It’s 80 years since Kerry won the All-Ireland in the Dingle colours of red and white that were originally a set of Cork jerseys.
“We’ll be there,” muses Fergus O’Flaherty, “with fife and drum, sure whenever there’s a big occasion we’re there”.
New Year’s Eve; St Patrick’s Day; All-Ireland football final celebrations. Staples of life and legend and living it up like there’s no tomorrow, because although there is, it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the Dingle Fife and Drum Band, with bandmaster, publican and football man O’Flaherty always ready for the drum roll. And the bigger the roll, the better it is.
It’s because of the ties that bind and bond and call the band out to play. The midnight calling of the New Year; the dawn chorus of their St Patrick’s Day parades; day and night for the Kerry footballers whenever there are All-Ireland men from Dingle and the wider peninsula.
“It’s what we do,” continues O’Flaherty.
It’s why when An Ghaeltacht’s Dara Ó Cinnéide lifted Sam Maguire in 2004, his first port of call in Dingle was the band’s O’Flaherty’s Bar clubhouse on Bridge Street, while Mark O’Connor’s feat in lifting the minor All-Ireland for Dingle 10 years later before setting sail for Geelong was another cue for the band to strike up.
What they’ve done for 80 years now, with the drum roll that sounded in 1939 just as the world went to war echoing all the way to 2019 because of the symbiotic relationship between then and now — the football chord that will strike again should Sam Maguire somehow make a trip back to the peninsula in the event of another All-Ireland being won.
All because, in 1939 it was Canon Thomas Lyne, the local parish priest and Kerry County Board president, who welcomed the winning team to Dingle — he was great-grand-uncle of current player Jonathan Lyne from Killarney Legion, while the Kerry captain by Canon Lyne’s side as he addressed his football flock was Tom ‘Gega’ O’Connor, a grand-uncle of another incumbent Mikey Geaney.
Back then it was All-Ireland number 13 — now it’s the pursuit of the 38th, with Lyne and Geaney the direct links between the two, while the latter’s first cousins and fellow forwards Paul and Conor Geaney, as well as backman Tom O’Sullivan and five-time Celtic Cross winner in selector Tommy Griffin add more links to the Dingle chain between now and then.
“The connections are always there,” says Tom Lynch, who is another fife and drum football fanatic, “and handed down, just like Kerry’s tradition of winning in the year ending nine is handed down. Seven times we’ve won, but this would be the sweetest one of all.”
Because it would be unexpected, but also because of the 80th anniversary of when the fife and drum came out to play and celebrate Dingle’s greatest day. The day the 1939 All-Ireland final was won in the Dingle jerseys.
The 1939 All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Kilkenny became known as the ‘Thunder and Lightning All-Ireland’ as the rains came to Croke Park on the same day that World War II was declared.
But as what became known as the ‘Phoney War’ played out in Europe there was nothing phoney about the war — with plenty of thunder and lightning kicked in — that broke out between Dingle and the Kerry County Board that September ahead of the All-Ireland final against Meath.
A clash of the green and gold colours meant something had to give, but not the Dingle club when the board came down in favour of wearing Munster blue in the final, as they would 30 years later against Offaly.
“As county champions Kerry will wear the red and white of Dingle,” wrote club secretary and captain Jimmy McKenna in a letter to the board. The Dingle lads won’t play unless it’s in the Dingle colours and we won’t travel,” added McKenna.
The county board blinked.
“They were Cork jerseys,” reveals O’Flaherty, “Cork jerseys that became Dingle jerseys and won the All-Ireland for Kerry. Jimmy McKenna got the jerseys when he served his time in the rag trade in Queen’s Old Castle in Cork in the 1930s.
“At that time the Cork County Board got their jerseys from the drapery, but after a falling out between the two of them a set of jerseys was just left there and Jimmy was allowed take them home to Dingle with him when he finished serving his time. Those Cork jerseys became the Dingle jerseys that were worn when the club won a first county title in ’38 and in the All-Ireland final.
There was a great pride in Dingle over that, it’s in the folklore and was always mentioned in passing by players, along with winning six county championships in 10 years and that a Dingle peninsula selection went to Croke Park (in 1944) and beat Dublin in a match to raise funds for their new pitch named after Thomas Ashe.
Kerry beat Meath by 2-5 to2-3 in that All-Ireland 80 years ago, with Dingle represented on the day by Billy Casey, Bill Dillon, Paddy Bawn Brosnan, and Tom ‘Gega’ O’Connor, who took over the captaincy of the side from another clubmate Sean Brosnan, who cried off with flu on the day of the game.
“Dingle rejoiced,” reported The Cork Examiner, “when the All-Ireland Championship, the Munster Championship, and Kerry County Championship cups were borne in a decorated cart drawn by a white horse through the streets of Dingle, followed by the Dingle Fife and Drum Band and a torchlight procession. Many carried red and white flags.
“This magnificent team wearing the red and white of Dingle has proved to the world that Kerry is the first football county in Éire,” said Canon Lyne, speaking from his perch at the Temperance Hall window.
“This trophy, the Sam Maguire Cup, has had many a home in its wanderings — East, West, and South, but I doubt if it ever has had a more congenial or more enthusiastic welcome than this home of Gaeldom — the Dingle Peninsula,” he added.
Then the party moved from Temperance Hall to public house — just a few doors up the road to Gega O’Connor’s bar, then called Jimmy Tom Dicks, now called Barr na Sráide.
“We were always very aware growing up of Kerry winning that All-Ireland in the Dingle colours,” says O’Connor’s grand-nephew, David Geaney, the older brother of Mikey and a former Kerry senior player. “We had the picture of the Sam Maguire being hoisted by Gega and the black and white team photo that was colourised a few years ago.
“I got to know Gega fairly well as he’d be home from America quite a lot. His daughters and wife used to wear his Celtic Crosses on chains. I remember him sitting at the counter of the pub with Paddy Bawn Brosnan one day, thinking I must have been dreaming.
“I’d be flat out asking my grandmother about him and she had all the old stuff — that he had weights up in the shed and he’d be lifting small anvils on a bar. He was ahead of his time,” he adds.
Just as Kerry need to be ahead of their time to douse the Dublin dragon on Sunday. After which the fife and drum band might just come out to play.