They met in candlelit secrecy. They had a dream and it became a reality

With evictions occurring all around them and informers and vigilant foreign forces roaming the town, a small but determined group of men gathered in a public house on College Street 134 years ago this week. That historic meeting resulted in the formation of Kerry’s most successful GAA club who have won a record 13 county senior championship titles – and that’s just for starters.
Here, club stalwart Éamonn Fitzgerald reflects on the history of the proud black and amber and how it all came to be

ON a dark Sunday night 134 years ago, a group of Killarney men gathered in O’Mahoney’s public house on College Street. The building is still there but it has gone through different ownerships, becoming  Squire Cronin’s, then the Jug of Punch and, in recent years, Lord Kenmare’s.

The men had plenty to talk about, especially with so many evictions which were the scourge of that time in Killarney and all over Ireland. Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League, had informed a meeting in Castleisland at that time that 1,600 families in Kerry had been evicted in the previous three years. The Irish Land League leaders were doing their utmost to undo these wrongs and there were eight branches of the Land League on the Kenmare estate (Killarney) alone.

The Dr Crokes team that won the Kerry County Championship and Munster Club Championship in 1991 before going on to win the All Ireland Club Championship in March 1992. Front from left are Pat O’Shea, John Foley, Eddie Tatler O’Sullivan (trainer), Seanie O’Shea (Captain), Mike Neeson (1992 Chairman), Connie O’Doherty and Mark Cooper. Second row from left are Tadhg Fleming (selector), Colm O’Shea, Sean Clarke, Danny Cooper, Peter O’Brien, Ger O’Shea, Brendan Keogh, Liam Hartnett and Donie O’Leary (selector). Back from left are John Galvin, John Clifford, Padraig O’Shea, Noel O’Leary, Mike Buckley, Vincent Casey, Roland Neher, Connie Murphy and Patsy Courtney (RIP). Missing from photo is Martin Byrnes. Picture: Sean Kelly

Someone in that pub on College Street that Sunday night referred to the GAA which had been founded in November 1884 in Thurles. One word led to another. Getting a GAA club going in Killarney was well debated over pints and taoscáns of poitín?

Founding a GAA club in secret in Killarney was deemed to be a good idea but the question arose how it could be achieved in a town full of informers and extra-vigilant foreign forces? A nod and a wink and the elbow language sufficed to decide that they would meet again two nights later but not a word was to be said to anyone.

Canon Tom Looney, the recently retired parish priest of Fossa and a mine of knowledge on Killarney’s history, provides the details of the subsequent Tuesday night’s meeting.

Andy Mulcahy, a native of Kilkenny and a sterling Gael, was a charge hand at the Gas Works, the property of the Rail Company situated beside the Iron Bridge at the end of Fair Hill cottages, just a short distance from O’Mahoney’s pub. He provided a room for the meeting where the Outlet Centre now stands. 19 men attended and Tom Looney memorably described them as “19 dangerous dreamers”.

They met in candlelit secrecy. They had a dream and that dream became a reality 134 years ago when they founded Dr Crokes GAA, on November 2, 1886.

Crokes faced many challenges in the club’s fascinating 134-year journey but it survived the evictions, the land dispute, the Spanish ‘flu, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, the bitter Civil War, two World Wars, the TB and polio scourges and now the Covid-19 pandemic, which is challenging everyone worldwide.

Dr Crokes captain John Payne hoists the Bishop Moynihan Cup aloft in 2018 after receiving it from Kerry County Board Chairman Tim Murphy.
Picture: Kerry GAA

Through it all Dr Crokes survived, both on and off the field. The club has won more Kerry senior football championships (13) than any other, followed closely by Austin Stacks on 12 while East Kerry, the current champions, have won eight titles.

Dr Crokes players have won well in excess of 100 All-Ireland senior football medals and current players Tony Brosnan, Gavin White and Mícheál Burns are preparing for Kerry’s Munster Championship clash with Cork next Sunday. When Kerry won their last All-Ireland title in 2014, they were jointly captained by Dr Croke stars, Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O’Leary.

Canon Tom Looney: Told of 12 dangerous dreamers

Dr Crokes ladies and hurlers are thriving this year, especially after the hurlers winning the Kerry Intermediate Championship and the ladies’ teams are having their most successful year ever, winning district and county titles in different age groups. Dr Crokes players on the Kerry panel which beat Cavan in the first round of the All-Ireland Ladies football championship last weekend were Kayleigh Cronin, Ava Doherty and Emma Dineen.

The Saturday morning academy for juvenile boys and girls in hurling and football, for those aged from under six to under 11, has attracted huge numbers and the sessions are staffed by excellent coaches.

As of now, all club activities are suspended by the GAA because of the Level 5 restrictions but Dr Crokes members are urged, as always, to stay connected, within HSE guidelines of course. Make that phone call, WhatsApp, email, post that letter you always promised to and lend a hand to one of your own.

Club activities will come back to normal – probably a new normal – sometime in 2021 and we will accept the reality and adapt so that the vision of the 19 dangerous dreamers 134 years ago will live on.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na Crócaigh.

Éamonn Fitzgerald is Healthy Club Officer with Dr Crokes

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