Sunday 19 November 2017

Old Gaels come under spotlight

THE HALLMARK of the Seana Ghael organising committee is that they 'never forget to remember', and that's why the work has already started on their annual event for 2015 just over a week after yet another very successful function in the Ferrycarrig Hotel.

Another 75 worthy recipients were added to the hall of fame on a memorable afternoon, while special presentations were made to Joseph Sheehan and Michael Murphy to mark their 90th birthdays.

Each year the committee members trawl the county to make sure that as many former players as possible get their day in the limelight and are the centre of attention.

The scheme started in 1982 and Wexford take great pride in the fact that they were the first county in Ireland to set it in motion.

Generally old Gaels come under the radar of the organisers once they celebrate their 70th birthdays, although it is not uncommon for those a little older or a little younger to be honoured either.

One of this year's recipients, Jim Berry, has led a very active life in the G.A.A. which involved a lengthy playing career with club and county as well as stints as County and Leinster Chairman.

He was chosen to speak on behalf of the recipients on Sunday week and his words certainly rang true.

The St. Anne's clubman said that the event 'complements the important part that the G.A.A. has played in Ireland over the past 130 or so years. You couldn't put a monetary value on it.

'We are here today because we have played our part in continuing the great work that our forefathers did over the years promoting our games in every corner of the country,' he said.

'We all can be proud of what has been achieved and the great signs of continuing this promotion and developing our games are clearly there. There are at least two or three pitches in every club and you have to book a time in the evening to get on to one of them, from Under-6 to adult. Audited figures showed one in every three people in the country watched the All-Ireland hurling final.'

Berry noted that the differences between now and 50 years ago when the recipients were in their prime are unbelievable. 'In our day you were lucky to win a medal in any grade, but then there were only two grades - Junior and Senior - and at under-age - Juvenile and Minor (four in all). Today we have multiple grades with so many players to be looked after.

'If you won a medal then you treasured it all your life and remembered well where and when you won it even though it was 50 or more years ago. I won my first medal in 1958 in the Juvenile hurling final of 1957 against Caim and Kiltealy in a frozen Barrett's Park, New Ross, in February.

'Ned Wheeler and Billy Rackard (R.I.P.) presented the medals to us and I remember trying to write my name on the back of it - why I don't know. Today the young Gaels have many medals before they are 14 - is this a good or bad thing?'

Berry recalled that he was Co. Chairman in 1982 when the then Secretary, the late Tomás O Murchú, expressed an interest in honouring the G.A.A. people of the past. The Seana Ghael committee was duly started with Billy Keilthy (R.I.P.) as Chairman and Tomás as Secretary. They were assisted by Jim himself, John Curtis, P.J. Daly and the now-deceased Mike Wall, Fr. Mernagh and Jimmy Roche.

Just ten awards were given and 80 people attended the first function, but it was the start of a very worthwhile project. Upwards of 300 people were at the event on Sunday week while approximately 1,500 awards have been given out over the years.

Writing in the commemorative booklet 32 years ago, Tomás O Murchú explained that the purpose of establishing the Seana Ghael committee was 'to rescue from the danger of obscurity and oblivion the memories of great deeds and achievements on the playing fields and in administration at every level by so many Wexford Gaels'.

He also had a deep concern for the welfare and quality of life for old Gaels struggling to overcome injuries, illness and advancement of age and its problems, and when sympathy is needed the Seana Ghael committee is always there as Jim Berry stressed.

Current Chairman Michael Foley took over the reins from the late Art Bennett, while John Curtis and P.J. Daly provide a direct link with the very start of this great movement. Long may it last.

Wexford People

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