Seamus Clarke, Paul Quinn, Barbara Quinn and Caitriona Clarke flying their Leitrim flags.
The U.S. mail-carriers’ creed states that neither snow, nor rain nor heat or gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Well neither Arctic conditions, bitterly biting frigid winds, Covid restrictions or the early morning rising prevented the hardy New York Leitrim supporters from completing the final rounds of the 50 mile challenge last Sunday (January 31), at Tibbetts Park, Yonkers.
It certainly was a challenge to properly identify these fervent if not fanatical Leitrim supporters as they were sensibly clad from head to toe in multiple layers and the muffled sounds emitted from under the face masks further complicated the recognition process.
Meanwhile Adrian O’Flynn had scarcely announced the 50 mile challenge, when Seamus Clarke, the main sponsor of the Leitrim team and proprietor of J.P. Clarke’s on McLean Avenue, a home away from home for many Leitrim people, got together with Dromahair man, Sean Kelly, Chairman of the Leitrim G.F.C. in New York.
Soon the Chairman and the Treasurer formed a committee that included players John Conefrey, Fergal Ellis, Enda Fowley and Niall O’Connor. Also on the committee were Seamus’ golfing guru and elite runner Pat Reynolds along with Paddy Gormley, Albert Clarke and myself.
As they say behind every successful man is a successful woman, and that certainly is the case here. Caitriona Clarke, nee Kenny, comes from a family deeply steeped in Leitrim football, and she’s a key player on the Clarke tag team. The commitment of the Clarkes to Leitrim football is well fortified as they are the main sponsors. That close bond between the diaspora and the native county was appropriately acknowledged this year as Seamus and Caitriona were chosen among the Leitrim Guardian People of the Year for 2021.
Well once the word got around that the Leitrim GAA needed help, soon there were lots of sightings of folks of all ages, shapes and sizes out at all kinds of hours meandering through parks and streets in various combinations of Leitrim colours. Some were running briskly, others stepping sprightly and a few were just lumbering leisurely along as if they were sightseeing in the scenic hills of Leitrim.
Caitriona and Seamus Clarke, Frank Brady, and Pat Reynolds, the organizers of the 50-mile Leitrim Challenge in New York.
They were clocking up the miles for their beloved Leitrim while simultaneously enhancing the bottom line with sponsorship from their families, friends and any handy soft touches. The grand finale of the 50 mile challenge was last Sunday morning at Tibbetts Park as these warriors spurned the harsh elements to clock in the last few miles. It was a great performance with many playing the proverbial blinder.
Once all were safely over the finish line, Seamus Clarke announced that Joe Taylor was unquestionably the man of the show, though a few other seasoned stalwarts were nipping at his heels. Joe, a native of Eslin, definitely has a few miles on his clock as he was a Leitrim minor in 1955, and later played in New York for a decade. When the playing days finished, Joe continued to be a great supporter of Leitrim on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was rumored in earlier days that he and the late Eddie Rowley were known as the terrible twins around Mohill. Of course, the Galway duo Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell had a similar label. Great to see Joe still going hale and hearty as many of lesser vintage struggled to stay the pace with him.
Another man who set a good pace was former Sean O’Heslin’s and Leitrim stalwart defender, Hughie Smith, a player from the late 60s and the earlier 70s. He looks as if you could still nearly throw him into a game for half an hour; all those hilly golf courses in Westchester are definitely keeping him in shape.
Paddy Gormley, a good friend of Hughie’s, an Aughnasheelin native and Mount Vernon Fire Captain, was early out of the blocks too on Sunday morning. Paddy has had a long and distinguished career in several capacities over the years. He was a member of the Leitrim Vocational Schools team that lost the All-Ireland final in ’72, but he would go on to win New York championships, represent the Big Apple, while also being a highly regarded administrator, official and referee instructor.
Albert Clarke, Gortletteragh’s towering midfielder from the 70s and 80s, showed up and the big man still cuts a fine shape. Albert was more than a handful for any opponent at his peak, and incidentally his club and my club Glencar-Manorhamilton, were keen rivals in the 70s. Fortunately we had two great players to combat him, my cousin Dan Meehan and my classmate and good friend, the late Fr Peter McPartland.
Along with Albert were his wife Mary and his sister-in-law Teresa Sullivan, (nee Williams), members of a staunch Aughavas GAA family. Teresa also prevailed on husband Brendan, a Limerick man, to throw his support to Leitrim.
Gortletteragh had strong representation as Paul Quinn, brother of Seamus Leitrim’s former all-star, and his wife Barbara, along with Patricia Heslin were also on hand. Teresa Sullivan’s good friend Noeleen Bohan-McGovern, a Cloone native, along with husband Seamus, a handsome cheque, and a sizeable entourage came to clock in the last few miles.
Mike Carty, a native of Aughavas and proprietor of the famed Rosie O’Grady’s restaurant in Manhattan, showed up with his wife Caroline to crank out the last few miles. Mike has had a long and an illustrious career with the Leitrim Club, from that of a player, manager and booster. Plenty of players, mentors and managers were wined and dined by Mike at the famed Manhattan hostelry over the years.
Good to see Aughawillan man Eamon Deane back to full health and cranking out the miles without a bother. The Willies’ man is very fond of taking my money on the golf course, so naturally I was glad to see him and happy to escape that painful process on Sunday. Indeed the Willies have always been good at taking things from us. I had the task of playing on a very young and skillful Mickey Quinn in the ‘76 final which we lost. Lest I be accused of Trumpism, anything the Willies won, they won fair and square.
Seriously though, Eamon has been a great promoter of the GAA in the Big Apple, having served very successful terms as Chairman of the Minor Board, the St Barnabas Club, while also managing the club to several titles. He has been a great Leitrim supporter with his partner in Garadice Construction and fellow Willies’ man, Brendan Flanagan. Eamon’s sister-in-law Maura Baldwin (nee Plunkett) along with her son Jack also braved the harsh elements to do their bit for Leitrim.
Drumreilly native Thomas McGovern and wife Bernie, great supporters of all Leitrim causes over the years, also braved the elements to help Leitrim’s cause. Bernie, a prolific and powerful walker, was reported to have Thomas under duress as she burned up the frozen pavement.
The frozen or painful pavements were no obstacles for the Lady from Glenfarne, Fiona Smyth, nee Finneran, and Wicklow husband Eugene, who was giving old extremities a last run before replacements were on order for the following week. Of course I have to give a shout out to my friend Assumpta from Hearty and Healthy Foods, otherwise the food might take a hastier route. I also bumped into Geraldine Doheny, nee McMorrow from Ballinaglara, another avid and accomplished runner whose sights are still very much on the Dublin marathon.
Over the years there’s been great reciprocity and synergy among Leitrim associated organizations. Last year was the 125th anniversary of the County Leitrim Society in New York, but naturally there was no function to celebrate the milestone occasion. Still eight former Presidents showed up last Sunday to lend their considerable support, plus the Society had also forwarded a nice cheque for the Leitrim challenge.
Stepping out were: Joe Taylor (Eslin), Margaret Taylor-Finucane (NY), Bernadette Dunleavy (NY), Tony Gormley (Aughnasheelin), Sharon Brady (NY), Noeleen Bohan-McGovern (Cloone), Dessie McWeeney (Aughnasheelin) and Frank Brady (Manorhamilton).
So if the County Leitrim Society of New York were out in force, so also were the Leitrim Ladies. The ladies were led by Denise Sorohan and Sharon Redican. Sharon was reared with strong Leitrim GAA credentials from both sides, namely Sean (Kiltubrid) and Carmel, nee McCartin (Aughavas). Flying the colours for the ladies along with Sharon and Denise, with sister Lisa, Kerrie Browne, Richelle Cleary and Michelle Holloway among others.
The adage that the early bird gets the worm certainly holds true when it comes to raising money. In this case the early fundraiser gets the early donor, and word is that Carmel Redican, the former Aughavas and Leitrim player and many years the affable bar manager at JP Clarke’s, topped the pole in the fundraising stakes. A good start may be half the battle, but an early start gets you ahead of the posse.
As I noted earlier it was difficult to recognize people due to layers of clothing and face coverings, but I was glad that Aine Gilmartin, formerly my neighbour from the hinterlands of Lurganboy, and currently my neighbor in Yonkers, made herself known. The Gilmartin family has a long and close association with the Glenmanor Club as her late Uncle Tommie was the first chairperson of the club, a position that her aunt Anna later held. Her brothers Patrick and James would have helped stock the trophy cabinet in North Leitrim’s capital.
Over three centuries ago the Irish poet James Orr wrote that the savage loves his native shore. Well after observing last Sunday morning’s turnout by a throng of die-hard Leitrim supporters in bone-chilling frigid conditions, I have absolutely no doubt that these Leitrimites, many long gone from the homeland, still have a savage love for their native county team.
That loyalty to Leitrim football was very well illustrated by the irrepressible Mohill man Jarlath Carroll as he crossed the finish line with a flourish that would be indicative of a good block, a stellar score or a timely tackle in a Connacht championship game.
They say you shouldn’t pass off a good opportunity, and I didn’t. I clocked 98 miles for January, the agreement being that the family reward me by the mile. Not too bad for a guy who got a reconditioned knee a year ago, and the warranty just expired on January 31st. Then with a combination of amicable persuasions and a few hints about inheritances, I did manage to extract a few bob.
I would just like to add that I was involved with Leitrim in the 70s, mostly doubling up as a backup to keeper Noel Crossan and a wingback, and I have many great memories. Two stand out in particular. Kevin O’Malley R.I.P. picked Damian Brennan and myself up at Maynooth in 1970 for a game against Westmeath in Mullingar.
Packie McGarty was his front seat passenger, and it was one of the most enjoyable and engaging football experiences I had as Packie regaled us, coming and going, with stories from his stellar career.
I was a sub in 1976 when Leitrim beat Mayo in the Connacht championship, and naturally we were absolutely delighted as Leitrim had not won a championship game since beating Roscommon in 1967.
My younger brothers, Paul and Anthony, decorated the house with the sports headlines from the daily papers denoting the major victory. My mother made them take them down as my sister Mary was getting ready to marry a Mayo man, Tom Kirrane. Ah yes love does really conquer all. Incidentally my late mother was an astute judge of footballers, she wouldn’t be overly impressed if a fellow had pristine white togs.
I travelled in those years with the then manager Michael McGowan, and it was great to see the passion the Melvin Gaels’ man had for Leitrim football. He was a game changer in the sense that he changed the culture and trajectory of Leitrim football for so much the better. Trips with Michael were enjoyable and engaging once you got used to his Sterling Moss type driving skills.
I think Dan Meehan’s heart, usually the front seat passenger, jumped or skipped a few beats quite regularly.
Meanwhile great credit is due to Seamus and his committee for accepting and promoting the 50 mile challenge here in the Big Apple.
Granted economic and climatic conditions were far from ideal, but they certainly gave it their best shot. Well done to all who performed, promoted and supported the challenge in any way.