Sport Golf

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Royal Dublin remembers heroic son of Dollymount

At the newly-erected plaque on the wall of Curley’s Yard beside the third hole at Royal Dublin, to commemorate the birthplace of Michael Moran on the centenary of his death in World War I, (l to r) Kieran Howard (President), Thomas Curley, Ann Hickey, Molly Perry, Bernie O’Shaughnessy, Linda Byrne, Brian Purcell (Captain) and Peter Finnegan (Ex Officio)
At the newly-erected plaque on the wall of Curley’s Yard beside the third hole at Royal Dublin, to commemorate the birthplace of Michael Moran on the centenary of his death in World War I, (l to r) Kieran Howard (President), Thomas Curley, Ann Hickey, Molly Perry, Bernie O’Shaughnessy, Linda Byrne, Brian Purcell (Captain) and Peter Finnegan (Ex Officio)

Dermot Gilleece

Cast in bronze and sitting on a wooden base, it measured little more than five inches in diameter. Yet for what it conveyed in terms of pain and loss from horrific events of 100 years ago, the so-called Widow's Penny evoked profound emotion.

Not surprisingly, it became the centrepiece of a remarkable evening, organised by Royal Dublin to mark the centenary of the death of a favoured son. Indeed Michael Moran gained the unique distinction of being appointed professional on the site of his first home.

The ‘Widow’s Penny’
The ‘Widow’s Penny’

Through some admirable research by the club's 2017 captain, Peter Finnegan, five relatives of Moran's were present to receive framed photographs of their ancestor. Even more remarkable was that they were meeting each other for the first time.

Bernie O'Shaughnessy, whose father, John Dearl, was the caddie-master at Clontarf GC, brought along the cherished memento. Similar in design to an old penny coin, the plaque was also known chillingly as the "Dead Man's Penny", because of the circumstances in which it was acquired.

Raised lettering on the right-hand side carried the name: Michael Moran. As with all of the other plaques, no rank was added so as not to distinguish between the sacrifices of the fallen. A total of 1.355 million of them were issued to the next of kin of British service personnel killed in World War I. "I had never seen Molly Perry before, and my first thought was that she was a ringer for my aunt," said Mrs O'Shaughnessy. Of the relatives present, Mrs Perry was the closest to Moran who was, in fact, her uncle.

The winner of five successive Irish Professional Championships was an acting lance-corporal in the 7th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, when he died of battle wounds in a German field hospital at Le Cateau, France on April 10, 1918. Given that his death was recorded not long after the start of that desperate,spring offensive, he is thought to have been in the front line. He wasn't yet 32.

"I'm now 84, living in Rathfarnham and the youngest and last survivor of seven children," said Mrs Perry. Then came the stunning disclosure: "My mother, Mary, was Michael's sister. There was just the two of them and I remember Mammy talking about a fire in Royal Dublin and everything to do with Uncle Mike was destroyed in it."

This was the fire of August 2, 1943, when the old clubhouse was burnt to the ground along with the adjoining dwelling-house of the club professional.

She went on: "Mammy didn't even know about the Moran Cup. After she died, an insurance man was talking to me about golf and I told him I had an Uncle Mike who died years ago. With that, he tells me that the Cup was being played for out in Sutton. Up to that point, I had no idea my Uncle Mike was remembered, so it was a lovely surprise when my daughter, Linda, told me about Royal Dublin's celebration plans.

"Though I knew Mammy was reared there, last week was my first time ever at the club. Imagine that, after 84 years. It was very emotional, thinking of my mother and how she never knew that Uncle Mike's name would live on."

In truth, few personal details were known about Moran until relatively recently. Reference was made to him, however, in Joe Kennedy's Dubliners Diary in the Evening Press in August 1983, to mark the return of the Irish Open to Royal Dublin.

Kennedy referred in a fascinating tail-piece to a photograph of Moran he had acquired through correspondence from Hugh Perry, Molly's late husband. The caption suggested it was a promotional photograph presumably linked to Moran's use of certain golf equipment.

Dated 1911, it claimed the player had unleashed a drive of "365 yards at Dollymount on May 3, 1910." It added: "He won almost every important event in Ireland during the last two years and has used the Dunlop Junior the whole time." Which made it quite a golf ball, given that this was only nine years after the introduction of the core-wound Haskell ball in 1901.

In the event, an email from Hugh Perry's daughter, Linda Byrne, to Royal Dublin only last month, opened crucial doors to complete Finnegan's research. "My parents were always very interested in Michael Moran's career," she wrote. "In 2015, just before my father passed away, they made the trip to visit Michael's grave [in France]. As you can imagine, this was a very emotional experience for them both."

Her correspondence became a crucial link in bringing together the Moran relatives on the night, comprising as they did, herself and Molly Perry, along with Bernie, Ann Hickey and Thomas Curley: the Curleys were the maternal side of the original Moran family.

"My mother's father was Patrick Curley," said Bernie. "I live in Kilmore near Beaumont Hospital and I always knew about Mike Moran from my mother Margaret [Curley] talking about him. She would say that the Curleys were like the Walton family on TV, the way they took everybody in.

"I thought the Royal Dublin occasion was absolutely brilliant and I was really touched by the work that went into it. I found newspaper cuttings about Michael Moran in a box my mother had and I was only too delighted to loan them to Peter Finnegan. His club deserve great credit for what they did."

On leave from the fighting, Michael Moran made his last visit home in August 1917. That's when he played a famous exhibition match in aid of the Red Cross over the original par-35 nine holes of Clontarf GC in the grounds of what is now Mount Temple School.

Attired in full army uniform, even down to his spurs and "ammunition" boots, he used borrowed clubs to card a remarkable three-under-par 32. None of the enthralled observers could have imagined that eight months later, he would be dead.

Wild winds swept the Dollymount links on April 27, when Clontarf professional, Eamonn Brady, won the Moran Cup with an outstanding score of 66, as the high-point of the centenary celebrations. On beloved terrain, one could imagine a distinguished ghost from the past, nodding in admiration.

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