THE crow’s-feet might be lengthening at the corners of the eyes. The hair follicles are definitely less conspicuous and the strides are shortening, but the enthusiasm has not lessened in its attractive lustre - neither has the unbridled joy.
I am talking about the immigration of the annual Emeralds Golf Society from New York, who have been making the pilgrimage home for many years in anticipation of All-Ireland victory, as well as taking the chance to meet family and friends, clink a few glasses, play a bit of golf and sing a few songs.
It is never any different, and it hasn’t been since first people like the marvellously enthusiastic Mick Morrissey, Mike Donovan, Ambrose O’Connell, and his brother James, Steve King and Martin Murphy met with Murt Duggan, Bill Martin and Tom Donovan in the Callan Golf Club back in 1978. An idea was floated, the seed was set in the ground, and the plan of an annual reunion was crafted.
Times were not exactly flourishing on either side of the Atlantic at the time.
Golf for the working class was in an embryonic developing stage, but some 26 or so Irish working men, the majority of whom had family connections with the Callan area started a wagon-train east that has stood the test of time.
They come, and using the Callan base as its hub, they play golf at numerous locations country wide. The golfing arrangements are co-ordinated by the local Callan group, so brilliantly, and expertly led by the iconic Murt Duggan. Their trip culminates with the Emeralds Golf Society Classic at the Callan base. Such is the attraction of the visitors that many players from all over the country will take time out to play with the Yanks (as they are endearingly termed) in a Callan club that has morphed into a delightful gem of a course over the years.
Greats of the game
Most of the contestants, notwithstanding the Americans, have been retired hurling stars. It would not have been unusual to see the likes of the greats of the game teeing off alongside ordinary invitees whose only claim to stardom might never be more than they played golf with the great hurlers one time in Callan.
One can remember such luminaries as Pat Stakelum, the Ryans (Mutt and Sweeper), Michael Maher, Jimmy Ryan (Borrisoleigh), Jim Devitt, John Quigley (Wexford), Mick Ryan (Dublin) and the Kilkenny contingent led by Seamie Cleere, D.J. Carey, Paddy Buggy, Mickie and Timmy Kelly, John Kinsella, Jimmy Murphy, Fr Tom Murphy and his brother Willie, Pat Henderson, Michael Lyng, Oliver Gough of Kilkenny and Wexford, and all points east, and many more, whose memories have dimmed with the passage of time.
Sadly many have passed away, but there are still many more who have never failed to make the trip home. Only an emigrant uses the word home, and no matter how long or how far away he is, and no matter either how toughened the roots he has set down become, every emigrant comes home...
The Emeralds have been spoiled over the past 12 years or so - or at least the Kilkenny contingent among the returning tourists have been. The Liam McCarthy Cup has never failed to be in attendance anytime it was opportune. Disappointment was the order of the day 12 months ago but, true to tradition, he returned with glee and gusto this time round, when the Captain of the club, Robert Woodcock, a Danesfort GAA addict, was thrilled to present Liam in the beaming presence of his clubman Paul Murphy.
Talking to Paul, he was truly amazed how fortunes have changed for him so dramatically.
“This time last year my heart went out to the lads as I watched from Hill 16,” he said. “This year I shared the unbridled joy with them as Brian went up to collect the cup again.”
Contrast that with my meeting two lads who have been so much a part of the glorious journey, and who were there last year, but were now just paying customers. I met Richie Mullally and James Ryall in the Jury’s Hotel at Croke Park after the game. They were just bubbling with the euphoria of the win.
Back to Callan Golf Club.
Murt Duggan spoke of times past, of the origins, of the friendships made, of the everlasting bind that exists between the Emeralds and Callan Golf Club.
“While many have departed to a better place I hope,” he said, “and hoping that some of their golfing handicaps are being reassessed, nonetheless, we have here with us Ambrose O’Connell (Killenaule), and Martin Murphy (Callan) of the original founders of the Emerald Society. On home ground we have Tom Donovan, Bill Martin and myself. That is surely testament to the overwhelming strength, and value of the movement that started so many years ago.”
As stated earlier, Callan Golf Club has changed dramatically over the 33 years. It took plenty of courage, and hard work to provide such a beautiful jewel on the outskirts of the town. But the Emerald Society have made no insignificant contribution either in its development. They organised fund-raisers in their home club in New York, making a very helpful, impressive contribution.
“They are great people, and I hope that when it is our time to bow out, that more will take up the baton and keep the thing going,” said the Ballingarry native, who has made more than a major contribution.
It was fitting that Murt would mention the tremendous work that Mick Morrissey did to further the idealism of the Society. It was fitting too that two of Mick’s brothers - Eddie from down Barrowcore side and Moling from Portarlington - were present to represent their brother on the evening.
Martin Dunne, the President of the Emeralds Society also spoke with great passion and compliment, as he thanked the Callan club for their continuing generosity, and welcome.
“It is a poignant time too, for our Society that we are here in the home town of one of the great Society members, who is no longer with us,” said Martin. “Mike Donovan was a magnificent Society man, a magnificent Kilkennyman, a magnificent hurling man and a true humanitarian.”
He spoke in glowing terms of the contribution of their founder, Mick Morrissey. He lauded to the skies the unique atmosphere that one feels more in the Callan club than anywhere else.
“This place is special,” he said. “The Failte here is a unique commodity.”
Captain of Callan, Robert Woodcock, welcomed all the visitors and complimented all who had made the day such a tremendous experience once again.
President John O’Dwyer was also very magnanimous in his welcomes, and wished all would still be back in the Callan Club 12 months from now.
“It would be remiss of me not to compliment Michael Walsh and his staff for the unbelievable cuisine he provided during the entire day, for everybody present,” said John O.
Great night. Great craic. Great memories.
Oh yes - and Liam enjoyed it too, being back among his own.