Monday, August 3, 2009
Joe McDonnell's grandson Caolan presents the Joe McDonnell Cup to Captain Gary Lennon of Sarsfields
3 Lúnasa 2009
On Saturday afternoon this blog travelled to Saint Teresa’s Club in Belfast to watch the play offs in the Joe McDonnell – Kieran Doherty Football Tournament.
Joe and Kieran who died on hungerstrike in the H Blocks in 1981 were Saint Teresa’s men. The very fine playing facility on the Glen Road bears their names, Páirc Mhic Dhomhnaill Uí Dhocartaigh.
Each year the club organises a very competitive days sport for Under 16 players in their memory. Fair play to the organisers, the referees and most especially the players and mentors. Joe and Kieran would have enjoyed the day out. They were good Gaels.
Joe, a wee bit older and a wee bit smaller than Kieran was a good sportsman, resourceful in a skirmish and inclined to play on the referee’s blind side. But always for the devilment of it. He was not a cynical player. In football or anything else. Doc was a big guy. Six foot three inches tall. Maybe in another era he could have been county material. He won a minor medal with Saint Teresa’s and although the struggle interrupted his sporting life Kieran stayed fit, energetic and athletic.
I thought of Doc and Joe as I sat with my back to the Black Mountain. The city of Belfast stretched before us away off to the middle distance and the Craigantlet Hills. To our left the Cavehill looked down its nose at Belfast Lough and to our right lightly shrouded in rain in the far distance, the Mournes swept down to the sea. Impervious to all this, Saint Teresa’s and Naomh Pol Under 16s battled it out in the final of one competition and Eoin Roe’s and the Paddies (Sarsfields) in the other. Eoin Roe’s are a Tír Eoghan club and they play good football but the Paddies were better on the day. Saint Teresa’s were victorious as well. Seven clubs in all participated.
The Pearse’s turned up with their Under 16 hurlers but they couldn’t get a game. Communications, communications, communications!! But fair play to the stalwarts who keep this very fine club going. It was terrific to see such a fine squad of young hurlers ready to do battle for their team.
I got to do some of the presentations afterwards. Caolan McDonald, Joe’s grandson did the rest. And a fine job he did as well.
Between them all and all the other young athletes who turned up at the Feile an Phobal Carnival opening on Sunday morning, methinks the future of the gaelic games is secure in Aontroim. Our camógs, hurlers and footballers are the sleeping giants of the GAA. Our senior footballers have shown what is possible. Fair play to them. They did us and our county proud.
Joe and Kieran would be pleased about that as well.
I went to the Féile Carnival from the commemoration at Doc’s house and the vigil on Andytown Road on Sunday morning. At the commemoration Big Bobby regaled us with tales of derring-do and other bits of loose talk laced with gems of political clarity and words of great wisdom.
Then Mrs Doherty sang for us. A song about her son.
I thought of the last time I saw Kieran. In the prison hospital in the H Blocks of Long Kesh. By this time he was the TD for Cavan Monaghan. It was the 29 July 1981. Kieran died on August 2.
‘I'm not a criminal.' He said
'For too long our people have been broken. The Free Staters, the church, the SDLP. We won't be broken. We'll get our five demands. If I'm dead ... well, the others will have them. I don't want to die, but that's up to the Brits. They think they can break us. Well they can't.' He grinned self-consciously: Tiocfaidh ar lá.'
We shook hands before I left, an old internee's hand-shake, firm and strong.
'Thanks for coming in, I'm glad we had that wee yarn. Tell everyone, all the lads, I was asking for them and ... ' He continued to grip my hand.
'Don't worry, we'll get our five demands. We'll break That¬cher. Lean ar aghaidh.
Talking later to Kieran’s father Alfie, his eyes brimming with unshed tears, in the quiet cells in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, I felt a raw hatred for the injustice which created this crisis.
I am glad to say that I still feel the same today 28 years after Kieran’s death. And I am humbled that I knew him and Joe who died on July 8 1981, and the other hungerstrikers.
Fair play to them all. And to their families.