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Romantic days in Joyce Country

Sport
Romantic days in Joyce Country


Clonbur and its hinterland are celebrating All-Ireland glory this week

Feature
Willie McHugh

“We’re the Joyce country ceili band
Playing away and we’re doing grand
We’re singing a song won’t you give us a hand
‘Cos we’re the Joyce Country Ceili Band.”


ON Sunday evening Mount Gable beamed in the setting sun. The stately mountain overlooking Clonbur was acknowledging the significance of a special day in Joyce Country. The bodhrán beat in Ti Bhurca heralds the arrival of Clonbur down the corridors of glory.
Victory in the All-Ireland Junior football final in Croke Park earlier that afternoon gave a region its place in history. Clonbur is an idyllic hamlet pitched between the renowned fishing waters of Mask and Corrib.
‘Neath the foothills of the mountains its beauty is renowned the world over. For generations past it’s also been the land of the long distance kiddies. From here exiles departed to leave their footprints on the tarmac in faraway places like London, Chicago and Illinois. The impediment of the language barrier accompanied them.
But this week Clonbur is to be found somewhere on an outer galaxy. In villages like Kilbride, Cloughbrack, Dooras and Glantrague life will never be the same again. Last time this region made the national headlines two young pilots lost their lives in a valley in Crimlin.
Life has taken a happier twist now. Keane’s Bar at Maam Bridge is the last outpost of football. The late Joe Keane was a football aficionado and coolness personified. How he’d have loved to be tending his counter on Sunday night. Tomás Higgins is barman here for the last twenty-one years.
“I never thought I’d see this day. There’s a kind of air of anticipation in the bar tonight and we’re not sure what to expect because this has never happened before. The proudest moment I had was in ’98 when Seàn Ó Domhnaill came in with the Sam Maguire Cup. But today was something else because this is local.
“I listened to it at home in Tiernakill. I’m a neighbour of the Chairman Gerry Keane and I’m delighted for him. He has put Trojan work in for the last few weeks getting everything organised and I texted him earlier and told him to savour this experience.”
Tony Keane returned from Dublin because of work commitments. His father Marcus was on the Clonbur team that won the Galway Senior League in 1956. “They beat Tuam Stars and we were reared on tales of that famous victory because Tuam had Purcell and Stockwell playing then. But today surpasses that and I know how proud they’d be of what those lads have achieved. I have work tomorrow, otherwise I’d have stayed in Dublin tonight to celebrate but we’ll have plenty time for that when they get home.”
In O’Malley’s in Cornamona names like Wallace, Lambe, Holleran, O’Cuiv, Lydon and Diskin ascend and hover. They have new heroes now to rhyme off alongside other greats like Dunne, Leydon, Keenan, Fallon, Donnellan and Joyce. Along the counter the commitment and dedication of veteran, Gerry Kyne, is grist to the millwheel of legend. He even gets a year older with every mention. That’s to throw a wobbly to the stranger in their midst.
If he continues ageing at this acceleration, the cheque from Michael D will arrive in the any day now.

WHEN heaven beckons in Clonbur, Ciaran Burke is the last taxi out of here. In October Ciaran took the hardest call of all when his brother Ignatius passed away suddenly on the week of the County Junior Final. His passing visited a heavy toll on Ciaran. That he managed to muster enough enthusiasm to attend the final in Galway lends itself to the power of human resilience.
Last Thursday Ciaran officiated at the funeral of one of Clonbur’s oldest citizens, Mary Holleran of Cahergal. The football happenings of winter brought the spark alive in Ciaran again. The spring is back in the step and there was the odd humorous quip too because, in Ciaran’s daily chores, life and death walk hand in hand. He drives Clonbur denizens to the pearly gates.
Ti Bhurca’s name is emblazoned on the club strip. The Burke house in Clonbur is a shrine to football. Jerseys drape from the ceiling and pictures and bunting tastefully adorn every suitable vantage point.
Monday morning and life unfolds a tad more slowly in Clonbur. Cha’ Burke is busy preparing breakfast. She talks of others who didn’t live to see this day dawn.
“Seamus Kyne was one of the stalwarts of Clonbur and it was he and others like Ignatius Burke, Paddy O’Malley, Marcus Keane, and others, who made a major contribution to football and indeed the general quality of life around here. I’m sure they are proud looking down on us today. And never mind what John Joe [Holleran] puts into it. I’d say he’s the proudest man in Dublin now and can’t wait to get home. “
Carmel Kerrigan is receptionist in The Fairhill Guest House. “There’s a great mood around the place and we’re really looking forward to the homecoming.”
In Lynch’s Centra, Geraldine Conroy is preparing for a busy day. “It was brilliant seeing the kids leaving school on Friday wearing the Clonbur jersey.
Proprietor, and newly-wed, Brendan Lynch offered Stephen Canny two tickets for last night’s function in the Regency Hotel at half-time yesterday. Stephen declined. At full-time he took the tickets to attend the function.  History can change in an instant.
Local ‘Gillie’ Frank Joyce had planned to spend Monday cutting timber but by mid-morning the notion was shelved for another day. Dermot Birch and his gang of helpers had to stick to their plan though . The greatest homecoming Clonbur will ever witness has to be arranged this day.
The children in Clonbur, Maam and Cornamona have new heroes to idolise now. They will grow up attempting to emulate the feats of the mighty men who took the region to the inner sanctum of greatness. Sometimes sport can be the greatest romance of all. And it’s Valentine’s Day in Joyce Country.
Coincidence or what?