seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Sportswriter Con Houlihan

Con Houlihan, Irish sportswriter, dies in Dublin on August 4, 2012. Despite only progressing to national journalism at the age of 46, he becomes “the greatest and the best-loved Irish sports journalist of all.”

Houlihan is born on December 6, 1925, in Castleisland, County Kerry. Over a lengthy career, Houlihan covers many Irish and international sporting events, from Gaelic football and hurling finals, to soccer and rugby World Cups, the Olympic Games and numberless race meetings inside and outside Ireland.

Houlihan is a journalist with the Irish Press group writing for The Irish Press, Evening Press and sometimes The Sunday Press, until the group’s demise in 1995. He writes the “Tributaries” column and Evening Press back sports page “Con Houlihan” column.

Houlihan dies on the morning of August 4, 2012 in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin. Often considered one of Ireland’s finest writers, he leaves behind a legacy of immense sports journalism that spans over 60 years. A minute’s silence is observed in his memory ahead of Kerry GAA‘s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final defeat to Donegal GAA at Croke Park the following day. His last column, in which he wishes Irish Olympic boxer Katie Taylor well, is published the day after his death. His funeral takes place on August 8, 2012.

Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, leads the tributes to Houlihan, describing him as a “most original writer, with a unique style based on his extensive knowledge of literature, politics, life and sport.” He adds, “He had that special quality and ability to identify with the passion, pain and celebration of Irish community life.”

A bronze bust of Houlihan is unveiled in his hometown of Castleisland in 2004. In 2011, another sculpture is erected outside The Palace bar in Dublin.


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Birth of Michael James O’Hehir, Commentator & Journalist

michael-james-ohehirMichael James O’Hehir, hurling, Gaelic football and horse racing commentator and journalist, is born on June 2, 1920, in Glasnevin, County Dublin. Between 1938 and 1985 his enthusiasm and a memorable turn of phrase endears him to many. He is credited with being the “Voice of the Gaelic Athletic Association.”

His father, Jim O’Hehir, is active in Gaelic games, having trained his native county to win the 1914 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship title in hurling. He subsequently trains the Leitrim football team that secures the Connacht Senior Football Championship title in 1927 and he also serves as an official with the Dublin Junior Board.

O’Hehir is educated at St. Patrick’s National School in Drumcondra before later attending the O’Connell School. He later studies electrical engineering at University College Dublin, however, he abandons his studies after just one year to pursue a full-time career in broadcasting.

At the age of eighteen O’Hehir writes to Radio Éireann asking to do a test commentary. He is accepted and is asked to do a five-minute microphone test for a National Football League game between Wexford and Louth. His microphone test impresses the director of broadcasting so much that he is invited to commentate on the entire second half of the match.

Two months later, in August 1938, O’Hehir makes his first broadcast – the All-Ireland football semi-final between Monaghan and Galway. The following year he covers his first hurling final – the famous “thunder and lightning final” between Cork and Kilkenny.

By the mid-1940s O’Hehir is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading sports broadcasters. In 1947 he faces his most challenging broadcast to date when he has to commentate on the All-Ireland Football Final from the Polo Grounds in New York City with over 1,000,000 people listening to the broadcast back in Ireland.

In 1944 O’Hehir joins the staff of Independent Newspapers as a sports sub-editor, before beginning a seventeen-year career as racing correspondent in 1947.

In 1961 Ireland’s first national television station, Telefís Éireann, is founded and O’Hehir is appointed head of sports programmes. In addition to his new role O’Hehir continues to keep up a hectic schedule of commentaries.

O’Hehir’s skills do not just confine him to sports broadcasting and, in November 1963, he faces his toughest broadcast. By coincidence he is on holidays with his wife Molly in New York City when U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. O’Hehir is asked by Telefís Éireann to provide the commentary for the funeral. The live five-hour broadcast proves a huge challenge for him, as he has had no association with political or current affairs broadcasting up to that point and lacks the resources available to more established television stations. O’Hehir’s commentary, however, wins widespread acclaim in Ireland and shows a different side of his nature.

In August 1985 O’Hehir is preparing to commentate on the All-Ireland hurling final between Offaly and Galway. It would be a special occasion as it would mark his 100th commentary on an All-Ireland final. Two weeks before the game he suffers a stroke which leaves him in a wheelchair and with some speaking difficulties. This denies him the chance to reach the century milestone. He hopes to return to broadcasting one day to complete his 100th final, however, this never happens.

In 1987, the centenary All-Ireland football final takes place Croke Park. The biggest cheer of the day is reserved for O’Hehir when he is pushed onto the field in a wheelchair by his son Peter. Nobody expects the standing ovation and the huge outpouring of emotion from the thousands of fans present and from O’Hehir himself.

Over the next few years O’Hehir withdraws from public life. He returns briefly in 1996 when his autobiography, My Life and Times, is published. Michael O’Hehir dies in Dublin on November 24, 1996.


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.


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Birth of Snooker Champion Alex “Hurricane” Higgins

Alexander Gordon “Alex” Higgins, Northern Irish professional snooker player, who is remembered as one of the most iconic figures in the game, is born in Belfast on March 18, 1949. He is nicknamed “Hurricane Higgins” because of his fast play.

Higgins starts playing snooker at the age of eleven, often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At age fourteen and weighing seven and a half stone (47.6 kg), he leaves for England and a career as a jockey. However, he never makes the grade because, in his youth, he drinks a lot of Guinness and eats a lot of chocolate, making him too heavy to ride competitively. He returns to Belfast and by 1965, at the age of sixteen, he has compiled his first maximum break. In 1968 he wins the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland Amateur Snooker Championships.

Higgins turns professional at the age of 22, winning the World Snooker Championship at his first attempt in 1972, against John Spencer winning 37–32. Higgins is then the youngest ever winner of the title, a record retained until Stephen Hendry‘s 1990 victory at the age of 21. In April 1976, Higgins reaches the final again and faces Ray Reardon. Higgins leads 11–9, but Reardon makes four centuries and seven breaks over 60 to pull away and win the title for the fifth time with the score of 27–16. Higgins is also the runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, losing 18–16, after being 9–5 up. Higgins wins the world title for a second time in 1982 after beating Reardon 18–15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame). It was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. Higgins would have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the 1982-1983 season had he not forfeited ranking points following disciplinary action.

Throughout his career, Higgins wins 20 other titles, one of the most notable being the 1983 UK Championship. In the final he trails Steve Davis 0–7 before producing a famous comeback to win 16–15. He also wins the Masters twice, in 1978 and in 1981, beating Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths in the finals respectively. Another notable victory is his final professional triumph in the 1989 Irish Masters at the age of 40 when he defeats a young Stephen Hendry, which becomes known as “The Hurricane’s Last Hurrah.”

Higgins comes to be known as the “People’s Champion” because of his popularity, and is often credited with having brought the game of snooker to a wider audience, contributing to its peak in popularity in the 1980s. He has a reputation as an unpredictable and difficult character. He is a heavy smoker, struggles with drinking and gambling, and admits to using cocaine and marijuana.

First diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, Higgins is found dead in bed in his flat on July 24, 2010. The cause of death is a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, and a bronchial condition. Higgins’ funeral service is held in Belfast on August 2, 2010. He is cremated and his ashes are interred in Carnmoney Cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.


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Birth of Cricketer Thomas Patrick Horan

thomas-patrick-horanThomas Patrick Horan, Australian cricketer who plays for Victoria and Australia, and later becomes an esteemed cricket journalist under the pen name “Felix,” is born on March 8, 1854, in Midleton, County Cork.

Horan emigrates to Australia with his parents and siblings as a small child. In Melbourne, he attends Bell Street School in Fitzroy and forms a friendship with Jack Blackham. Blackham encourages in Horan a love of cricket. Horan makes his first-class debut for Victoria in the 1874-1875 season.

The first of only two players born in Ireland to play Test cricket for Australia, Horan is the leading batsman in the colony of Victoria during the pioneering years of international cricket. He plays for Australia in the game against England subsequently designated as the first Test match, before touring England with the first representative Australian team, in 1878. Four years later, he tours England for the second time and plays in the famed Ashes Test match at The Oval.

An aggressive middle-order batsman renowned for his leg side play, Horan supplements his batting by bowling medium-pace in the roundarm style common to his era, and once captures six wickets in a Test match innings. During a season disrupted by financial disputes and a strike by leading players, he captains Australia in two Test matches of the 1884–85 Ashes series, but loses both games. Horan’s form peaks between the ages of 26 and 29 when he scores seven of his eight first-class centuries, including a score of 124 in a Test match on his home ground at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in January 1882.

In 1879, Horan begins writing a weekly newspaper column that continues until his death 37 years later. He establishes himself as the first Australian cricket writer who has played the game at the highest level, thus paving the way for many players to enter the media. Bill O’Reilly, the noted Australian player-writer of the twentieth century, describes him as, “the cricket writer par excellence.”

Horan’s documentation of the early years of Australian cricket are the basis for many works on the subject. Gideon Haigh writes that any, “serious scholar in the field…should probably acquaint himself with Tom Horan.” An anthology of his articles is published for the first time in 1989 when he is posthumously inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for his writing. In part, his citation reads, “…it was as the first nationally known cricket writer that he made his major contribution to the game.”

Thomas Patrick Horan dies on April 16, 1916, in Malvern, Victoria, Australia.


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Death of Irish Hurler Christy Ring

christy-ringNicholas Christopher Michael Ring, better known as Christy Ring, an Irish hurler whose league and championship career with the Cork GAA senior team spans twenty-four years from 1939 to 1963, dies at Morrison’s Island, Cork, on March 2, 1979.

Ring establishes many championship records, including career appearances (65), scoring tally (33-208), and number of All-Ireland medals won (8), however, these records are subsequently bested by Brendan Cummins, Eddie Keher, and Henry Shefflin respectively. Ring is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game, with many former players, commentators, and fans rating him as the number one player of all time.

Born near Cloyne, County Cork, Ring first excels at hurling following encouragement from his local national school teachers Michael O’Brien and Jerry Moynihan. He first appears on the Cloyne GAA minor team at the age of twelve before later winning a county minor championship medal with the nearby St. Enda’s team. A Cork Junior Hurling Championship medal with Cloyne follows, however, a dispute with club officials sees Ring join Glen Rovers GAA in Blackpool in 1941. Over the next twenty-six years with the club, Ring wins one Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship medal and fourteen county senior championship medals. As a Gaelic footballer with the Glen’s sister club, St. Nicholas’ GAA, he also wins a county senior championship medal. He retires from club hurling at the age of forty-six following a victory over University College Cork GAA in the 1967 championship quarter-final. Over the course of his senior championship career Ring estimates that he played in 1,200 games.

Ring makes his debut on the inter-county scene at the age of sixteen when he is picked on the Cork minor panel for the All-Ireland final. In spite of victory, he is denied an All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship medal as he is Cork’s last non-playing substitute. Still eligible for the grade in 1938, Ring collects a set of All-Ireland and Munster Minor Hurling Championship medals as a member of the starting fifteen. An unsuccessful year with the Cork junior hurlers follows before he makes his senior debut during the 1939-40 league. Over the course of the next quarter century, Ring wins eight All-Ireland medals, including a record four consecutive championships from 1941 to 1944, a lone triumph in 1946 and three additional consecutive championships from 1952 to 1954. The only player to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup three times as captain, he is denied a record-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal in 1956 in what is his last All-Ireland final appearance. Ring also wins nine Munster medals, four National Hurling League medals, and is named Hurler of the Year at the age of thirty-eight. He plays his last game for Cork in June 1963. After indicating his willingness to line out for the team once again in 1964, Ring fails to be selected for the Cork team, a move which effectively brings his inter-county career to an end.

After being chosen as a substitute on the Munster GAA inter-provincial team in 1941, Ring is an automatic choice on the starting fifteen for the following twenty-two years. He scores 42-105 as he wins a record eighteen Railway Cup medals during that period, in an era when his skill and prowess draw crowds of up to 50,000 to Croke Park for the annual final on St. Patrick’s Day. Ring’s retirement from the game is often cited as a contributory factor in the decline of the once prestigious championship.

In retirement from playing Ring becomes involved in team management and coaching. As a mentor to the St. Finbarr’s College senior team, he guides them to their first two All-Ireland and Harty Cup triumphs in 1963 and 1969. At club level Ring is instrumental as a selector with Glen Rovers when they claim their inaugural All-Ireland title in 1973, having earlier annexed the Munster and county senior championship titles. It is with the Cork senior team that he enjoys his greatest successes as a selector. After an unsuccessful campaign in his first season on the selection panel in 1973, Ring is dropped the following year before being reinstated in 1975. Over the next three years Cork claims three successive All-Ireland titles.

Ring is most famous for his scoring prowess, physical strength, and career longevity. He remains the only player to have competed at inter-county level in four different decades. Often the target of public attention for his hurling exploits, in private Ring is a shy and reserved individual. A teetotaller and non-smoker throughout his life, he is also a devout Roman Catholic.

On Friday, March 2, 1979, Ring has a scheduled appointment with his doctor and former teammate Dr. Jim Young in Cork city centre. As he is walking past the Cork College of Commerce on Morrisson’s Island at 3:30 PM he suffers a massive heart attack and collapses. He is taken by ambulance to the South Infirmary Hospital but is pronounced dead on arrival.

Ring’s sudden death and the scenes which follow at his funeral are unprecedented in Cork since the death of the martyred Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain in 1920. He is posthumously honoured by being named on the Hurling Team of the Century in 1984 and the Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000, while he is also named as the Century’s Best Hurler in The Irish Times.


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Founding of the Irish Rugby Football Union

irfuThe Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), the body managing rugby union in the island of Ireland, both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded in Dublin on February 5, 1879. The IRFU has its head office at 10/12 Lansdowne Road and home ground at Aviva Stadium, where adult men’s Irish rugby union international matches are played. In addition, the Union also owns Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, Thomond Park in Limerick and a number of grounds in provincial areas that have been rented to clubs.

Initially, there are two unions, both founded in 1874. The Irish Football Union has jurisdiction over clubs in Leinster, Munster, and parts of Ulster. The Northern Football Union of Ireland controls the Belfast area. The IRFU is formed in 1879 as an amalgamation of these two organisations and branches of the new IRFU are formed in Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. The Connacht Branch is formed in 1900.

The IRFU is a founding member of the International Rugby Football Board, now known as World Rugby, in 1886 with Scotland and Wales. England refuses to join until 1890.

Following the political partition of Ireland into separate national states, Ireland, originally the Irish Free State then Éire, and Northern Ireland, a political division of the United Kingdom, the then Committee of the Irish Rugby Football Union decides that it will continue to administer its affairs on the basis of the full 32 Irish counties and the traditional four provinces of Ireland – Leinster (12 counties), Ulster (9 counties), Munster (6 counties), and Connacht (5 counties).

This leads to the unusual, but not unique, situation among international rugby union teams, where the Irish representative teams are drawn from players from two separate political, national territories. To maintain the unity of Irish rugby union and the linkages between North and South, the IRFU purchase a new ground in 1923 in the Ravenhill district of Belfast at a cost of £2,300. The last full International at Ravenhill involving Ireland for more than a half-century takes place in 1953–54 against Scotland who are victorious by 2 tries (6 points) to nil. Australia plays Romania in the 1999 World Cup at the ground. The next full International played at Ravenhill is the Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Italy in August 2007 due to the temporary closure of Lansdowne Road for reconstruction.

The four provincial branches of the IRFU first run cup competitions during the 1880s. Although these tournaments still take place every year, their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All-Ireland League of 48 Senior Clubs in 1990.

The four provincial teams have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to the international level. These are Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht . All four provinces play at the senior level as members of the Guinness Pro12.

There are currently approximately 95,000 rugby players in total in Ireland. There are 56 clubs affiliated to the Ulster Branch, 71 to the Leinster Branch, 59 to the Munster Branch, and 19 to the Connacht Branch. In addition, there are 246 schools playing rugby: Ulster (107), Leinster (75), Munster (41) and Connacht (23).

The IRFU also has an Exiles Branch tasked with developing “Ireland-qualified” players (i.e., eligible to play internationally for Ireland through ancestry) living in England, Scotland, and Wales. Volunteers provide coaching, administration and development under the supervision of a paid development manager.