King of his country
As the centre of Joe Corcoran’s world, Garrymore and its traditions have both shaped him and been shaped by him
SELDOM a night goes by but Joe Corcoran holds counsel with his neighbours. The ‘King of Garrymore’ sits beside the open fire; a stately old dresser that speaks of other days dominates the warn and homely room, while a picture of the Sacred Heart keeps a watchful eye from the far wall.
Outside, a harvest moon graces the south eastern sky, as surely as it has done since the dawn of time, spilling its dreamy light across the western landscape. The autumn days are here again and Joe is all set to welcome another season of callers to his abode in Killeenrevagh, not even a stone’s throw from Scardaune Post Office.
Joe Corcoran, man of the land and friend to many, is a Garrymore institution. With the exception of a year-and-a-half, he has spent all his life around this place. “It was back around 1952, I spent a time working beyond in London and Yorkshire. I was laying cables and I remember the day I left Claremorris railway station. Meself and Luke Trench from Ballindine hit off together. There were lots of lads from the place working with us over there, the Burkes from Ballindine and the Higginses and Gerry Fitzgerald from Crossboyne.
“I came home within two years, my father wasn’t well, a lot of auld work to be done with tillage and the land. We used to sow a lot of spuds at the time, Tom McHugh and myself were a long time ‘in co’ on the spuds and Andy Gill did a term or two with us as well. We would have around five or six acres. It was awful hard going. The spuds were sent to Erin Foods in Tuam.
“I also sowed around two acres of beet myself for many years. Nearly all the farmers around here had beet at the time. It was hard going too but we enjoyed it. There was a bit of money coming in. We had a week’s wages. The auld pint was only ten pence and you could get a ‘medium’ for eight pence. We’d have our drinks in Crossboyne, Ballindine and Claremorris. It was nearly all ‘mediums’ around here, O’Brien’s, Byrne’s, Merrick’s and Gilligan’s in Claremorris were noted for the ‘medium’.”
Bred, born and raised in the Garrymore football tradition, Joe inherited that sense of community from the outset. Across the ages, it is the one unifying force in his life story. It is, in many ways, even more as it reflects an extraordinary allegiance to place that has long been associated with the Garrymore psyche.
“I played football for 13 or 14 years with Garrymore. We were a junior team back then. There was a team in Crossboyne too. Garrymore went down as far as Andy Gill’s and stopped there at the time.
“Right half-back was my position. I marked the well-known Joe Corcoran from Ardnaree in the junior semi-final of 1957. It was a tough game and we won by a point. Ballyhaunis beat us by a point in the final and that game was even tougher. I was a sub on the team that beat Crossmolina in the county junior final in 1961.
“Jim Mannion and Mick Heaney were good managers and they looked after us well. We trained in different fields and farms. It was mostly up in Paddy Joe Heaney’s field as young lads and when the Heaney lads stopped playing we were in different fields in Ballyglass for a while before going over to Carras where we kicked football at the back of the church. Patsy Higgins, Tom Niland and Pete Fallon from Ballindine were with us in those times.
“We ended up just across the road there in Martin Brady’s field. He was an uncle of Pat O’Brien’s. We played there for years. We had no goal posts, just two stones and two jackets. We’d do a bit of work for Martin with the hay, shear the sheep, and a bit with the turf. Himself and Baby were lovely people.
“Anytime we were playing Claremorris, we used to tog out in PJ Byrne’s pub. It was the Garrymore dressing room in town. We’d then walk up to the pitch. We often cycled in to town and played matches, we cycled to Kilmaine for games, but we usually got transport for games in Ballinrobe. Frank Heaney from Ballyglass and Jimmy Kearns from Ballindine did our taxi work those days. Paddy Heaney used to have a little van and would bring a few. Jim McDonagh got a car too and would bring a few more.”
Among the players who soldiered with Joe in those years were Martin Heaney, Paul Heaney, Gabe Heaney, Paddy Heaney, Jarlath Tierney, Tom Niland, Tom Tierney, Peter Fallon, Johnny Flanagan, Vincent Nally, Martin Fitzpatrick, Patsy O’Toole, Paddy Higgins, Martin Prendergast, Patrick Connelly, James Varley, Billy Fitzpatrick, Seamus O’Toole, Johnny Sheridan, Matt Grier, Tom McCormack, Tom Foye and (Fr) John Keenan.
“We were great rivals with Claremorris, Kilmaine and Hollymount. There was some mighty skelping during the games but, after a few drinks, it would be made up and forgotten about. Most of the games were played in Hollymount, an awful lot of people came out to Hollymount in the 1960s for the matches.
“As far as I know, the Garrymore teams still say the few prayers before they leave the dressing room so that nobody gets hurt. I think it was Jim Mannion that started that tradition.
“Some people used to say about us one time that we’d say the few prayers first and then be told to ‘give it to the f****** when ye go out there!’. That story was added to it all the time and some of the Garrymore lads would say that it was true just to rise the others!
“We used to love the few pints after the games, not before them, and if we won it was great. The club would always stand you a drink, pints or minerals. Some older men would buy you a drink out of respect if you had a good game, there was an understanding there among the people.
“By the time the club acquired the pitch above where it is now on Garvey’s land, we were well retired then. But it was great to have seen Garrymore in their golden years in the 1970s and 1980s when they won six county senior titles. It was also great for people like Jim Mannion and Bertie McHugh and the Heaneys and all whose hearts were so much in Garrymore. You could never forget the sense of pride we all felt with those great wins.”
The 1960s heralded a new era of social change. The showbands were changing the social scene in Ireland and the arrival of television to rural and small-town Ireland was bringing about its own transformation. “Ourselves and Brannicks and Cunninghams had some of the first televisions in the locality. There would often be more than 20 people gathered here at a weekend night looking at The Virginian and other shows. It was a real novelty back then. Youngsters today could not even imagine how novel television was in those years.
“We went to a lot of the dances. There were two halls in Ballindine, Isaac Gannon’s in Claremorris and the Town Hall came later. There were a good few marquees around as well.
“We didn’t follow any band in particular. As long as we had a few pints first, that was number one like at the time, and then we’d ramble along. We didn’t care if it was Joe Dolan or Big Tom or Elvis, and if we could get in free, it was even better and some of them would know us and let us in now and again. Some of the right dancing crowd and the lads that were pioneers had their own favourite bands sure enough and would follow them to different venues. We hardly knew a thing about the pioneers in those times.”
Over the years, Joe’s method of transport was his tractor. “I never had a car but I had a good auld tractor. It took me down to the pub, into town, and to Mass up until a few years ago. Nowadays, there’s always someone around to bring me wherever I want to go. I get a taxi to go to Galway.”
Over the decades, the Corcoran home has always had an open door. “Anyone who comes here comes around and just walks in. If they knock on the front door, they are a stranger to the place. I remember Mrs O’Brien and Mrs Brady and my mother meeting here every evening for years. They’d sit down and chat away. There were always people coming and going and it’s still the same today. A bit like Mick Gaynard’s house over in Derrymore, no shortage of characters over there either. I ramble down there now and again myself with Joe Hannon up the road.”
Almost effortlessly, Joe’s thoughts return to Garrymore. A case of all my roads lead back to you. With young Shane Nally and David Dolan donning the Mayo jersey in the All-Ireland minor final in Croke Park last Sunday, Joe sees potential for a new dawn in Garrymore too.
“I think Garrymore are coming back again. There are good young lads coming through. The club has done awful well to linger in senior ranks so long. There’s an awful pride in the Garrymore jersey. People love it whatever it is. When you put on that jersey, you lift, whatever is in you lifts.”
In the heartlands, some things remain constant. Roots run deep. Respect for tradition holds firm. Garrymore has always been a Gaelic stronghold. And wherever the exile sons and daughters of the place gather, they too think of the land where they once had a home. And they think of people like Joe who encapsulates that entire tradition. Here’s to Joe Corcoran … the King of Garrymore.