19 April 2018
The Easter Vestry meetings are over, and I am taking a day or two off in Ballinskelligs (Baile ’n Sceilg) in south-west Kerry and in the small village of Dungeagan.
Over half a century ago, when I was in my teens in 1966, there was a real fear that I might fail Irish in the ‘Inter Cert’ the following year. Failing Irish at the time meant failing the full exam outright, and the consequences for families were dire: repeat the full year, which still provided no guarantee of success a second time; leave school and find an apprenticeship, which was never considered in a family such as mine; or being sent to England to a school such as Downside or Ampleforth.
Three of were packed off to Ballinskelligs for a month to learn Irish. It must have been a success: I still remember the England v Germany World Cup final that summer; I boarded with cousins from Co Cork and learned much from them too; and when I returned home and was asked whether I had learned much Irish I answered smartly, ‘No, but I learned a lot about French, eh French kissing.’
During that month in Colaiste Mihichil, I also remember learning Irish dancing, boring evenings listening to the old seanachaí, reading Anne Frank’s Diaries and Catcher in the Rye, having my first smoke, and being challenged to go ‘skinny dipping.’
I was the butt of some slight humour – but all in good taste – because of what must have been a tinge of an English accent at the time. On the other hand, I remember feeling negative about the commemorations that year of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916. If Irish colleges were about shaping national identity then, despite my age, I realised already some people wanted to classify me as an outsider.
My parents never hinted that they heard any reports of my independent behaviour. And yes, I passed Irish in the ‘Inter Cert’ the following year – albeit a pass on a pass paper – and went on finish the ‘Leaving Cert’ in 1969 at Gormanston College, Co Meath.
Now I am back in Ballinskelligs (Baile ’n Sceilg), and back in the small village of Dungeagan, where I stayed over 50 years ago in 1966. I am staying overnight in Tig an Rince. a purpose-built Bed and Breakfast just 500 meters from the local pub and church, and within easy walking distance of the Blue Flag beach in Ballinskelligs.
Ballinskelligs is on the Wild Atlantic Way and on the Ring of Skellig, an extension of the famous Ring of Kerry. It claims it is the ‘Diamond on the Ring, and the Ring of Skellig is a smaller 30 km route with all the beauty but none of the hassle of the Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Skellig detours west off the N70 just north of Waterville, and hooks back up to the Ring of Kerry just south of Caherciveen.
Ballinskelligs has a Blue Flag Beach at the western edge of a sheltered bay. The area is home to five music venues and a haven for artists, with a world renowned artists’ retreat at Cill Rialaig village, a gallery at Cill Rialaig Arts Centre and regular craft fairs.
The small village of Dungeagan was mainly centred on trade and shops in the late Victorian period. There were three shops here in 1886, and by the 1950s it had five shops.
The church was built here in the 19th century and for generations Dungeagan was the main centre of community life in Ballinskelligs, with two dance halls and that residential Irish College every summer.
I am looking forward to some long walks on the sandy beach, and the sites I hope to reacquaint myself with include the McCarthy Mór Tower, known as the ‘castle on the beach,’ and the 12th century abbey. What other memories are going to be stirred up in Ballinskelligs?
Limerick has an interesting collection of public sculptures and monuments commemorating its sporting life, including rugby players and hurlers, Olympic athletes, and, of course, that star of Sporting Life, Richard Harris.
But the most unusual sporting monument, in appearance as well as theme, must be the John O’Grady Monument at the Fair Green on the junction of the Pike or Ballysimon Road and the Blackboy Road or Old Cork Road. It is impossible not to notice the monument at the sharp angle of the junction of two roads forming the pike.
This monument in limestone and steel is symbolic and yet has a neoclassical character. It was erected in 1940 to commemorate the champion weight thrower John O’Grady (1892-1934), once the strongest man in Limerick.
The monument shows a weight at the top resting on four limestone balls, and these stand on a limestone plinth base with a canted podium and there is commemorative panelling on the sides of plinth base. The top part of the monument, representing the handle of the weight, was damaged and dislodged. When it was found recently by a local resident, the monument was recently restored to its former glory by Limerick Civic Trust.
John O’Grady was born on 17 February 1891 in Ballybricken, Co Limerick, the son of William and Catherine O’Grady, farmers.
He stood at over 6 ft tall and weighed more than 18 stone. A world record-breaking weight thrower, he represented Ireland in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris and was the country’s flag bearer. He took part in the shot put, which he threw a distance of 12.75 metres, which placing him 17th in the Olympics that year.
The monument records that in his career he created three world records for putting and also won seven national championships.
In his later years, he was the rates book inspector for the Limerick County Council. He died on 26 November 1934,at his home, in Saint Kevin’s, Alphonsus Terrace, Limerick. His funeral took place in Saint Michael’s Church, and he was buried in Kilmurry, Caherconlish. All who knew him recalled his jolly disposition.
The inscription on the monument reads:
Erected by his admirers in proud memory of John O’Grady World Champion Weight Thrower born at Ballybricken, Co. Limerick 17th Feb 1892. Died at Limerick 26th Nov 1934. He worthily upheld Ireland’s Athletic prestige and endeared himself to all by his loveable character and simple bearing.