Pupils in Parteen National School have kicked off a new rugby project, with a public appeal for assistance in their fact-finding mission. They need help telling the life- stories of the 15 men who played on the Parteen rugby team more than a century ago.
A good deal of the pupils’ work will focus on how conflicts drastically altered the lives of the rugby players. ‘United by Sport, Divided by War’ is the theme of the project. The men were united in their love for playing rugby in peacetime but war would ultimately tear their team apart and have a devastating impact on many of their lives.
A project team, made up of 17 history-loving pupils and third-class teacher Cathal Crowe, meets after school on Monday to delve into the untold stories of the rugby players.
School principal Ger Ruane described this project as a fantastic opportunity for the children. Mr Ruane thanked Mr Crowe for volunteering to do this in his free time and acknowledged the interest of the 17 children, who are staying on after school to complete this research.
“I’m really looking forward to where this project will lead,” he said.
The project team’s work centres on an old photograph of a Parteen rugby team, dated around 1902-1910, that features in a book titled The History and Folklore of Parteen and Meelick, which was written by local historian Dónal Ó Riain and Séamas Ó Cinnéide in the 1990s.
The picture is captioned with the names of all of the players and some of the surnames resonated with the pupils, as the names Boyle, Browne, McMahon, Hartigan, Clear and Larkin feature prominently in the community.
The photograph is particularly interesting for a number of reasons.
All of the men would have been born in the late 1800s and would have lived through some of the most turbulent times in Irish and world history – the 1916 Rising, World War One, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
They would also have remembered the day the Titanic sank and the first motor cars that appeared on Irish roads. Several of their parents would have lived through the Great Famine, yet most of these men lived to see the construction of the Ardnacrusha Power Station – a bold statement of a new and ambitious Irish nation in the 1920s.
These men played rugby, at a time when there was a surge of support for Gaelic games. The team disbanded shortly after the photograph was taken.
All the photographed men were from the locality. Many of them attended Parteen School, married local women and remained in the area.
However, at least two of the team – Jack Kelly and Jack Larkin (of Larkin’s Pub) – both went to fight in World War One. Jack Kelly was killed in Flanders, Belgium, in 1917, leaving behind a very young family.
Several of the team were either directly or indirectly involved in the Republican movement on home soil. Michael Keegan, whose father, Joe, was one of the team’s coaches, was interned for a period in Spike Island Prison .Jack Browne, of Browne’s Pub in the village, lost his brother-in-law, Michael Gleeson, in a botched ambush on the British Army in Meelick.
The children involved in the project would love to hear from relatives of the men featured in the photograph.
A key component of the project will be to interview their descendants. To date, the children have interviewed Billy Browne, Dónal Ó Riain and Mary Ó Riain nee Kelly. They also plan to interview Pat Clear, a local man in his 90s, whose father and uncle both played on the team.
Parteen National School believes that the collective narrative of the 1910 Parteen rugby team is worth retelling but needs the assistance of the public to piece together the fragmented parts of the players’ stories. Anyone with relevant information can phone the school on 061 340457 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.