“With so much disorder in the South and West, comparatively few care to take the journey to the noted course at Lahinch.” Belfast Newsletter
IT was at the height of the War of Independence in Clare — the Rineen Ambush would come the following week, which sparked reprisals that saw buildings in Lahinch , Ennistymon and Miltown Malbay burned to the ground.
That conflict also came to the golf club, just as the flagship event of the year was down for decision — the South of Ireland Championship final between Ernest Carter from Royal Portrush and Derry O’Brien from Cork.
“Little need be said about the charms of Lahinch,” noted the Links Letter column in The Irish Independent in the 1920s. “An Irish paper once described it as an ‘Anglicised’ village. Well, if it is, it has not done it any great harm. As a matter of fact, however, its intense Irishness is one of its chief charms,” it added.
The man who would become Lahinch’s greatest ever golfer decided to put that perception to the test in September 1920 — 21-year-old John Burke, who had caddied in Lahinch as a boy was a member of the local battalion of the Mid-Clare Brigade, attended that South of Ireland final, along with his brother Tom and fellow volunteer Pake Lehane.
The flag of the Black Watch colours, the regiment that had founded Lahinch GC in the early 1890s, flew from the flagstaff next to the pavilion of the clubhouse, but according to Burke “if respect and tribute were to be paid to any flag on these premises, it certainly should be the one raised over the GPO in 1916”.
This decision was made at a battalion meeting during South of Ireland week, with the three volunteers moving in just as the final began. “We called on Maura O’Dwyer who had a drapery premises in the town,” recalled Burke in a Connacht Tribune article in 1973.
“She immediately set to work and three large tricolour were ready inside half an hour. We set out for the clubhouse. We contacted Michael Barrett, an employee of the club, and he explained the workings of the pulls and guide ropes on the flag staff.
“The name of the contestants for the final were called. The captain gave a short speech and requested the huge gallery to co-operate with the stewards. We bided our time until the players were on their way to the second hole, which was near the pavilion,” he added.
“We then hauled down the flag, and for the first time in the history of the club the national flag was fluttering in the slight breeze. To state this caused a minor sensation is putting it mildly. The captain and the committee were astounded. ‘The blackguards who dared to attempt such an atrocity should be horse whipped. Then the full rigours of the law should be applied.
“We mingled with the group around the clubhouse. In a very short space of time a squad of military arrived, fully armed, on the bicycles. They hauled down our flag, set it on fire, and stamped on it to further vent our feelings.
“They hoisted another flag, and returned to barracks, assuming that the matter had been dealt with. We went through our previous routine. Then we set fire to and stamped on the flag we had previously removed. The military returned a second time, carrying with them a saw. The flag staff was cut at the base and that was that.”
Within a week Pake Lehane was murdered in a reprisal for Rineen.
No flag flew at Lahinch GC for over 30 years — not until a new flagstaff was erected as part of the new clubhouse development.
Now, in Irish Open week the tricolour will be joined by flags from around the world.
It will be Lahinch welcoming golfers from around the world.