Christy Ring's 'blood and bandage lady' finally gets her name in the picture

Christy Ring's 'blood and bandage lady' finally gets her name in the picture

The morning after the 1952 Munster final, between Cork and Tipperary, the woman bought the Cork Examiner and was amazed to see herself pictured, propping up the wounded hero of the hour.

A match on which hurling history pivoted had its iconic shot. Christy Ring had emptied his talents onto the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, forced his nature on the enemy's four-in-row hopes, and hammered the signpost of Cork’s ‘52-54 hat-trick of Munster and All-Ireland titles.

Spent and bearing the scars of his greatest battle, Ring lingers at the finish among his admirers, all dressed in Sunday best.

With a Kodak box camera, the woman is attempting to preserve a moment, something that would become a lifetime’s habit.

She never got the snap, though the Examiner photographer obliged.

The shot is perfect; matinee idol back from war, reunited with the leading lady. Though that's not quite how it was.

Christy Ring's 'blood and bandage lady' finally gets her name in the picture

The photo hangs in the halls of Páirc Uí Rinn, though without the name of the woman, who came to be known as ‘the Blood and Bandage Lady’.

It hangs in the woman’s house too. And the day before Tipp and Cork meet in the Munster championship, the day after her 89th birthday, the woman is entitled to see her picture in the Examiner again, with her name finally next to it.

And for people to know that she gave, and gives, as much to the great game as her hero Christy Ring.

Rita Lowry — Rita Fenton then — was born in Ballygarvan, Cork in 1927. One of nine children, she hurled from toddler age, mixing it handily with four brothers.

In her teens, she played on a good Ballygarvan camogie team and followed the Cork hurlers everywhere, cycling the eight miles to meet trains for Thurles and Limerick.

That day, in Limerick, though she wears the Cork rosette, loyalties should, notionally, have been divided.

Having moved to Tipperary town in 1948, to work in the post office, she soon found friends to puck around with and founded the Sean Treacy Club.

“We had nobody training us. We just played a few matches.”

Her own displays impressed the county selectors. Indeed, later in 1952, she played for the Tipperary team beaten by Cork in the Munster camogie final at the Cork Athletic Grounds.

Her career was hampered by persistent and undiagnosed knee complaints. “There were no cruciates then,” she laughs

When numbers dwindled in Tipp town and the club hibernated, she cycled the eight miles to play with Oola, across the border.

Soon, she got the call for Limerick, though technicalities prevented her lining out in green.

Meantime, back hurling with the lads in Sean Treacy Park, she met and married John Lowry, now sadly departed.

Their three boys — Jimmy, Johnny and the late Martin — played football for Tipperary at various grades.

Her home is a shrine to the love of her life, hurling.

Bulky creamery ledgers, repurposed as scrapbooks, are stuffed with photos and clippings from the forties onwards.

One of them is devoted to Christy Ring. Maintaining the steady supply of sandwiches and apple tart and buns, she talks of Christy.

She remembers him saluting herself and her sister from the window of his lorry at Capwell in Cork.

Soon after they chanced upon him at the Fountain Cafe on the Grand Parade. He recognised them and they began to make it a regular Monday thing. “How did I get on yesterday,” he’d invariably want to know.

A few of them cycled to the odd dance.

A romance maybe?

“No, no, no,” she says, amused. “Good friends. Sure everyone loved Christy.”

She remembers the day in Limerick well, watching from the steps behind the dugouts, then out onto the field, Tipp’s reign over.

She wasn't trying to take the first ever selfie, but pass the box camera out to someone. The photo has followed her since and she lets it.

They kept in touch. Christy sent letters. Though she burned those when she married.

“Not that there was anything in them to be hiding,” she laughs.

She did keep a Christmas card. “See, nothing bad in it. No kisses or anything.”

She still lives for the game, though she doesn't go anymore because the eyes aren't great.

“But on a Sunday afternoon that door is locked and nobody is coming in.”

She loves the boldness of Davy but misses Donal Óg in the paper. She flicks by a picture of Cody. “He’ll never go away.” Callanan and Harnedy will be her poster boys tomorrow.

Divided loyalties by now? Put it this way, she’ll go this far about Jimmy Doyle.

“He was as good as Christy, I'd put him beside him.”

One thing will keep her shouting for Tipp. Maybe the best photos have yet to be taken.

Grandson Tommy was on both Tipp minor panels that reached the All-Ireland finals last year.

Her latest photo is with Tommy after he captained the Abbey CBS to win the All Ireland SHC ‘B’ title in Semple in March.

Out on the field at the end, prouder than ever of the hero.


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