Camogie in the Thirties

Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 2002, pp 47-48


The disappointing defeat of the Cashel camogie team by Na Piarsigh, Galway in the All-Ireland final at Cashel on November 4 recalls an earlier episode in Tipperary camogie history. 

Camogie started in the county in 1932 under a committee of Sean Ryan, Roscrea; Tommy Ryan, Cashel; Martin Dwyer, Holycross; Denis Walsh, Seamus O'Brien, Coolmoyne and a Miss Healy Thurles. Championships were inaugurated and twelve teams affiliated, Roscrea, Toomevara, Templemore, Drom, Thurles, Moycarkey, Boherlahan, Cappawhite, Cashel, Coolmoyne, Powerstown and Clonmel. Dan Breen offered a set of medals which were won by Coolmoyne, who defeated Boher1ahan in the final by 3-1 to 1-0. 

Coolmoyne repeated their victory in 1933, defeating Ballingarry (near Roscrea) in the final. The trophy was the Sean Treacy Perpetual Cup (Where is it now?) presented by Breen, and a set of medals, the gift of Fr. Meagher, chairman of the county board. 

The Coolmoyne team was: May Walsh, Eileen Cahill, Biddy and Josie O'Connor, Kitty Croke, Mary Duggan, Biddy O'Meara, Imelda and Nonie Walsh, Mary and Maggie Tynan, Peg Hayes Nelly Flynn, Elsie Aherne, Susan McCaffery and Josie Kerwick. 

Elsie Aherne is the only surviving member of that team and is still extremely sprightly for a person approaching eighty-eight years. In fact she is extraordinarily active, both physically and mentally, for a person of her years. The team didn't win any more medals as many of them emigrated because there was virtually nothing to keep them in the area in the depressed thirties. Elsie went to London to train as a nurse and remained there until 1939. She met her future husband there, Jerome O'Dwyer, from Killenaule and he was to captain the London junior hurling team which made history in 1938 when they defeated Cork, who had the services of Jack Lynch, to take their first All-Ireland junior title. 

But, back to 1932 and the success of camogie in Coolmoyne. Elsie attributes the beginning and the success of the game in the area to Denis Walsh of Tubberadora who had settled in the place, in Ardsallagh. He had seven daughters and they started playing the game and through them the girls in the area took it up. Walsh supplied a field but he also trained the girls, They formed a team, entered the new championship in 1932, beat all the .opposition along the way to the final, in which they defeated Boherlahan. The final was played at Ardsallagh. It was a great occasion. There was a band, which had been formed by Thomas O'Neill, to lead them around the field. Everybody around came to the game . 

The celebrations took place in the new Coolmoyne school, where there was a victory social. The supper was held in the old Coolmoyne schoo across the road, which had walls of mud and no windows. They were togged out for the match in gym-slips and blouses which they made them selves. They usually dressed for the match at home and travelled thus attired for the game. Afterwards they had to travel home to get into dresses for the dance. They wore ordinary shoes or white tennis shoes. If it was a wet day for a match the girls might bor row football boots from their brothers. Some of the better organised teams had canvas boots with cogs. The type of game they played was a little different to what they play today. There was much more ground play, much less play in the air. She admits that the game is much more skillful today, and she is, in fact, amazed at the extraordinary level of skill exhibited by the current Tipperary panel. 

Elsie has the two medals she won fa the 1932 and 1933 championship, She recalls how her mother - her father died when she was young - encouraged her and her brothers to take up the game. In fact, she believes that all the parents were delighted when Denis Walsh started the camogie team. It was a great outlet for the young people. Winning was important but not the only thing. The social life that went with the activity was welcome. Whether they won or lost didn't matter too much: there was always a dance afterwards in someone's house. 

According to Elsie, Kitty Croke was their outstanding player. She used to train with the men and was equally adept at either side. She, plus Nelly Flynn and Elsie were picked for the county in 1933. They beat Limerick and Kilkenny along the way to their match against Dublin at Thurles, which they lost by 3-0 to 2-1. It was an atrociously wet day and a game they might have won, had they the proper footwear on. They wore tennis shoes and simply slithered all over the place, while the Dublin girls were much better shod and could adapt to the conditions better. 

The rest of the Tipperary team was: Molly Minogue, Peg Young, Maureen Flanagan, Toomevara, Mary Witherow, Sheila Moroney, Thurles, Bridie Cleary, Drom, Bab Ryan, Boherlahan, Biddy Watters, Ballingarry, Miss Hartigan, Powerstown. 

The three Coolmoyne girls emigrated to London soon after. They played with the London Irish and used to have games in Wormwood Scrubs, Leebridge or Mitcham on Sundays. And, there was always a dance afterwards in Vauxhall 'fourpence to go in and tea thrown in'. As in Coolmoyne earlier the social side of the game was an important way in which Irish people came together and were introduced to one another. 

One of the highlights of her camogie career in London was to play in a curtain-raiser before the 1939 Monaghan Cup game in the city. Tipperary defeated Dublin by 4-6 to 1-7 on May 28. A son of Denis Walsh played for Tipperary that day. It was an encouraging win for the premier county as Dublin were All-Ireland champions and Tipperary had been suspended from the 1938 championship because of the 'Cooney Case'. Two camogie teams, called the Taras and the Harps, played beforehand. Elsie was captain of the Taras and they won and the team photograph, as well as the Tipperary team, appeared in the Cork Weekly Examiner. 

Three months later the Second World War broke out and Elsie, as did many more Irish, returned to the safety of neutral Ireland.