When Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer this year I thought of my grandfather, P.J. O’Loughlin, who died in 1965. Originally a Cork man from Newmarket, he was a GAA man through and through, and was County Secretary of the Wicklow GAA from 1935 to 1940. My father commented recently that you could generate electricity from him spinning in his grave at the thoughts of the hallow turf in Croke Park being invaded by so-called “foreign games”. Equally, he would not have comprehended the advent of the Internet. Recently, I was looking up the Leinster GAA web site on the Internet and quite by accident I came across a photograph of the victorious Wicklow team who won the 1936 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship. Much to my surprise, there was my grandfather, in his capacity as County Secretary, posing with the team. None of us in our family recall seeing this photograph before. It was a strange feeling to discover this photograph on the Internet for all the world to see, over 40 years after my grandfather’s death.
I have very few personal memories of my grandfather. He taught me how to tie my shoelaces – I still tie my laces in the way he showed me. I also remember the tricolour draped coffin at his funeral, and the shots over his grave – the first time I ever heard gunfire.
However, my favourite memory is of the occasion that he brought me to Croke Park for my first All-Ireland Final in the early 1960’s as a small boy. No doubt he wanted the GAA tradition to be kept in future generations of our family and he was starting me early. I was only 4 or 5 years old – the year was either 1963 or 1964, I don’t know which. I do know it must have been before June 1965 when he died.
I recall practically nothing of the occasion which must have been a very exciting one for a small boy – no memories of the trip from Carnew in south County Wicklow to Croke Park, if I was lifted over the turnstiles as was then the fashion for small children, what the atmosphere at the match was like, or the trip home. I have no recollection either of what teams were playing that day, who won, or what the score was. Indeed, I don’t even recall if the game was football or hurling.
The only thing I remember about the occasion was that at the end of the game as the crowd filtered out, my Grandfather climbed over several rows of empty seats to an ice cream seller. He came back to me with a small tub of ice cream, which had no little wooden spoon to eat it with. When I announced that I could not eat the ice-cream for lack of a spoon, he quickly showed me how to use the lid as a scoop and I savoured the moment, and of course the ice cream. An unforgettable memory!
Years later (in 1998), I was listening to The Gay Byrne Show on the radio – Gay was hosting a discussion about the previous evening’s Paul McGrath Testimonial football match at Lansdowne Road. There was a lot of discussion and some complaints from callers about the cost of tickets and that many children had to have the full adult price paid for them.
One caller told us that he had brought his young son to the match for the price of an expensive full adult ticket. When Gay asked him why on earth he had done this, the caller responded that he wanted his son to be able to say that he had seen Paul McGrath and many other stars play, but most important of all was that he would be able to remember that he was there.
In words that turned back the clock and instantly transformed me back over the years to Croke Park and my Grandfather’s climb for ice cream, Gay responded to the caller by saying: “If you want him to remember that he was there, buy him an ice cream after the match”.