GOING to Croke Park is a road well travelled.
He could go to the Cusack Stand, or maybe for older time sake it will be the Hogan. He’ll probably only make up his mind as he goes on his way this St Patrick’s Day, because he knows both so well, indeed his knowledge of the whole Croke Park auditorium is akin to that of the farmer knowing his land.
It’s true to say that more than any other Ballyea man, or Clareman for that matter, he owns a bit of the place. He was here many times as a member of the famous Faughs club that head the roll of honour in Dublin hurling and were All-Ireland winners in their day; and he’s lined out in more All-Irelands than any other Clareman.
Indeed, he last toed the line of duty in Croker just four years ago – at the ripe old age of 90 years young. “I was a Croke Park steward on All-Ireland days,” he smiles, “and there were some great days”.
Down’s famous first win in 1960 after which Sam Maguire finally crossed into the fourth green field; the following year when there were over 90,000 present for Down v Offaly; Kerry’s five-in-a-row that wasn’t after the four-in-a-row that was; ditto Kilkenny’s five-in-a-row that wasn’t after the four-in-a-row that wasn’t; and Clare’s All-Irelands in 1995 and ’97 of course.
Meet Jim Arthur. Living in Dublin over 70 years; immersed in Dublin hurling since arriving first in the post-war years, as a player with the Faughs in the late ‘40s when they were stacked with household names like Tony Herbert, Jim Prior and Harry Grey, as a mentor from underage right up to senior and all the way through to guiding fledgling club Craobh Chiaráin to an historic county senior title win in 1971.
“That was a great day up the road in Parnell Park,” he sighs.
Even at that he’s understating things. Ciaráins beat Arthur’s old team Faughs en route to the final where they then took out the other bluebloods of the capital in St Vincent’s, a team that boasted such luminaries as Des and Lar Foley, Jimmy Keaveny, Tony Hanahoe and Gay O’Driscoll.
“Craobh Chiaráin are quietly confident of success,” noted Peadar O’Brien in The Irish Press, “and can be relied upon to put up a first class show, but I will be surprised if they succeed,” he added dismissively.
But they did succeed – because Arthur’s young team found a way. “I was the sole selector, trainer and manager of the hurling team,” he recalls.
“I had been with a club called Craobh Rua before that – this house was the clubhouse and jerseys were washed here. Craobh Rua developed hurling around here and then amalgamated with Scoil Chiaráin and we won a senior championship a few years later.
“We also got to the football final in the same year and played St Vincent’s and I was involved with that team. It would have been great to win the double but Vincent’s beat us,” he adds.
It was close though – Ciaráns led by 2-2 to 0-6 at half-time having been against the wind, then they stretched it into a 3-2 to 0-7 advantage early in the second half and then had another goal chance on 40 minutes to go seven clear, but after it was missed the Vins regrouped to win 18th title in 23 years by 3-13 to 3-3. However, Ciaráns then re-grouped themselves and with nine players who started the football final they exacted their revenge with a thumping 3-18 to 3-6 victory in the hurling final a few weeks later.
Not bad for a team that had only been in existence since 1962 – a club Arthur had helped found after nurturing a whole generation of hurlers in his corner of the capital between Parnell Park and his home on Gracefield Road.
It’s why Arthur is a Craobh Chiaráin hero to this day – an honorary Dublin hurling man, even if behind it all he’s still Clare. More than that though, he’s Darragh and more than that again he’s Ballyea and it’s why the black and amber is fluttering on the breeze outside his door on Gracefield Road, just off the old Malahide Road.
All to do with Arthur being there at the very beginning of the Ballyea club in the 1930s.
He’s the last of that hurling generation left.
JIM Arthur’s journey to the Clare county final last October was announced to everyone when he took his seat in the Cusack Park Ard Comhairle before the game.
Master of county final ceremonies Michael O’Regan alerted everyone in the 5,036 crowd to his presence, but before that the black and amber banner that stretched out over him told the story.
“Ballyea for the Cup,” it screamed, as Arthur smiles.
“The last surviving member of Ballyea’s 1944 intermediate championship winning side,” revealed O’Regan and Arthur’s smile grew wider. “Ninety-three-year-old James Arthur.”
And a man with Ballyea stories to tell, as the club closes in on Croke Park. For Arthur it’s a joyous journey to Grand Central from the sub-stations of Carrig’s Field in Tiermaclane and his own field in Darragh.
“I was born in ’23 on a small farm of 27 acres out the Kilrush Road on the left of the road,” he says. “The big farmers who were there that time were the Costelloes and Clearys.
“Paddy O’Dea got a cottage on the Costelloes farm – a council cottage. He had played hurling with Clarecastle and got us hurling. If you played you had to do everything yourself. There was no such thing as being provided with gear or hurleys.
“We used to cut down ash trees. You’d ask the farmers and they wouldn’t mind. It was a big undertaking. Paddy used to use one of our fields because we were next door neighbours.
“He used to come in and do a bit of pucking about and that sort of thing. There was a slope on it but it was reasonably good field – it was about seventy or eighty yards long. Myself and my brother Chris would be in there and from time to time there would be a few others. I started with that when I was seven or eight.”
These were the years before the Ballyea club was even formed. To the west in Caherea and Lissycasey it was all football, to the east you had Clarecastle and Ennis Dals, until Ballyea hurlers finally roused themselves.
“It wasn’t very well organized,” admits Arthur, “but we started. There was no hurling in Ballyea school when I was there. There two teachers there – Mr O’Mahony and his wife in the boys schools, but there was no hurling.
“Paddy Markham, who went on to play with Clare used to encourage players. Himself and Tommy Scanlan gathered up the lads in the Ballyea part of the parish.
“I remember playing under 15 for Ballyea in a county board competition. As far as I remember the games were organized in such a way that there wasn’t too much travel involved.
“Then I went to the Brothers and that’s where we played anything worthwhile. I played in the Dean Ryan. We wouldn’t have figured much in the Harty Cup, but always had a few who were very good players.
“Paddy Lynch who became a priest was from Clooney. He got his place on the provincial selection in the schools. Raymond McNamara from Newmarket was another.”
After school, Arthur answered de Valera’s call and joined the army during the war. “There was propaganda about patriotism and that sort of thing and five of us from the Christian Brothers joined up as volunteers,” he recalls.
“Paddy Coughlan from Ennis was one them – he ended up going to the Palastine after the war – and Paddy Lynch was another. I was assigned to the 19th battalion after preliminary training in Collins’ Barracks in Cork. I finished up in a place called Little Island just outside Cork.”
It was there that Arthur stayed for duration of the emergency, apart from the notable exceptions when Ballyea hurling intervened. The new club had won the junior championship in 1940 when beating Cratloe in the final – four years later came the big push for intermediate glory.
“I had to get a special pass to be allowed play the games,” he recalls. “I played in a different position in every match. Sergeant Long was in Clarecastle and was a Cork man – he was a great enthusiast and organized things.
“When we played the first match (against Tradaree), I played centre-forward and I think I scored two goals and a few points in the first half, but they decided I would have to go back. They put me back into the half-back line in the second half. I wouldn’t have had any contact with the local lore because I was away. I would be just told on the day where I was playing.”
It was a mammoth campaign that stretched from April to November 1944. Tradaree won the first match against Ballyea, but on appeal Ballyea got a replay that ended in a draw before the third game, which eventually came after four cancellations, finally saw Ballyea triumph by 5-4 to 3-2 to reach the county final against Broadford.
The whole saga nearly took as many hours as Arthur’s journey home for the county final.
“I was on field exercises when word came that the game was on,” he remembers. “I got the message on the Friday night about the match. Luckily for me JJ Boyle, who was from Quilty, was acting adjutant because the adjutant Parker was away.
“Parker was a fanatic rugby supporter and I am not sure he would have let me off for a hurling match. Sergeant Long got onto JJ and he said to me if I could get to the match he’d give me leave of absence.
“JJ cleared my release and gave me gave me a travel voucher for the train, but the big trouble was how was I going to get all the way to Clare. On the Saturday I was supposed to be doing the shopping for the battalion, collecting the rations from the depot in a lorry. The lorry brought me up to Cork and into Glanmire Station to discover that there would be no train out of Cork until a goods train later in the day.
“I hung around. I was on the goods train and got up to Limerick Junction, but the goods train was going onto Dublin. I knew there would be a goods training coming down from Dublin and going onto Limerick so I got on that.
“It was about 11 o’clock at night that I got into Limerick. I went across the road to a house where they let rooms. Sergeant Long had arranged that if I got to Limerick on Saturday night I could come out in the press car that would be delivering the Sunday newspapers from Limerick to Ennis.
“The woman called me at six o’clock in the morning and I met the press car in the station and came to Ennis where there was a bike left for me at Darcy’s Yard. I collected it, went to mass and then went to Tulla. Sergeant Long had it organized like we were in the army, because we all had bikes and we went out together in the pouring rain.”
The Junior B final between Kilmaley and Feakle acted as the curtain-raiser with the title going east to the home of the senior champions – and it looked like the intermediate title was going the same direction as Broadford grabbed the initiative early on.
“We lost the toss and they were playing with the hill and the rain,” remembers Arthur. “To my horror I was told I was told I was playing in goal. Paddy O’Dea was pleading with me – ‘when did I play in goal’, I said. ‘Ah John Tobin is injured and he can’t play, you’ll play there’.
“John Tobin was the local creamery manager and a Tipperary man. The creamery was beside Liddy’s shop. He was a lodger in Sheedy’s shop. One day when I was 16 I was a spectator at a Ballyea match and Paddy O’Dea insisted that I play in goal and he did the same here.
“Paddy played full-back and he was the most experienced guy on the team The full-back at that time was the protector of the goalkeeper because he could be charged by the forwards and it wasn’t a foul.
“The first goal in the match was scored by Broadford. It was an OG. I think it was Joe O’Connell [grand-father of Gearóid and Paddy]. He pulled on the ball in the rain and of course the ball spun off the hurley and like a rocket passed me out. I didn’t even see it. Paddy O’Dea ran at him and I thought for a minute that he was going to hit him, but it settled after that.”
Broadford led by 3-0 to 1-1 at half-time, but back roared Ballyea to win by 4-1 to 3-1. “We had the wind and the rain in the second half and gradually got enough scores to go ahead,” recalls Arthur.
“Few followers of the game gave Ballyea any chance at the commencement of the season due to a split in the ranks which was successfully overcome,” said the team’s guiding light Paddy Markham after the game.
“I hope that a better spirit would now prevail for a more united club,” he added.
He concluded his remarks with a warning to all senior teams – “watch the Magpies in 1945”.
Prescient words by Markham, as the Magpies became county champions, but remarkably Ballyea failed to field and it would be a further 73 years before they finally emerged out of their fellow parishioners’ shadow.
What better place could there possibly be to see the sunburst than Croke Park on All-Ireland final day on St Patrick’s Day.
It’s no wonder Jim Arthur wouldn’t miss it for the world.