The Road to 51 - a unique social history

De Facto
The road to 51 – a unique social history

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

Another year is about to sidle off, stage left.  A new year is waiting, on cue.  Regrets and pain are banished alongside joy and laughter.  Hope and expectation are waiting, again with joy and laughter.  Family, friends and personal interests are to the fore.  Loves, life and death are ready, again.  Resolutions, plans and dreams are centre-stage, including the stirring road to Croke Park. 
It has been sixty years since the Mayo senior football team walked out of Croke Park as All-Ireland champions.  For many of us that is a lifetime.  The wait has defined our lives more than the victory because we were born after that glorious day.  We have become a people of expectation, somewhat like the chosen people waiting for the Messiah.  St Peter states: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day…”
In the meantime, we need some element of comfort and support, an assurance that our day will come.  The current team is offering great hope.  Patience, even after sixty years, is still a prerequisite.  That patience will lead to a much better understanding if you read the new book by James Laffey, The Road to 51.
This is the story of Mayo football up to (and even after) that glorious day  - September 23, 1951 – when Mayo captured the Sam Maguire for the second year in a row.  They also won in 1936.  The book is a marvel.  It is not simply a straight text but a glorious context of the life and times leading up to 1951.  James Laffey has produced a superb book, a great read and a wonderful, if not the ultimate, resource on Mayo football. 
You are drawn into the times, the atmosphere, the kitchens and the personalities of the people who make the book so much alive.  It spells out details on the GAA, its participants, supporters, and detractors and allows us to feel the breath of life that drew one year to the next.  To say that this is a football book is to do it a disservice.  It is also a unique social history that catapults us into the War of Independence, the Civil War and the birth pangs of a nation.  We learn how the GAA was a binding force in hearts that were torn by betrayal and division.
I learned so much about my late uncle, Liam Hastings, and the role he played in scripting a letter to the county board in November 1947.  With others he wrote a “carefully structured, coherent and fervent appeal to the football-loving public in Co Mayo to set aside the ‘petty squabbles’ of the past and focus their energy on reviving the senior team’s fortune in 1948.”  He cited the county board’s “indifference” and chided its members’ failure to attend matches for which they were selecting teams.  That letter and the ensuing energy paved the way for later victories.           
We learn that Mayo star, Seán Lavan, invented the solo run.  The 1925 All-Ireland title was given to Mayo but subsequently handed to Galway!  Mayo was the first Connacht team to win the National League.  Between 1929 and 1939 Mayo won eight Connacht senior championships, one All-Ireland and six National Leagues!  A rabbit, donning the Mayo colours, was released in Croke Park in the 1948 All-Ireland Final against Cavan.  He was captured by a few Cavan boys who promptly changed his colours and let him loose again!  Cavan won by a point!   
The book has interesting stories and snippets on the greats of Mayo football  - players, officials and supporters - from the earliest of days.  There is a moving account of Paddy Bluett walking alongside the coffin of his hero and friend, Tom Langan, as the cortege made its way through Ballina to Ballycastle.  “You walk with me and you’ll be fine,” Tom Langan had told Paddy Bluett years previously when officials in Croke Park tried to prevent Mayo’s staunchest supporter from parading with his beloved team. 
Acton, Ahearne, Brogan, Byrne, Cafferkey, Carney, Corcoran, Courell, Daly, Dixon, Durkan, Durkin, Flanagan, Flannelly, Gilvarry, Grier, Healy, Hearns, Jordan, Kenny, Kilroy, Laffey, Langan, Lavan, Loftus, McEllin, Moclair, Mongey, Mulderrig, Munnelly, O’Malley, Ó’Móráin, Prendergast, Quinn, Regan, Ruane, Solan, Walsh and Wynne are some of the many people who grace us in these pages.      
James Laffey has served Mayo well with this volume.  It is an indispensable book and one that should be in every Mayo home and every home with Mayo roots.  He can be proud of what he has achieved, and in his humble way, has also listed those who assisted him.  It comes complete with an index and an appendix of Mayo matches 1916-1951.  The long wait has been worth this book.  Now for 2012…