Christy Ring’s fame was amplified in his own time by press reports and popular ballads, and he still reaches down the decades to artists today.
“When athletes your own age start to move on like that, you get a real twinge of mortality, as opposed to seeing older athletes retire. When those three things came together, the goal was just to capture something of the spirit and beauty of Cork hurling as exemplified by Ring.”
“I didn’t know that when I wrote it. But I accepted the compliment anyway.”
By Billy Ramsell
his great bulging eye
amid the stadium’s temper
amid the furies and exultations of the great-coated stands,
as he lopes in a bull’s diagonal goalward.
of ball on broad bas,
on his stick of ashy liquidity
that’s rippling, eel-flexible, alive.
And now his body it is liquid too,
an impressionist version of itself
as he slights the wall of three defenders,
pours himself through some improbable gap
and on the other side resolidifies.
Is it only in his own mind
the underwater silence for his backswing,
for his shape’s familiar coil into potential,
for the glance, the pull and the connection?
And the cork-hearted ball
becomes nothing at all,
is too nimble, too cute for the eye
and the goalkeeper’s beaten,
and Clare and Tipp and Kilkenny are beaten
and the terraces inhale themselves
and the air is vibrating in shock and in awe.
Patricia Horgan’s was the last face he saw.
She stepped out for the messages
and walked into history.
She went to buy butter
and became a minor character.
His chest clenched, clenched and accelerated,
bucked and ratcheted,
in the eye of the forming throng
as he flopped there watching
behind her cow-eyed gentle expression
the usual mergers of cumulus, a crow,
and the gulls at their shrill affairs over Morrison’s Island
until the clouds themselves clouded over.
And to this day I still can’t bury Christy Ring.
We’ll carry his washed and scented remains,
in procession, by candlelight, by handheld electric light,
from the cemetery at Cloyne
to an undisclosed location in the Midlands,
shoulder him into a mossed-over dome,
to the burial room
through the long corbelled tunnel,
and in that chamber of must and slow-tutting stones
lay him out on a bier of amethyst
that’s been carved,
that’s been perfumed
with palm and with cinnamon.
And on all sides
the surprisingly petite skeletons of our ancestors,
the priests, the chieftains,
all the princes of swordplay and laughter:
their careful lines of dowry and cousinship
all merged in a carpet of loam,
the victories, the enmities rusted,
and the quarrels, ah the quarrels all gone,
the quarrels all long processed by worms.
Leave him there in that society of bone
and walk back through sock-drenching grasses,
the spiders and the daisies, watercresses,
past one particular field of rape outside Edgeworthstown
that stretches in primrose,
that soaks up the buttery sunlight of late morning,
that never knew his name to forget it.
I saw Cuchulainn in his latter years,
Great knots of muscle in his shoulders,
The basilica of his skull in the afternoon.
I saw him drive younger warriors from the field,
By the fierce power of his eye on the frozen ball,
His gift for gathering and unleashing force.
He fought each autumn match through a fog of glories,
Already legend, the air he prowled in doubled,
And his step doubled with a younger self.
I saw his last matches for the Glen, the young bucks
Already impatient to sweep him to the heavens
Where blood and frozen knuckles,
mud and defeat
Or victory would fade into remembered youth
– A child myself
I sensed their insensate cruelty,
The rightful precise impatience of the young.
Powerful because legend, his powers already fading,
Each match by then a match with himself only,
The grammar of ageing played out in the Mardyke mud
– Christ he was younger than I am now!
My father’s age, who seemed so old to me.
And now so young.
So it goes on the old parade
Through sweat and mud and memory, the hero,
His followers and his fellow warriors
– Out there on the grass-banked terrace
A round-eyed child in his own fog of doubt,
Testing the fix in a spin or words and meanings,
“That’s him, I’m looking at him, Christy Ring.”