by Domhnall de Barra


“Ireland’s Music Day”


Ireland’s Music Day  is on June 21st, the longest day of the year, and is being organised throughout the country by the Music Network in association with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Athea branch are doing their bit by having an open air session of music and platform dancing starting at 8pm. The platform is ready to be laid in some central venue and, weather permitting, there will also be a bar-b-que on the night  It is an opportunity to celebrate our culture and have a bit of craic to take our minds off the state of the Euro, austerity and the doom and gloom that seems to be constantly on our radios and TVs.

A big thank you to West Limerick Set dancing Club who have given us the loan of their platform for the occasion. Platform dancing played a big part in rural entertainment up to the middle of the last century. A platform would be erected at a crossroads (there was one at Leahy’s Cross in Gortnagross) and musicians who provided the  music got paid by the dancers. I assume it would be quite a small amount as there wasn’t much money in circulation at the time. I am reliably informed that a great time was had by all who attended and there was even the odd match made !  Let’s hope the evening is fine on the 21st and we can relive the days of yore.


Games we used to play

The platform dancing got me thinking of other customs and pastimes we had that have now gone by the wayside. “Pitch and Toss” was one of our favourites in our school days, if we had the pennies. The game was simple, a combination of skill and chance. For those of you who may not be familiar with this sport; a “jack” was placed on the ground (this could be a small stone or similar) and players took turns tossing pennies from an agreed distance with a view to being as close as possible to the jack. Whoever was closest got to toss all the pennies in the air. Those that came down with heads turned up were his for the keeping, the remainder went to the second nearest who tossed them and so on until every coin had turned up heads. There was many an argument about who was closest and “measures” had to be taken. The adults had much more serious games and some people became very skilful indeed,  making a profit every time they played.

“Tops” were also much in evidence during playtime at school. There were two kinds of top; the “pegging” top and the “flogging” top. The top was about the size of an average pear with a metal spike coming from the narrow end. With the pegging variety, a string was wound tightly around the body of the top and the player would throw it away from him holding on to one end of the string which caused the top to spin before it hit the ground. If the throw was executed correctly the top hit the ground spinning and stayed spinning for quite a while. The winner was the player who had the longest spin. Flogging tops were released in much the same way but the string was part of a whip. As the top was spinning it could be lashed with the whip and a skilful player could keep it going, sometimes changing direction, for a long time. In general the boys had the pegging tops and the girls used the whip. Simple pleasures but not without an element of skill and dexterity.

Handball was very popular also at that time. Some people were lucky enough to live near an alley while others made do with a convenient gable wall. We were so fond of the game that we would go to school in Abbeyfeale an hour early in the morning to have a few games before the first class. We usually lined up along the back wall at the alley up the back road waiting for our turn to try and win a point and stay serving for a while. Whenever a point was lost the server had to take his place at the back of the line again. Sometimes we played “double alley”. This involved using the sidewall as the main wall and doubling off the other side wall. You had to be quick on your feet for this game but we were young and fit so there was no problem. Two of the great skills were serving and butting. A good server could place the ball so that it caressed the side wall and made it almost impossible to return. The “dead butt” was a point winner as the ball struck the bottom of the wall a fraction of an inch above the floor and rolled back not giving the opponent a chance of hitting it. The alley on the Glin road saw some memorable games. I heard people talking of an epic encounter between our own Timmy Woulfe and the great Moss Colbert of Abbeyfeale. Does anyone remember who won? It is a pity that more young people don’t get involved in the game at local level. It is a game of great skill and great exercise, at least it would get them off the play stations for a while.

Finally, another game of skill that has disappeared; rings. Again when I was growing up there was a ring board in almost every pub and they were to be seen behind the door in many private houses. The board had rows of hooks, each with a different value and the object was to throw the rubber rings at the board so that they would snag on a particular hook. The higher the value the better as each score was added to the previous throw until an agreed total had been reached. The game had to end on an exact throw, a bit like the double in darts, so accuracy was essential.  The ring boards were eventually replaced by darts which became extremely popular and remain so to this day. It is a pity the two games could no co-exist.


Euro 2012

A kind of fever enveloped the country last Sunday as Ireland took on Croatia in the European championship finals. I was in Dublin on Friday and Saturday and it was a sight to behold with all the flags and buntings in the estates. The national side give us a great pride in ourselves and it was such a pity the result went against them. I noticed one huge contrast between the Irish supporters in Poland and the G.A.A. supporters at Pairc Uí Caoimh for the Kerry/Cork match – the singing of the National Anthem. In Poland every word was sung with passion right to the very end while in Cork most of the players did not bother singing and  started moving off well before the final few lines which were drowned out by the cheering of the crowd. A stranger would have a problem working out which was our national game. If proper attention is not given to the anthem then I, for one, think it should not be played at all.

Back to Poland and while we have started badly I don’t think anybody really expected the team to do more than be runners up to the group winners. Let’s just enjoy the next couple of matches and wish them the very best of luck.