FAST LEARNERS Ava Maher and Jack Langan attended the Cúl Camp on Inishturk. Pic: Conor McKeown
WHAT’S the definition of a perfect day?
I’m sure all of you will have your own versions.
Mine occurred last Thursday when The Mayo News visited the Mayo GAA Cúl Camp on Inishturk, under the bluest of skies in the greatest of company.
Roonagh Pier was busy in the morning as day-trippers, islanders, scribe, photographer and Mayo minor team manager prepared for the voyage. Teenage footballers Kayla Moran and Lorna O’Malley were returning to Clare Island having played a minor match for Louisburgh the previous evening. They had won and were happy women as their ferry left the pier for the island just across the channel.
However, we were headed for ‘Turk — the big rock sitting nine miles to our left — and it wasn’t long before our skipper, Chris Heanue had us on the waves. He told us it was the calmest water he had ever witnessed and we believed him, although some of our party were a little woozy as we passed the monastic island of Caher and cruised onwards towards our destination.
Descriptions of what our eyes experienced fail me. The colours, the setting, the water, the homes overlooking the harbour, the mail-boat arriving with it’s bi-weekly delivery, smaller ferries, private boats and much, much more captured the senses in a cascade of light and shade.
Soon we were embraced in the home of Mikey and Mary Ann O’Toole high on the edge of the island overlooking the ocean. Looking across the expanse of flat water Galway was to our right, Mayo to our left, but there was no identity crisis in O’Tooles.
A green and red flag flew proudly on the driveway and Mikey emerged into the sunshine in a Mayo jersey. The man with All-Ireland Masters medals to his name is a football encyclopaedia and, as the traveling party enjoyed Mary Ann’s famous scones, days of yore were recalled.
Then it was time to head for what some writers previously dubbed ‘The greatest football pitch on earth.’ We had heard about it, we had seen pictures, we were very excited but the reality was even better than the expectation.
Narrow island roads flanked by perfect stone walls took us to the townland of ‘Craggy’ and there before us was the coliseum that is the Iniskturk Community Pitch. A perfect rectangle of green cut into the mountain, with natural grandstands all around. I’m fortunate to have seen innumerable football pitches in my time - none of them come close to Inishturk.
It is truly, uniquely spectacular.
On the green stage were the 21 children immersed in the island’s first ever Cúl Camp.
Their coaches, Ashleigh Rose and Emma Jane Gill, were surrounded by excited, happy faces as the Mayo minor team manager, Sean Deane and his selector Danny O’Toole arrived with the cup, captured when the green and red were crowned Connacht champions.
“How did you feel when ye got the first score against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final?” five-year-old Jack Langan enquired before following up with a player query.
“I like Diarmuid Duffy. I think he’ll be famous. What do you think?” The manager was diplomatic as always and wore a broad smile as more questions floated in.
“What did your mother think of you when she saw you doing interviews on the telly?” was the next query from a youngster with a future in journalism if he ever fancies it.
Soon, Ashleigh and Emma Jane were putting them through their paces again and the variety of accents wafting around the coliseum told its own story.
Families had come back to the island for the summer and were enjoying all the excitement it had to offer. Soon, it was time for more football, a trek to the top of one of the highest points in the island, refreshments in the community centre and a boat trip back to the mainland.
The ideal recipe for a perfect day!