WHEN Jim Joe Lynch caught the West Clare Railway to Ennistymon CBS, he often had to cup his ears to deflect the big talk that assailed them. For four years, the Mullagh schoolboy had to listen to the Miltown and Doonbeg contingent trade football talk. Neither Jim Joe nor his Mullagh friends had much to boast about. Kilmurry-Ibrickane were not a factor on the 1950’s football fields of Clare.
“When I was going up on that train, for four years, there was the Miltown boys on one side of me and the Doonbeg boys on the other side discussing their senior championships,” Jim Joe reflected.
When he played himself, he was last man back and kept goal for St Mary’s (the then Kilmurry team) and for a year at Ennistymon CBS. To this day, he hasn’t forgotten an underage final in 1958 and the flak that flew primarily his direction. St Mary’s played Miltown in a minor county final.
“We got beaten and they gave out to me over two goals in the last couple of minutes. It was 0-2 to 0-1 up to the last 10 minutes. Joey Reddan, whom I met last week after 50 years and Tadie Crowe scored a goal each. The score was 2-2 to 0-1. That’s all we scored in an hour,” he recalled, still a bit touchy 52 years later.
The forwards, Jim Joe says, weren’t the sharpest ever sent out to represent the parish.
“There’s 15 in a team, if there was six of them there now and they only scored a point, wouldn’t they be deported?” he maintained.
Enquire about the distance of his kick-outs and Jim Joe erupts.
“You could never judge that time with the ball. The Lord Jaysus, t’was like a smuttan of bogdale, it was so heavy. And you’d have a big pair of boots on you and you trying to kick that,” he replied somewhat heatedly.
Two years later, with a single medal to his name, Jim Joe nabbed his last lift on the West Clare Railway. This time it was shortening his journey not to Ennistymon but to London town.
Communication with home was slack. Jim Joe worked on construction and was constantly on the move. He lost touch.
“Hard, rough,” is how Jim Joe remembers those days. “You could be in Manchester today and Liverpool tomorrow. Then you might be told to pack your bags and go to Dundee or somewhere. Digging, digging, digging.”
His football career in London was brief. The lure of a dinner on Sunday ended his time in goals for Geraldine’s.
“They were run at that time by the only Clare born MP in the British House of Commons. Michael O’Halloran, God rest his soul. He originated from a railway cottage below in Shragh,” Jim Joe explained.
The standard of play wasn’t great. First and foremost, you had to be able to look after number one.
“It was legalised GBH,” Jim Joe says. “I was only over 17 years of age, living in digs in London. Going out in a coach of a Sunday at 2pm. That would be the time you’d get your dinner and that would be the main dinner of the week – an awful sacrifice to make,” he said.
“Then to be up on Monday morning, digging muck for John Murphy. Any by Jaysus, if you got a big kick from a big Donegal man or a stupid, mad, drunken Kerry man or a Connemara man with eyes down to this (his chin), t’was no good in putting that in your report. There was no sympathy so I gave it up and packed up my boots in 1961,” he explained.
Soccer replaced GAA in Jim Joe’s affections. For 10 years, he held a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket in the palm of his hand. Away from White Hart Lane, Jim Joe’s life was careering this way and that.
“For 40 years, I might as well have been in the Gulag in Siberia. We beat Doonbeg in 1993 in the county final. I came back for that,” he remembers.
“I was very, very lucky that I managed to pull out of the rut which thousands of Irish men from every county fell into. Because, as a neighbour of mine said, it’s very easy to fall into that rut. There’s boys from our county over in London town tonight and they could come home but they wouldn’t. They’re in the kind of the rut and they’re settled in there in their own corner. I was the same but I started coming home,” he said.
“We were what was known as the long-distance kiddies. Some boys then went and stayed in the same room for 40 odd years. I knew one of them. He stayed in the same room for 40 years. A couple of lucky strokes brought me back. My mother says it’s because she said the rosary for me,” Jim Joe laughed.
The football helped Jim Joe to reconnect with his home heath when Kilmurry-Ibrickane won the 1993 county title.
“I nearly cried over in Cusack Park after all my years. Coming home that evening with the cup, past The Hand, the bonfires lighting. What I never thought I’d see, my little parish. Before I left Clare, I never remember a senior team in the parish of Kilmurry-Ibrickane,” he says softly.
He didn’t even know that Kilmurry had conquered Clare in 1963 and 1966.
“I was above in Yorkshire somewhere. There was no connection. There was no Clare Champion and there was no radio. I had lost touch. I was wild running around, like thousands like me. Running around the country.”
Now living between West Clare and London, using his pension card to cut down on the price of flights, Jim Joe can’t wait for Sunday.
“My phone is gone flat from phone calls from London,” he says, noting that his local pub, Mother Redcaps, have booked a coach across the city to Ruislip for the day.
Jim Joe’s mother Nonie Lynch will mark her 100th birthday on February 12. First though, Jim Joe is heading over and hopefully back from London.
“We’re hoping she’ll hang on. I mightn’t be able to hang on myself,” he laughed.
As for the game in Ruislip, Jim Joe admits that he is on edge but life has taught him to live for the moment.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit of life but this is the ultimate,” he says, hoping that neither his or Kilmurry’s journey will halt here.