The excitement of Mayo winning the Sam Maguire trophy in 1950 and 1951 inspired young boys to engage in street league football in Castlebar. No further encouragement was required after player visitations to St Patrick’s National School and St Gerald’s College. Mickey the flyer Flanagan, Éamon Mongey and Paddy Prendergast had left an indelible impression.
As for myself, I had arrived in Castlebar in 1948, aged 8, with my parents, sister and brother. My Dad, Bernard McNulty had been appointed as Agent of the Bank of Ireland on The Mall in Castlebar. There we took up residence in a house that I soon heard was haunted. I was led to believe that rebels and others had been hanged from a tree where our house now stood.
Apart from that haunting presence, I had a feeling that something was astir in Castlebar. I made sure to spend time perusing the shelves in Hanley’s nearby newsagency while listening to the local gossip – apparently, much ado about Gaelic football. And then it happened, in 1950, Mayo had won their second All-Ireland title, after a frustrating wait since 1936. I’ll never forget the excitement that gripped the town as the people of Mayo celebrated a victory that lifted morale.
Now it was time for us, young lads, to don our boots and see what we could do on the playing fields. At that time, the population of Castlebar was 4000 according to our geography teacher. The local GAA divided the town into four areas, each of which would support teams at under 11, 14 and 16 years: The Pearses ran from The Mall, up Spencer Street and out the Station Road; The MacHales were drawn from MacHale Road. The Davitts came from the north side of Castlebar around the Linenhall and Staball (now Thomas St) areas; The Emmets were drawn from the west side of the town in the Blackfort and Lough Lannagh areas.
The Pearses won the treble in 1953 (see Note below.) As well as playing at corner forward on the under 14s, I was also a sub on the under 16s, while my brother Hugh was a member of the under 11 panel. The MacHales put manners on us in 1954 when beating us in the under 14 final. On that day, the vanquished Pearses were captained by John Flagsy Flannelly who later went on to play for Castlebar Mitchells at senior level.
My football activity stalled when my parents sent me away to boarding school, Newbridge College, where rugby was king – not my cup of tea! However, I did make a comeback when stationed in the Bank of Ireland, Mullingar in 1958. I played at wing forward with Mullingar Shamrocks in the under 17 and minor county finals. Although unsuccessful, I was proud to have served under the captaincy of Davy Nolan who later played for Westmeath and Leinster.
And now, the dream lives on, as the current wonderfully-talented Mayo team strives for a fourth All-Ireland. My connection with Mayo also lives on following the launch of my first novel, Spellbound by Sibella, in the Castle Bookshop, Castlebar in 2013. More recently, I have presented talks on the family history of the Lynches, Brownes, Blakes and Moores of Mayo at Clogher and Carnacon.
Note: Photo, Courtesy of Maureen Quinn, Carracastle, Carnacon Co Mayo with whom P J Kelly and I cycled to Balla and back on a whim in our younger days. (Identification of players confirmed by Paul & Shane Rodgers, Spencer St, December 5, 2017.)
Back row (from left) Billy Moran, Walter McEvilly, Scorch Connor, Donal Darcy, Joe Egan, Seamus Horkan (RIP), Gussy Jennings, and John Flagsy Flannelly. Front row (from left) Paddy Ward, John Hanley, John Darcy, Sean Reilly, P J Kelly, Henry Horkan, Paul McNulty and Matt Flannelly.