Monday 19 March 2018

Wounded Mourneabbey remains a place of grace

Mourneabbey's Ciara O'Sullivan against Joanne Geoghegan of Donaghmoyne in the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Club Championship final
Mourneabbey's Ciara O'Sullivan against Joanne Geoghegan of Donaghmoyne in the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Club Championship final
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I took the road for Mourneabbey on a whim but there was no one at home. It has been a year of terrible tragedy for this small community of friends. But from the worst of times we witness the love and back-up.

I was somehow drawn off course on Sunday last when the whole parish was in Dublin.

Mourneabbey were bidding to become the first club ever to win, Senior, Intermediate and Junior ladies titles. All I met was a man and his small dog.

The ladies team from this small place, just off the Mallow -Cork road, were beaten in the All-Ireland Senior Club Football Final for the second year in a row. Mourneabbey were heroic in defeat just as Donaghmoyne of Monaghan were heroic in victory. Linda Martin, Donaghmoyne's All Star goalkeeper, had the game of her life.

Yes this was a truly eventful year in the little village. Mourneabbey is the home place of Karen Buckley, whose young life was stolen by an evil killer in Glasgow last April. It's hard to imagine such a terrible crime in this peaceful place of rolling hills and fertile valleys, with two rivers running through it.

Local publican and staunch GAA man Derry Murphy tells us that when the Mourneabbey community decided to fund a pitch, most of the money came from the farmers who reared a calf for Clyda Rovers. This is cowland and milk is the oil of Avondhu.

Mourneabbey is the Ladies wing. Nearly all of the team have been playing with the club since childhood.


Murphy's is the heart of the village that isn't a village. Mourneabbey is a bit like LA. There's no city centre .

On Sunday morning last, I trespassed on Clyda Rovers field. The pitch was that dry I could walk it in going-to-mass shoes, while just down the road the burst Blackwater was trying to jump the last fence in Mallow Racecourse. The Clyda floodlights would light up Las Vegas and a second pitch was there for training. The dressing rooms and the community centre are paid for in full.

Derry Murphy tells me the money is there for a new synthetic pitch.

Clyda celebrated 70 years as a club last month and the president of the GAA came to the big night.

There's history here. Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork who was murdered during the War of Independence, was a Mourneabbey man. There was a slaughter of volunteers here in 1921. Siobhan Lankford, a local woman, risked her life to warn the volunteers. They have a history of strong women here in Mourneabbey.

Grainne Twomey calls in to see Derry. The newly qualified nurse gave her all last Sunday. She's a smashing girl and a fine footballer. Full of chat and fun, and very much committed to her home place. Grainne came back from Dublin to take up a job nursing in Cork and to live in Mourneabbey. The young people will come back if there's something to come home for.

She tells the story of the aftermath of the defeat.

"The girls sang their way home and we met up in Derry's pub on Sunday night. Every single one of us. We win together and we lose together. None of us take a drink from championship time on.

"On the day I graduated this year I didn't celebrate. I just couldn't take the guilt. We are the closest-knit little bunch of girls."

Mourne had eight players on the All-Ireland-winning Cork panel. "None of the county girls ever missed training. Every single girl put in the work," says manager Dominic Gallagher.

I felt a crucial yellow card should not have been given and that it may have cost Mournebbey the game. That said, Donaghmoyne were courage personified. The five Courtney sisters and their team gave their all and then some. The pace never let up in the most intense ladies club game I have ever seen.

Football has to be taken in the right order of importance. Tragedy struck Mourneabbey on the double.

Young Damien Forde was killed in a tractor accident back in June. Damien's sister Emma came on in the Cork county final to score a crucial point.

Grainne used to meet Karen Buckley when they were waiting for the school bus. "Karen was a few years older than me. She was a lovely girl without a bad bone. So pleasant, so nice. She was always smiling. That's what I remember about her most."

"Karen played under 14 for Mourneabbey," said Derry. "The Buckleys are just down the road from us. Hard working, decent, people."

The toll from the sadness of memory stalls the talk. You can only but pray for the bereaved families coming up to Christmas. The community here have taken shares in their grief.

Before I leave, I ask Derry how's the pub is going. "We have a good local trade and we'll stick it out as long as we can." Make sure you do, Derry. Good pubs make for good communities. So as I drive home over the border, I try to place Mourneabbey in the context of our time and all time.


There's the football for sure , but there's so much more.

We go back to the stories of learned monks and ancient abbeys, back to the War of Independence where the fiercest battle raged here and men died by the roadside, and then on to the pitch development. Scroll down the 70 years of peace with Clyda Rovers and Mourneabbey, with their All-Ireland medal winners, both ladies and men.

Then, as the grey twilight fades on the wild uplands of the county bounds, I think of the words of club chairman Ken O' Connell. Ken, from Cork city, married a local girl, and he gives us the template for the survival of rural Ireland. "It's all about their sheer raw honesty. You never have to ask twice in Mourneabbey. The success is more than sport. It's all about community."

Mourneabbey is a small place of much grace and many favours.

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