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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

From Finuge To Leinster House Via Croke Park

Finuge, Finuge, Oh golden wood.
Your meadows wild and green,
With the soft kiss of moonlight
On the cross of Coolnaleen
...Words written by the late Sean McCarthy; a man who immortalized the north Kerry village and who is commemorated annually by the Sean McCarthy Memorial Weekend. A key figure in organising the event for the past twenty years was Finuge native Jimmy Deenihan. Jimmy is now our Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. He is the most able person to hold the position since Michael D. Higgins, who went on to become President of Ireland, was appointed in 1993.

Jimmy’s sporting career started when he scored a point in Sullivan’s field, in Finuge, as a seven year old in 1959. (“I still recall the sense of achievement I derived from kicking a football over the bar . . . It was a defining moment in my development as a footballer and I remember running home excitedly to tell my father about it.") And it finished . . . Hold on. Is it finished yet? On 08th October 2011, a few days after his 59th birthday, he togged out with an Oireachtas team for a charity-match in Croke Park. As I watched from the stands, when he faced an opponent from the opposing Media Selection, I wondered was our Minister thinking of his five All-Ireland medals or was he once again a seven-year-old in Sullivan’s field?

Despite a busy schedule he has now written his autobiography My Sporting Life. It was launched in the National Museum on Tuesday 13th December by former Dublin captain and Jimmy’s one-time rival, Tony Hanahoe who said; “Jimmy and I met by accident in 1976.” He was referring to the day he was playing in the forward line in Croke Park and made involuntary contact with the man from Finuge.


He was asked to bring Gaelic football's all-Ireland cup to New York in 1981 to have it photographed with the World Series baseball trophy and American football's Superbowl prize. He didn’t want to take responsibility for what was, for years, a Kerry trophy but he was eventually persuaded. He brought it to Gaelic Park in the Bronx where it was stored in a safe while players from the Feale Rangers team socialised. After a match between Feale and Ardboe of Tyrone the next day, Jimmy went to get the cup only to be told by the caretaker that it had been taken from the safe by someone unknown to him that morning.

Jimmy Deenihan with the Sam Maguire Cup

I have heard him tell the story or some of it several times but in My Sporting Life he writes about the intervention of the FBI and "When I called to Gaelic Park the following morning at 11am, the Sam Maguire was in the bar wrapped in a black plastic refuse bag." I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll have to read the book for the full story. Proceeds are going to the Lartigue Restoration Committee...Full monorail fund details.

The Listowel-Ballybunion Railway was opened in 1888 at a cost of £30,000 and it ran for 36 years until it was closed in 1924.It was a unique rail-system designed by a Frenchman, Charles Lartigue. The train carried passengers, freight, cattle and sand from the Ballybunion sand-hills. Among the passengers were Ballybunion school children going to the Listowel Secondary Schools, Kerry and Limerick people making their way to the beach resort of Ballybunion and golfers going to the fledgling golf course at Ballybunion, which was to develop into one of the greatest golf courses in the world.

The Original Lartigue Monorail

The Lartigue was the only railway of its kind in the world. One Kerry historian described the design as follows, "Loads had to be evenly balanced. "If a farmer wanted to send a cow to market, he would have to send two calves to balance it, which would travel back on opposite sides of the same freight wagon, thereby balancing each other."

1988 saw the centenary of the opening of the Lartigue and several initiatives were taken to celebrate the event. Among the most valuable of these was a history of the Lartigue written by local politician and Lartigue enthusiast Michael Guerin. Michael Barry of Lisselton had already assembled 50 metres of salvaged track and an original carriage and Michael Foster had written a valuable book on the Lartigue. From this time a feeling emerged that a restoration of the Lartigue should be attempted in some form. As a result, in the mid 1990's a Lartigue Restoration Committee was set up under the Chairmanship of Jimmy Deenihan TD, with Jack McKenna, who had traveled on the footplate of the original Lartigue, as President.

After much work and fundraising by the committee, work started on the building of the new Lartigue on the site on John B Keane Road in November 2000. The construction work was carried out by an excellent team of FAS employees, under the direction of members of the Restoration Committee, and the train went in to operation in June 2003.

The Lartigue today

My Sporting Life is not confined to stories about Fine Gael and the GAA. Jimmy introduces the reader to such people as FW de Klerk, Nelson Mandela, Joe Jagger (father of Mick) and Alfred Hitchcock. As a young man he didn’t have any political ambitions. So, how did he end up in the Dail? Perhaps the question is best answered by the other great man of letters , Kerryman, Con Houlihan in his introduction to My Sporting Life, "His winning speech as captain of Kerry in an All Ireland final was heard by Garret Fitzgerald who marked him down as a young man with a future in politics."

While teaching in Tarbert in 1982 (the year he missed the All-Ireland final due to injury) Jimmy was asked to run as a Fine Gael candidate. Before making a decision he sought the advice of that great Listowel sage, John B Keane..

"Because of my trust in him, John B's advice would be crucial to my decision, His first reaction was one of surprise that I should even consider going into politics. He advised me that politics was a tough game, that your own party members could be the most negative and hurtful towards you... as I have discovered since."

As on the field, whether on the opposition benches or in Government the Finuge man gave a good account of himself. As one reviewer puts it, “When he entered political life, he embraced the concept of sport for the many and not just for the few, undertaking extensive examination of the role of sport in the lives of Irish people. He also details his organisation of sporting events involving his Dáil colleagues and their counterparts in other countries.”

What’s it like being a Minister in these turbulent times? This Kerryman has the answer, "Playing sport at a high level prepares you for anything that comes your way in life."

Google "My Sporting Life" and a Happy 2012 to you all.

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