In another excerpt from the hurling book “My Father: a Hurling Revolutionary”, we get an insight into some of what it was like growing up in Dungarvan in the 1940s.
The hanging-out place and the meeting place for children in Dungarvan at that time was ‘Quann’s’. This was a large field that belonged to a family named Quann and which was situated on the coast on a vacant site which is now rather fittingly occupied by a sports centre. This was where youngsters spent their time and this was where the budding GAA star would hit his first sliotar.
‘We spent a lot of time there,’ says Seán. ‘We made our own sliotar. I’ve forgotten how it was made but we had to make one – this was during the war, you see. We used to play ‘score and three’, where one person went into goal and then when you scored three goals, you got a chance to go in.’
If a child wasn’t at home, then he was to be found at Quann’s. Where is so-and-so? He’s down at Quann’s. Let’s all go down to Quann’s. Are you coming to Quann’s?
My father’s best friend growing up in Dungarvan was a boy called Patsy Burke. He was also good friends with Patsy’s brother Michael, but my father and Patsy were bosom buddies, spending much of their youth playing ball of one sort or another at Quann’s, Dad being the most keen on sports. My mother often quotes Patsy Burke as an adult saying to my Dad: ‘Jesus, Power, it’s no good going for a walk with you because as soon as you see any kind of a ball, you’re off after it!’ The Burkes had a grocery shop and through this connection, my father was fortunate enough to have a rare supply line of occasional goodies, which, according to Eileen, he was always prepared to share with his siblings when he got home.
Just where my father’s love of sport came from, I’m not so sure. There is simply no history of any of my father’s ancestors or relatives being interested in sport. Although Seán was keen on hurling for a time in his youth, he never pursued it and in any case, he did not have the 24-hour passion that my father seemed to have for sport from early childhood. Whether it was kicking a ball against the door of the family home with both feet, keeping it going for hours or walloping a makeshift emergency-ration sliotar with Patsy Burke or Matty Fitzgerald down at Quann’s (which, apparently, was also an excellent venue for developing your skills at keeping the ball low, because if you hit it too high, you lost your ball to the Atlantic Ocean), his interest in sport was as single-minded as it was unique amongst the members of his extended family.
Seán remembers his obsession with sport extending to listening to the results of the soccer matches on the radio: ‘To me, it didn’t make any sense at all because the name of the guy who had the ball was all that was mentioned in the commentary… Nobody said anything else at all! It was boring – the complete opposite to Micheál Ó Hehir. And he’d listen intently to this because he loved all sport.’
A lot of his love of hurling was nurtured and developed while at secondary school. At the CBS, Brother Murray had a very positive effect on him, both from the educational point of view as well as the hurling one. In any case, my father seems to have always been a conscientious pupil – his academic discipline and prowess seemingly a reflection of his white-shirted neatness and organisation at home – from primary through secondary school. One schoolmate from primary school and secondary school was Davy Hourigan: ‘There were about 36 or 37 of them in that class,’ he says, ‘and about half of them went onto secondary school and it ended up being nine going on to complete the Leaving Cert.
‘Ned was a great fella in school. He had great life in him – he was a pleasant, bubbly type of guy. He was a very good student, very diligent and he was one who meant to get on. We had a good hurling team in the Christian Brothers and he was a good hurler. Of course, we only knew him as an outfield hurler then when he used to play in the half-forward line.’
Davy also pointed out to me that although our new Republic was aspiring to offer free education for all its citizens, a proper education was still the preserve of the better off except where the Christian Brothers stepped in to provide education that was as close as possible to free. One pound per term, according to Davy, was all that was asked by way of a fee (a very modest amount even in those times) and ‘they didn’t ask for it again if they didn’t get it.’
My Dad never forgot the education that he received from the Christian Brothers and the powerful spiritual and sporting training that he also received from them. I believe that these years had a profound and positive influence on the paths he chose in later life. He acknowledged a lot of this in a piece that he wrote in the Dungarvan Leader in April 1996 in which he lamented the disappearance of the Christian Brothers from Irish life:
This saddens me because I’m a Christian Brothers’ product and retain many happy memories of the Brothers of my native Dungarvan, a school which was among the first to be established and from which the order was forced to withdraw a few short years ago. They dominated the educational scene down through those intervening years, such a significant period of our history and their influence on our careers was incalculable… I never forget the Brothers. Whatever I am or whatever I have achieved is due mainly, after my parents, to the wholesome Catholic Irish influence of the Brothers.
Another pal in secondary school who completed the Leaving Certificate the same year as my father was Rory Wyley. When I caught up with Rory, he had already cycled 55 kilometres that day and had recently returned from a trip to South America with his cycling club companions, where he had suffered a fractured pelvis as a result of a fall from a bike. He told me that he used to sit beside Davy Hourigan for the inspiration that he offered in the field of maths. He also told me a lot about cycling. Oh, and that my father was a great sportsman in school and a conscientious student.
The Powers appear to have had a happy upbringing in Dungarvan, but if there was one place they liked being even better it was at their Auntie Bridie’s in Affane – a quiet townland between Cappoquin and Dungarvan. Their aunt was married but did not have any children of her own, so she lavished attention on her nephews and nieces from the town. Brendan described it as ‘an oasis’, where there would sometimes be as many as six of the Dungarvan gang accommodated under their aunt’s roof. My dad’s sister Mary loved going to Bridie’s and described the place as ‘wonderful’. On the evening they had to go back home from Affane, there would be a family rosary. Mary remembers trying to get through her prayers with a big lump in her throat from the heartbreak of leaving behind the haven of Auntie Bridie’s.
“My Father: A Hurling Revolutionary, the life and times of Ned Power” is out on paperback at the end of November 2009. Click here for further information, pre-order and excerpt.