Thursday, May 05, 2016

Write what you know #My500Words #GAA @officialGAA @wicklowgaa #241

Today's 500 word task from Jeff Goins is to "Describe a day in your life you will never forget". I've had a bit of a think about this - my wedding day comes to mind, so does graduating with a PhD, the first time I had s*x, the day I got the keys to my Harley, and many more. But the day in my life that I will never forget that I want to write about today is actually a day that I remember very little about. Family members and regular readers of this blog will already know this story - so if you're bored with it look away now!

My Grandfather, Croke Park, Ice Cream, and Gay Byrne.

My grandfather PJ O’Loughlin died in 1965 when I was almost six years old, and I have very few personal memories of him. 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. He was a staunch GAA man and served as Wicklow County Secretary in the late 1930s.

My Grandfather.
However, my favourite memory is of the occasion that he brought me to Croke Park for my first All-Ireland Final in the early 1960s as a small boy. 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 well before the 19th of 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 RTÉ 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 several complaints from callers about the cost of tickets and that many children had to have the full adult price paid for them. One irate 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 football 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 on a day I'll never forget, 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”.

The 1936 Junior All-Ireland Football Champions - Wicklow.
That's my Grandfather in dark suit on the left.
Image source: Leinster GAA.
Versions of this story have already been published on History Ireland and previously on this blog.

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