Crowds roll out to remember the Tractor Boys

That amiable secretary of the Ballyhale Shamrocks club, Sean O’Sullivan, gave me a bell last week inviting me to a Tractor Run on Sunday, writes Barrie Henriques.

That amiable secretary of the Ballyhale Shamrocks club, Sean O’Sullivan, gave me a bell last week inviting me to a Tractor Run on Sunday, writes Barrie Henriques.

No frills, no promises, no big sell on the issue, just an anticipated time schedule. It was a tractor run - the third year - and Sean felt there could be a few lines in it for the column. The truth, depth, passion, pathos, representation of what I am about to write dear reader, will not come remotely close to describing the event started in the vicinity of the Ballyhale Shamrocks home on Sunday from 10am.

Never known to elasticate the truth, I will describe the experience in one word - unbelievablyawesomelyamazinglyastonishing.

There’s one for you!

Just to get the statistics moved on quickly, let me tell you that there were 249 of the most fearsome monolithically mechanical creations on view.

No fake tans

At a conservative estimate their combined value ranged from €14m (Jim O’Shea) to €17m (Paul Holden, senior). There were some 30% of the finest rural Irish young ladies driving the gargantuan machines with tremendous confidence and careful familiarity.

No fake tans, or false anything here; simply attractive, delightful female creations, unspoiled by pomp or circumstance. Tractors and drivers (obviously) arrived from Tipperary, Carlow, Wexford, Waterford, Kildare and from all corners of Kilkenny.

We spoke to the six Galway lads who travelled the long road from Mountbellew; Darren Burke, Sean Doyle, Dwayne Hopkins from Caltra, Simon Coffey, Kenneth Booth and John Morrissey. What brought you down this neck of the woods?

“Arrah, we came for the bit of craic, and we saw on the Facebook page that they were big fans of tractors, and so are we, so we came to pay our respects to them,” explained Darren.

They had set out on three tractors from Mountbellew, Co Galway (don’t ever give out about Galway people again) at 6am and arrived in Ballyhale just a little beyond three hours later.

With similar numbers, and on a similar route, it was estimated that fuel for the run cost around €135,000 last year. The prominent livery was green (fear the Deere), followed by the blue of Ford and New Holland, and then the red of Massey Ferguson.

They were impressive. Some wag in the crowd was heard to remark that you would get two houses from NAMA for the price of one of the machines. He was probably correct. I didn’t think there were as many tractors in Ireland!

And the reason for all of it?

Around two years ago two young men, Sean Malone and Martin Duggan were taken from their families, their friends, their neighbourhood, their Ballyhale Shamrocks club when the car in which they were travelling was involved in a crash when they were on its way to a local sandwich bar.

Both were employed by Paul Holden Plant Hire. That was lunch time on December 23. Sean and Martin were passengers in the car, Sean seated in the front. Sean died instantly. Martin died the following morning, Christmas Eve.

We spoke to his mum, Noreen, chairperson of the Shamrocks Juvenile Club. The lingering pain was evident in her soft voice, tears still threatening.

Even though that dreadful time was two years last Christmas, the memories, the legacy of the occasion is still very raw.

Not diminished

“It has not diminished one little iota,” she said of the pain and memories and she tried to smile. “Every waking moment is filled with the memory of Sean. He was such a lovely young fellow, with a great heart, and a winning disposition.

“My existence is smothered in his memory. I just cannot help feeling the way I do. People suggest that time is a great healer, and whilst I know that they are well meaning, I just cannot see the time when I will say that I have gotten over it.

“I had two grandchildren born just before Christmas. Thankfully all are doing splendidly, but contrary to opinion, they are no substitute for Sean, nor should they ever be considered as such. They are my grandchildren. I will love them forever, but they are not a substitute for anyone else.”

One element of the occasion that certainly struck a chord was the presence of so many young people in the attendance. We spoke of the lovely young ladies, but the young men present, many of them not out of their late teens were absolutely astonishing.

We met two Mullinavat hurling stars on a huge tractor. They recently helped win the club’s first Roinn A under-21 title - Mikey Jones and Mark Mansfield. They wanted to be in Ballyhale as a mark of respect to two hurling friends, and many times testing opponents.

There were more such young men with like memories in attendance.

Young Richie Reid and Conor Walsh spoke of the sadness. You were great butties since first going to school? “We were,” said Conor. “From the first day at school we were all together. Playing on school teams, getting on County Development squads together, and then playing with the Shamrocks through the age groups. We even played on the street above together.

For the life of me Richie, this effort is beyond my comprehension, I suggested.

“We have a small community here, and the Committee have done a terrific job of organisation. Young Paul Holden was brilliant on the computer with Twitter and Facebook.

Ease the pain

“The response helps to ease the pain for a lot of us, and while the pain of their loss might diminish, we will still never forget them,” insisted young Richie.

You both shared many hurling moments with them?

“Sean was on all of the teams up along,” said Conor. “A lot of us younger lads are close to the senior team, and Sean could be with us now. He was a very talented hurler, and while Martin was also a talented hurler, he never took it that seriously.

“He would prefer to be driving tractors,” said Conor with a smile.

Richie, they were known as the ‘Tractor Boys’?“Once the silage season started, there was no chance you would get them to hurl or train. They would be off following machinery. They just loved driving tractors. That is why they got the name.

“We thought that this was a great way of honouring their memory. When we started, we thought that we would get 50 or 60 tractors. Last year there were over 250 tractors.

“This time, as the tractors are still driving in, we could go very close to that figure again. It is a fitting occasion to their memory,” Richie insisted.

Paul Holden (junior) came into our cross hairs. We were reliably informed that much of the organising, including most of the hi-tech PR was done by this talented young lad, because a lad is what he is.

What age is Paul?

“I’m 15,” he smiled.

It is common knowledge that you engineered the PR component of this operation, which quite amazingly has produced such a magnificent end game, we suggested.

Modesty he replied: “I wouldn’t say that now. There were plenty of others involved. I just sent out Facebook and Twitter information, and we got a huge response on line.”

Great friends

But Paul, there are many who would be total dunces in the putting together of that kind of information. “We got a Committee of 10 people together in November, all of whom would have been great friends with the lads,” he continued. “With Brionagh Duggan we set up our own Web page, and that worked great. It worked anyway, and that is all that matters.”

Ah the “what’s the big deal” attitude of our youth; kind of compelling, and hugely admirable. There are some tremendous young people out there.

They are not all lay-about, drug-pushing misfits, with nothing in their heads but devilment. The more I spoke to people in Ballyhale, the more I came to the conclusion that we are blessed in this country with a fabulous generation of youthful boys and girls of which we can be justifiably proud.

We chanced on Mattie Duggan, who was immersed in the organisation of the event as much as any. “It is a sad day for you Mattie, and your immediate family, as well as the populations of the many parishes on the peripheral of Ballyhale?”

“In truth Barrie it does not bring anything back, because the sadness and heartbreak for our two families is as real, and in front of us as if it happened only yesterday,” he revealed.

Support always there

“But I will tell you this, it underlines the support that has been there for us from all the people in the parishes around, and that support has never diminished one little bit since we first got that dreadful message over two years ago. Rural Ireland never changes.

“In the face of tragedy, or any other kind of adversity, rural Ireland has a habit of rallying, supplying support and doing the right thing. Trouble passes no doo. Two years ago it was the turn of the Duggan and Malone families. It could not have been worse.

“Every day since some other family have had to face the same awful problem. It will live with us for the rest of our lives, but people have been so good to both families. Do you know something? Will you acknowledge the effort put in here by the young people from wherever they came?

“With due respect, this is their kind of Remembrance Mass, and they have attended with grace, style and reverence. It gives both families a sense of comfort too. There are some great young people around,” said a very down Mattie Duggan.

Eventually we managed to latch on to Paul Holden, the business entrepreneur, who is at the coalface of Ballyhale life as a caring employer and a huge benefactor to deserving Ballyhale enterprises and causes.

Does this turnout surprise you, Paul, we asked?

It’s all about respect

“Not really, although I thought this morning that the weather might have caused a down turn in numbers, but it seems to me that we have no need to worry in that regard now as tractors are still arriving,” he said.

Why, in your opinion, have so many tractors turned out for this, the third such outing? One would assume that the interest would have waned somewhat?

“I suspect that the word, respect, would be a good word to give you for the reason of its popularity,” he said. “For starters, Martin and Sean were tremendously popular around the parish. Neither of them had started their twentieth year on this Earth, so the tragedy of their passing cast a desperate shroud of grief, despair, remorse all over our parish.

“It happened two days before Christmas. They both worked for me, and even now there is not a day that their faces do not flash across my mind. Sean was the same age as my young lad, Paul.

“Oh Christ (shuddering) the thought of it still stiffens me with terror. People still turn up in a mass demonstration of support, and respect. That’s it - respect. What do you think, Jim?” “You have said it all Paul,” came the response. “The first year was a very emotional occasion, and like Paul I didn’t expect that it would continue in like vein. It has not diminished one little bit.

Very personal

“It is still emotive, and I suspect, still very personal. Respect is a good word for today. I couldn’t improve on that,” said Jim Shea from Carrickshock, a Maor helping out.

We met a man who is from Manchester, whose people were central to the Kilkenny Men’s Association, and who came over especially for the event. It was Des O’Shea. “I have been here every year for this special occasion, and this year I brought my daughter, Roisín,” he explained. “I just come to pay my respects, because my dad, Jim would eat me alive if I didn’t come.” The route takes in Hugginstown, by the Duggan and Malone family homes, by the crash site where there is a memorial stone erected, into Piltown, on by Kilmacow, into Mullinavat and home to Ballyhale.

In all of those places local club members man crossroads, and direct traffic as necessary. One could not let the occasion go without a special word of appreciation, and thanks to a Ladies Committee, who provided an endless conveyor belt of food, soups, tea, coffee and an a la carte menu of sandwiches for every person present.

They certainly deserve a big búla bos for their courtesy, and hospitality. Absolutely brilliant!

Some money generated

Finally we met with the man who had issued the invite, the ever helpful secretary of the Shamrocks club, Sean O’Sullivan. Having put in a strenuous shift in organising things around the place he finally came to us.

“Pleased Sean,” I asked?

“Yes I am, but I only had an insignificant input to the affair, but it was still brilliant,” he offered. While this is certainly not a money-making exercise, nevertheless, there is a certain amount of money generated from registration fees. Where will that end up?

“The monies are given to deserving local charities, which are decided by the Organising Committee,” Sean explained. “This year I believe it is being presented to the Ballyhale School to stock a brand new school library.

“From a Shamrocks point of view, we, with the consent of both families, will erect two new dug-outs which will be dedicated to the names of the two lads, being former players. A plaque will be put on the wall signifying such.”

Sean was loud in his praise for all factors and forces that bought into being the Tractor Run, which is such a remarkable success. He thanked marshalls, the ladies who looked after the catering, the Organising Committee and, of course, the tractor providers.

“I’m sure the Tractor Lads had a few laughs from their Árd Comhairle seats, as they looked down on us,” Sean smiled when he signed off.