to the writer, Corey Kilgallon. 'It's the same old rubbish that you get about the Irish in this country." Ian, who gave fine service to Tipperary hurling during the first half of the eighties, emigrated to New York about 1986 and has made a success in business in the city. Since he arrived he played hurling with Tipperary and won three New York championships before he retired in 1997. Also a footballer of note, he won a number of championships with Donegal in that code during the same period.
But, another sample from Kilgallon's article: 'Muddy, bloody players hacked furiously with crude wood sticks at a whizzing ball. Technically, this was only a scrimmage between two New York hurling teams but, in fact, coaches were watching closely to select the best players to form a New York squad to compete next month against a team visiting from Ireland's County Down in the All-Ireland hurling championship'.
This is an interesting development for New York hurling, the chance of participating in the All-Ireland championship. Ian Conroy told me his last outing as a hurler was on the New York team, beaten badly by Galway in a 1997 All-Ireland quarter-final. He does not believe that New York have enough talent at the moment to upset Down. There are at least four Tipperary players on the panel. They include Owen Cummins of Fethard, who won an All-Ireland junior medal with his native county in 1991 , John Madden of Lorrha, who has given long and distinguished service to the game in New York for a long number of years, and Michael and Kevin Kennedy of Toomevara.
Gaelic games are going through something of a renaissance in New York in the last couple of years. The difficulties with Gaelic Park have been sorted out. In the early nineties as a result of a dispute between the G.A.A. and the John Kerry O'Donnell family in the Park, the lease was lost to Manhattan College. The G.A.A. tried a couple of options but they didn't work out. In the end they came back to Gaelic Park as leasers from Manhattan College. This means that the Association have the use of it for so many Sundays during the year. The franchise for the bars remains with the O'Donnell family. Under Manhattan College certain improvements have been made to the field but it remains poorly developed. The most important thing is that the G.A.A. has a home, albeit a leased one.
A Permanent G.A.A. Home?
Having said that it is important to report that some of the powers that be are thinking in terms of the idea of a permanent G.A.A. home in the New York area. Ian Conroy told me of an interesting development which brought together five hundred people of Irish extraction who were willing to put up $10,000 each in a golfing development. The question many are posing at the moment is as follows: if five hundred people are willing to put up so much money to develop a golf course, surely there are more people than that to put up money for the development of a proper G.A.A. facility! There is hope, but we have to wait and see. A major development has been the attraction of sponsorship. Budweiser rowed in last year with substantial sponsorship, $134,000. The stipulation is that only their beer can be sold in the bar in Gaelic Park. This was an important breakthrough. However, the number of people attending matches in the place is on the small side and something will have to be done to swell attendances before other sponsors will be attracted.
'One Tipperary native, a star hurler named Owen Cummins, snatched a piece of dirt from the field and waved it in the sign of the cross as he sprinted on. 20/04/01 'Now you're hurlin' lads,' yelled John McHugh, an assistant coach on the sidelines.' Did you ever see a player taking the field, signing himself with a bit of dirt? I wasn't able to contact Cummins, but I feel it's most unlikely. Perhaps a piece of colour exaggeration.
And the next paragraph from Kilgallon: 'After the game, Cummins wiped the blood off his face to pose for a photograph. There is nothing gentle about hurling, where most of the action involves jarring contact with other players and their hurleys, the three-foot playing sticks used to hit the game's hard ball, called a sliotair, into an oppenent's goal.' I thought we had new rules for blood injuries, that the player had to be removed to the sideline and the wound treated before he could resume play? Obviously not, according to Corey Kilgallon!
There is plenty of blood in this report. Sometimes it sounds like a war. 'Outside the locker room, a woman in a tan raincoat over a white nurse's uniform examined and fussed over players as they hobbled out of the game. The woman, Theresa Crowe, has worked in many of Manhatten's best hospitals, but for twenty-five years she has been the unofficial on-field surgeon for the players at Gaelic Park, stitching up players quickly enough for them to dash back on the field. Most players refuse pain killers, she explained, but they cannot stand watching her sew. 'As tough as they are, Irishmen hate needles,' explained Ms.Crowe, who is from Tipperary.'
I telephoned Theresa Crowe, who hails from Thurles and is a first cousin of Paddy Crowe of Cashel, lately deceased. She thought the piece over the moon. She didn't recall saying that Irishmen hate needles. She is a registered nurse from Cornell School of Nursing, with specialisation in oncology and orthopaedics.
'How did you get involved in Gaelic Park?' I asked her. She went to New York in 1962 and with many other Irish in the city, went to Gaelic Park every Sunday. One day during a match a player went down injured. He was about to be moved but she realised he was in a dangerous position. She shouted to leave him be and went in and strapped his leg with a couple a hurleys. John Kerry O'Donnell, who was present, was impressed and, in the course of time, she was appointed first medical officer in Gaelic Park. Still later she was appointed auditor and she is currently a trustee. She was also the first woman to attend G.A.A. Congress as a delegate. At the moment she is vice-president of the New York Tipperary Hurling Club. The president is Michael Ryan from Upperchurch.
The fortunes of Tipperary teams have improved in the last few years. The club won the junior and senior New York championships last year. It's probably the best club at the moment. Theresa herself got further recognition this year when she won the G.A.A. Guest of Honour Award, the first woman to receive the award.
We'll leave the final word to Corey Kilgallon: 'For the last 75 years, this (Gaelic Park) humble bit of turf on Broadway at 240th Street in Riverdale, the Bronx, has been the home field to New York's main Irish sports league, the Gaelic Athletic Association, and a fixture for New York's Irish
He concluded by saying: 'Go Kerry!', yelled a fan through the rain. Then another shouted: 'Go,
According to Ian Conroy he never heard an Irishman speak like that: 'It's pure American!', he
added. And, I'd agree.
County Tipperary Supplement, The Examiner, April 17, 2001