Mayo's mighty Fr Peter Quinn helped carry spirit of ‘51

And then there were two. The death of Fr Peter Quinn is the removal of another link to Mayo’s back-to-back All-Ireland winning side of 1950 and ’51. Now only two remain — full-back Paddy Prendergast who lives in Tralee, and centre forward Padraig Carney, a doctor in the US.

Fr Peter, a native of Quignashee near Ballina, played at right-half back on the all-conquering side of 1950 and on the other wing the following year.

His passing has evoked memories of Mayo’s golden years at the top, and it diminishes somewhat those of us who recall the hallowed names of Flanagan, Langan, and Prendergast echoing, through the voice of Michael O’Hehir, round the walls of our kitchens in those lean years of the early 50s.

We weren’t there to see Sean Flanagan raise the Sam Maguire cup in Croke Park. But images of Prendergast’s cat-like leaps, and Langan’s magnificent goal against Meath, excite us to this day. As children, we gathered in the nearest field and we were all Quinns and Fordes and Mongeys and Langans, repeating in our own way what we heard on radio our heroes do in Croke Park.

Peter Quinn had been ordained a member of the Columban Fathers in the summer of 1951, and was back in college that September studying languages before going to work in the Philippines.

Because of a rule that forbade clerics playing what the authorities termed “violent games”, Mayo feared losing their star wing back for the final. In later years, Peter recalled how he managed to ‘bend’ the rule banning him from participating in that glorious period: “I told county board officials how to get permission for me to play. Not necessarily to talk to the local bishop in Ballina or to the rector of the seminary, but to get to the bishop of the diocese where the college was, which was Meath.

“Our two finals were against counties that came into his diocese so he couldn’t very well say ‘no I won’t allow you to play against Louth or Meath.’ But I had to change my name in case some busybody might ring the bishop and complain.”

The result was that Peter Quinn became Peter Quinlan in the final of 1951 and the programme and media reports referred to him only under his newly assumed title.

The following year, he left for the Philippines where he spent most of his life.

Asked about the mythical curse supposed to have been cast on Mayo football by some cleric for some so-called indiscretion by the celebrating team of which he was a member, Fr Peter replied: “I’m an ordained theologian, yet people tend to push this curse down our throats. It is just a bit of fun, but it is keeping the hoax going. I certainly would not agree with it and neither does any of the team.” The curse, a figment of some vivid imagination, predicting that Mayo would not win again until all of that All-Ireland winning team had passed away is humbug. Where the story originated is a mystery. Mayo people in general give no credence to it. It is a spurious argument generated to excuse Mayo’s failure to emulate that era.

Little whispers about it cropped up over the past five years at every narrow Mayo defeat, and the longer they wait for that elusive victory, the more strident will references become to that ‘jinx’.

Epitomising the mystique of the men of that era, stalwart midfielder Eamon Mongey recalled the calibre of Billy Kenny who broke his leg in the final of 1950 and who raised his fist in defiance as he left the field on a stretcher. He never played again and afterwards emigrated to Canada. And to a degree, the contributions of Billy and Peter, who left for the Far East, were afterwards overlooked because of their absence.

“I suppose we all forgot Billy Kenny — just a little bit — after he emigrated,” said Mongey. “The same thing could be said about Fr Peter Quinn, who had left the country. But when Peter came back in 1959, his colleagues decided to play one match and give the proceeds to him for his work (on the missions).

“It was a fine Sunday in July when we got together in a hotel in Ballina, togging out to take on the current Mayo team. Suddenly, there was a screech of breaks outside the hotel. We all looked out the window and there was Kenny arriving from Shannon, having flown in especially from Canada for the match.

“Not only did he come at his own expense, but he also insisted on making a contribution to the funds, about which no one else except myself knew. That night he was gone again,” said Mongey.

That was the measure of the men of that era. They had become legends long before leaving us. All 13 are now up there, somewhere, parading their distinctiveness in the pantheon of football gods.

And who knows? Maybe the men of Ardnaree, who line out in Croke Park today in the All-Ireland final against Templenoe, will draw inspiration from that same hallowed turf on which two old club mates Peter Quinn and John Forde performed their own magic so many years ago.

No one will miss Peter’s passing more than the two surviving members of the team. Prendergast perhaps more so, since he has been living in the country and had met with Peter on many occasions over the past few years.

One by one, he has seen his old colleagues slip away, each with his own special accomplishment and uniqueness haunting his memory. Just now, Ballinorig, where the great fullback lives in Tralee, must be a lonely place.

Sean Rice is a columnist with The Mayo News


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