By JEROME O'CONNELL
LAST month, ‘In Praise of Heroes: Ballads and Poems of the GAA’ was launched - a publication recounting great GAA battles and personalities of the past.
The publication of 559 pages is written by former Clare hurling hero, Jimmy Smyth and consists of a selection of poems and ballads written to commemorate sporting events in the world of the GAA.
Collected from every county in Ireland over a period of 20 years, the contents are divided into four categories: hurling songs and poems from 1300 to 2003; football songs from 1700 to 2004; tributes in song to the great players both hurlers and footballers and a number of ballads commemorating handball games - biographical details of authors are given and explanatory notes provide a context to each entry.
The book’s author, Jimmy Smyth is a native of Ruan, County Clare.
His hurling career with Ruan, St Flannan’s College, Clare and Munster stretched over 23 years.
In St Flannan's College he won three Harty Cups and three All-Ireland Colleges medals in the 1940s.
Smyth played at minor level for five years and played his first senior inter-county match in the National Hurling League at the age of 17.
In spite of little success with Clare, Smyth was chosen on the Munster inter-provincial team on 12 occasions, winning eight Railway Cup medals.
In 1967 Smyth retired from hurling having given two decades to the game at the highest level.
Following his retirement from play he continued his involvement with the GAA, working as Executive Officer at Croke Park until 1988.
Following this he studied philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1993. His Master of Arts thesis in the University of Limerick was based on the songs, poems and recitations of Gaelic games in Munster.
In spite of not having any provincial or All-Ireland success Smyth was still named on the Munster Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000. In 2002 An Post/GAA inducted him to the Hall of Fame and released a stamp in his honour.
Limerick more than most, are aware of his talent - his return of six goals and four points in the 1953 Munster championship against Limerick will never he equalled.
Smyth recalls the match in the book.
‘Hurling is a special mix of parish, motherhood and friend and they have walked side by side together down the years,’ he writes.
‘This can be highlighted by a little incident on June 14, 1953 at Cusack Park, Ennis, when Clare played Limerick in the Munster hurling championship. I scored 6-4 on this occasion. I don’t remember one of those scores.’
He adds: ‘I only remember what happened immediately after the game. We togged out in the Queen’s Hotel, approximately 600 yards from Cusack Park. We walked to the Park. At the sideline gate leaving the pitch I was approached by an elderly lady from Ruan, my home parish. She smiled into my face, and caught me by the back of the jersey. She never spoke a word. And still without a word, she walked on by my side to the Queen’s Hotel doorway, with her hand still on my jersey, when she again smiled into my face and then walked silently and smilingly away’.
Tommy Quaid, Jim Catherall, Ned Corbett, Mick Mackey, Jackie Power, Paddy Scanlon, Paddy Clohessy, Sean Herbert and Jim O’Brien are some of the Limerick stars remembered in the new book.
There are over 20 ballads relating to Limerick.
One of the oldest is entitled ‘Shannon Sweepers’ and recalls gaels of Ardagh around 1860, while ‘The Sweeping Seventeen’ is about a game between Caherline and Kilfinane in 1896.
There are ballads aplenty about All-Ireland wins and the near misses of the mid-90’s.
‘In Praise of Heroes: ballads and poems of the GAA’ is priced at 25 and is available from all good bookshops or direct from the publishers - post free (Geography Publications, 24 Kennington Road, Templeogue, Dublin 6W.