Once a hurling powerhouse, won seven of sixteen Kilkenny senior finals that they contested in a golden 23-year period (eight finals in-a-row from 1939 to 1946, when they completed a four-in-a-row of wins), tomorrow in Nowlan Park the club will play its first senior county hurling final in 59 years, a long time out of the limelight.
And yet it’s a club with a name that still resonates, not just within Kilkenny and not just within hurling. Reason?
An event known as the Battle of Carrickshock which occurred in an isolated road in the south Kilkenny townland in December 1831; an armed police column, which was protecting the ‘Proctor’, Edmond Butler, as he collected a tithe to support the local Protestant clergy – a tithe to which the locals vehemently objected – clashed with a large crowd, which resulted in the deaths of 17 people, 13 of whom were members of the constabulary.
Let’s listen to the poet, Richard Lahert:
‘And that is not a vaunt –
James Treacy grabbed the proctor,
Saying: ‘This is the man we want!’
A peeler grabbed the proctor back,
’Twas but a brief respite,
For Butler’s skull was broken
By rock and mallet smite.
Pitchfork, scythe and hurley
Were used to maim and kill
In that brief but savage battle
Hardy folk, those Kilkenny people, then and now; we won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say that it made quite an impression at the time, and nearly a century later, 1927, when the people of that area were looking for a name for their local GAA club, they went for Carrickshock.
“It’s actually only a little townland itself, Carrickshock,” says Richie Power senior, one of the most famous modern names to emerge from the club; “It’s just outside of Hugginstown, and there are two other villages, Stoneyford and Newmarket. But they took the name to commemorate the battle.”
They also took the monument which was built on the spot of the battle as their club crest, and it’s still there to this day – folk memory.
Oddly enough, however, though there is still an awareness in the area of events from way back then, 1831, this is far less the case when it comes to the great hurling teams of the 30s and 40s.
Even Richie himself, so synonymous with the club, winner of two All Star awards during his own playing days with Kilkenny, a couple of All-Ireland senior titles also, was surprised when informed of the statistics from that era. “Is that so?” was his reaction; “The funny thing is that it isn’t really spoken about in the club these days. It’s only now that we’re back in another final that it’s all coming out again.
“You see back then we weren’t a genuine parish team. There was no such thing as ‘parish rule’ in Kilkenny at the time, and that team was an amalgamation of a few parishes. We’d have had only five or six from our own parish – they were from everywhere.”
Well, it’s all Carrickshock now, including three of Richie’s sons – Jamie, Richie junior and John – and the place is alive again, huge excitement generated at the prospect of a first senior title in over half a century. In their way, however, the considerable presence of an O’Loughlin Gaels team that ended the fantastic run of four-in-a-row Ballyhale Shamrocks in the semi-final, a team powered by Martin Comerford and sharpshooting Maurice Nolan.
“This is O’Loughlin’s sixth final in eleven years,” says a wary Richie Power, “So they’re the ones with all the experience; they were also the one team snapping at the Shamrocks for the last few years.”
But Carrickshock have a a real chance, and they have that deep well from which to draw. Memory, powerful memory.