I HAPPENED to make a courtesy call of sorts on a valued friend in Slieverue, and although retired this long time, I found him knee deep in research into an in-house spat between James Nowlan and Tomas McDonagh during an Ard Fheis of Conradh-na-nGaeilge in 1894 in Kilkenny.
Jim Walsh (pictured), former múinteoir to thousands of youngsters during a long and distinguished career in his native Slieverue, has never been less than captivating company whenever one chances to meet. Over a long number of years he has been a paragon of dedication to all things Irish, but in particular to Cumann Luthchleas Gael.
A large wedge of his life has been at the fulcrum of his Gaelic ethos. His present research is symptomatic of that inherited interest.
He is miffed at the conception that Nowlan, former President of the GAA (1901 until 1921), and after whom Nowlan Park is named, fell foul of the Conradh bureaucracy, when nominating two non-Conradh registered delegates for a position to which McDonagh (1916 Patriot) took objection.
No doubt we will hear and see more of those researches in time.
Involved for yonks
Jim Walsh has been involved with the GAA since he was no higher than a shilling in coppers. His first All-Ireland final was attended in 1950 when Tipperary got over the line in front, barely (1-9 to 1-8).
Ever since as a youngster playing on streets, or in neighbours fields, as a young adult, playing with the lads he went to school with, and then on to adulthood, he has been integral. With his school, and with his beloved Slieverue he has been many things to a vast raft of compadres.
He led many committees within his club. He was chairman and every other level of administrator within his club. He was chairman of the South Board, delegate to many provincial and national gatherings. A Gaelgóir of infinite knowledge and dedication.
In brief, Jim Walsh is a man with a considerable wealth of knowledge on many subjects, who has made an enormous contribution to the lives of a great deal of people.
We kind of slithered into the conversation with reference to the recent game in Nowlan Park.
Is there any element of doubt in your mind that we are privileged to be watching the greatest team of any and all time, thus far?
“There is no doubt now that they are the greatest team ever. I was convinced of that last year in the All-Ireland final,” he said with pride, his chest sticking out. “That win gave me more enjoyment in a sporting sense than anything experienced previously.
“It took me a week to analyse why I was so exhilarated about it. After seven days or so, the penny dropped with the realisation that this IS the greatest team ever. We thought that we would never see a better team than the 70s team, but these lads have taken hurling onto a planet never anticipated, well beyond the achievement of anything we could have dreamed about.
“I am slow to say it, but I think that the present team is ahead of the men of the 70s, and that is saying something. I am overjoyed to say that I was alive to see them entertain us.”
We had a long discussion about the games, management, administration, club development, progress and those buzz words presently on every other politicians tongue - going forward.
We spoke of payments and the implications of the payment syndrome.
It is the topic of the week in all the ’papers. How say you, because Jim Walsh is a man you listen to?
“When all of this was muted by the President and the Director General, everyone seemed to jump on the bandwagon of popular opinion, without absolute consideration of the ribbon effect through the ranks,” he opened. “For as long as I can remember, the core bedrock on which the GAA has been built, and from which the grass root movement has depended since the first seed was planted, has been the club – every club.
“Not the big city club with its multi dozens of teams, and sumptuous clubhouses; not the County Boards with their inter-county teams; not Croke Park and all that it has. None of that would ever have seen the light of day but for the club in the big, little and small parishes around the country.”
The voluntary element is getting more difficult as time progresses, Jim?
“Yes it is, but I feel that we could change our tack to pick up a different wind,” offered. “We in Slieverue are presently working on a five-year plan, and whereas heretofore, when we needed help, we would put a notice in a shop window, or put it in the local notes on the paper. We feel that a more productive way would now be to make a personal approach, and ask people to commit to a one-year, or maybe two-year commitment.
“It was always difficult to get volunteers outside of the diehard, hard core volunteer. When you managed to get a new recruit he was imbued with a whole new vista of interest, and you had him for ever. It was extremely difficult to get volunteers to come on board as a trainer of children.
“Culpable ignorance of coaching and training methodology was proffered as a reason for non-participation. But with the emphasis firmly focussed on organised training, Foundation Courses, Development Squads, Cúl and Summer Camps and so on, the volunteers are enjoying the experiences even more than the Coaching Instructors.”
Set bar high
Glove in hand with the coaching has been the tremendous developments done by so many clubs around, I prompted.
“One must laud the County Board for setting that bar so high,” Jim said.
“They have set tremendously high standards for themselves, for Nowlan Park, for our county teams, for the coaching structures, for the expertise of their administrative abilities. Much of that gloss has been replicated in so many clubs even down here in the South.
“We ourselves have done great things in Slieverue. Did you see what Mooncoin have done? And what about Glenmore, the Rower-Inistioge, Graignamanagh, Windgap and Dunnamaggan?
“Sure I could go on talking for hours, but it must be admitted that the realisation of the entire Kilkenny county vision has been no accident.
“A hungry pride to be the best has cloaked all that has been achieved, but it could not be done without the volunteer.”
If one is to believe the ’papers in recent weeks, it would seem that the volunteer bedrock is about to be dynamited from its base by the arrival of the Inland Revenue people at the front door of every club treasurer in the country looking for PPS numbers, tax returns on payments to casual workers like stewards at games, caretakers of club grounds, the lady who might get the “few bob” to clean out a bit of an office, or a dressing-room.
It was stated recently by President Christy Cooney and repeated by the Director General that if Croke Park couldn’t sort out the under the counter payments to managers, that the Inland Revenue would. If the IR get their noses in, everyone knows where it will finish.
Will that happen, Jim?
“No way on God’s earth can it be allowed to happen,” he said with convinction. “That is the greatest load of rubbish that I have ever heard. To think that there is some amadán out there who thinks that there are lads in clubs getting wads of money to mark a field, or clean out a room, or cut the grass is totally preposterous.
“Sometimes a lad might, just might, get a few bob, but if the Inland Revenue will get much joy from exposing such payment, well our poor country is in a worse-off state than I had thought. The concept that some silly official would come chasing a lad who had built a bit of a dug-out, or a wall, or lay a pathway is summarily crazy. It cannot happen, and it must be resisted with ever means of objection.
Soccer, athletics and so on could be hit
“In addition, whilst the GAA is in the gun-sights of investigation at the moment, it is not alone in the volunteer ethos. This predicted witch-hunt could have the same detrimental effect in rugby, soccer, athletics, swimming, hockey, rowing. Need I continue?
“If that can of worms is opened, it could preface dreadful knock-on problems of sporting organisations which depend on voluntary input. And you know, at the end of the day, the return might not be capable of buying a pair of wellingtons for a sparrow.”
Jim would worry if such movement by the revenue people, certainly at club level, evolved, he would fear for the future of the clubs.
“For instance in my club in Slieverue, I am greatly impressed by the enthusiasm of all of the young people who have taken up the reins, pulled up their sleeves and got stuck in,” he said.
“They are marvellous people doing marvellous work for a big number of youngsters. And they are all our own. I couldn’t praise them enough. I often go up to the field and just watch the joy, happiness and contentment on the face of the youngest.
“I know that our club, Slieverue is in great hands, with a great future. God bless them one and all. Wouldn’t it be a dreadful travesty if such spontaneous movement could be decimated by the stroke of a pencil, by a power-crazed official roarin’ for road to promotion?”