North Tipperary G.A.A. History
The recent publication of the History of the GAA. in North Tipperary brings to mind two interesting episodes in the history of the division. One is the Silvermines Silver Cup and the second is about Tony Courtney of Nenagh, who won a County Tipperary senior football medal with Nenagh in 1915 and went on to be capped for Ireland in 1920-21.
But first the Silver Cup, which is to be found today in the presbytery of the Silvermines parish. This cup was first played for in an intercounty hurling match between Tipperary and South Galway, played in the Phoenix Park in February 1886. Tipperary won and the cup came back to the county.
Later the same year it was put up as the prize 'for the championship of North Tipperary'. (It would take too long to explain a 'championship of North Tipperary' fifteen years before the division came into existence but the history goes a long way to doing so!).
At any rate Silvermines and Holycross qualified for the final and, as was the wont in those days, the final wasn't played until April 19, 1887. Silvermines won.
The man who was regarded as being responsible for training the victorious side was Fr. John Cunningham, a native of Kilrush, who was curate there at the time. Soon after he was transferred to Roscrea and eventually became Parish Priest of Templederry, where he spent the last twenty-one years of his life. He died in 1935.
Apparently, when he left Silvermines after the 1887 win he took the Silver Cup with him because we read that in the year of his death he returned it to the parish of Silvermines. On St. Patrick's Day 1935 the then Canon Cunningham returned to the parish from neighbouring Templederry to place the cup in the safe keeping of the parish. Five members of the team that won it were present on the occasion as part of the reception committee. The cup was placed in the presbytery, where it has lain since.
Perhaps it may go on display in Lar na Pairce at some stage!
The second interesting item is the career of Tony Courtney. Nenagh Institute dominated football in North Tipperary in the second decade of the twentieth century. They won two county finals during the period, in 1911 and 1915. In the latter year they beat Castleiney by 1-2 to 1-1 in the final at Thurles, not played until July 31, 1916. Courtney was one of their stalwarts.
Courtney became a medical student and took an interest in rugby. He was obviously good at the game because he was capped for Ireland seven times in 1920-21, whiIe sti II a young man. He was born in 1899.
He received his first cap on February 28, 1920, when Ireland were defeated, 19-0, by Scotland at Inverleith. There was another defeat by Wales, 28-4 at Cardiff Arms Park on March 13, and a further defeat by France, 15 to 7 at Landsdowne Road two weeks later.
There was one success in 1921 but first there was defeat by England, 15 to 0, at Twickenham on February 12. Success came against Scotland by 9-8 at Landsdowne Road on February 26. Two weeks later there was defeat by Wales, 6-0, at Balmoral and Courtney's final game was against France, when Ireland were defeated, 20-10, at Stade Columbes on April 9.
Courtney played tight-head prop in all his games and his place was taken by McVicker the following season. There was very little mention of the honour of a Nenagh man representing his country in the Nenagh Guardian of the time. In fact it is rather scathing of the game. In a comment on the defeat by Wales in March 1920, it has this to say: 'Of course Rugby football is merely the game of the few. It is not played by the large number who would develop a spirit of rivalry and offer a wider field of selection.'
There is a little increased mention in 1921. For the first game against England it mentions the two Tipperary men on the team, A. Courtney and Dr. P. Stokes of Fethard. It reported that Stokes was the outstanding forward against France but also mentions the contribution of Courtney.
Funeral of Tom Ashe
There is an interesting mention of Courtney in Ulick O'Connor's book, 'The Troubles'. In a footnote to his account of the funeral of Thomas Ashe in September 1917, he has this to say: 'Along the North Quays, Dick McKee was in charge of the procession. A despatch rider from Dublin Castle on a motorbike rode past full tilt, skimming the edge of the march. McKee jumped out as he flew by and managed to dislodge him from his cycle. The bike skidded around on the footpath. It finished up at the feet of one of the Volunteer stewards, Tony Courtney, a medical student. 'Dump that bike in the river,' McKee ordered Courtney. The student was reluctant to dispose of something as valuable as a motor cycle then was, and remembers being torn between the instinct to preserve it and the sheer authority that McKee exuded. However, he heaved the bike into the Liffey and the despatch rider had to return to Dublin Castle on foot. Four years later, Courtney would be capped at Rugby for Ireland against England at Twickenham. When the Irish team were received by King George V before the match, Courtney found hinself in a dilemma because of his republican views. But as the King approached, Courtney stooped to tie his bootlace, thus avoiding having to press Royal flesh and at the same time maintaining the semblance of courtesy.'
Tony Courtney qualified as a medical doctor, married and had four children, two boys and two girls. He died in January 1970 at the age of seventy years. He must hold a unique place in the annals of Tipperary sport with a county senior football medal won with Nenagh and nine rugby caps won playing for Ireland. He must also be the only player in the world to have put tying his bootlace before shaking the hand of the King of England!
County Tipperary Supplement, The Examiner, April 9, 2001