According to legend, the Tuatha de Danaan first came to Ireland in a great fleet of ships to take the land from the Fir Bolgs. The Tuatha were the people of the Goddess Danu, their menfolk godlike in status. When they arrived in Ireland they burnt their boats on the beach so there would be no turning back – a statement of intent if ever there was one.
Delusional former Kerry manager Jack O’Connor attributed the boat burning myth to the Moors arriving in Spain – it is in fact an Irish legend Jack – but then I suppose that’s not the only fallacy in that oul book of his.
The smoke from the burning boats wreathed the land for three days – leading the Fir Bolgs to believe that the Tuatha had arrived in a magic mist. This incidentally is the origin of the pre-match smokescreen as practised by the likes of messrs Considine, Crozier and Loughnane – indeed some would claim the legendary Clare hurling manager has a druidic awareness of the legends of old, having burnt more boats than a hard-pressed Viking undertaker.
Back to our yarn then – among the treasures the Tuatha de Danaan brought with them to Ireland was Dagda’s cauldron – famed because no man ever left it hungry. The cauldron of the God Dagda is believed to be one of the influences that led Michael Cusack and co to invent the GAA in Thurles. The vision that came to them in a moment of inspiration was to create an addiction that would consistently and forever satiate the hunger of the masses in every town, village and townland in Ireland.
There is little or no documentary evidence that gaelic and athletic sporting pastimes were prevalent in Old Ireland – but there was no shortage of legendary heroes that would have been subject matter for the hagiographic writing that passes for journalism in our Sunday papers. You know the sort:
“Lugh took after his grandfather Balor – he bore skill and controlled aggression in equal measure. He picked up his first ball at the tender age of two score months and manfully drove it through the meadhall scattering tankards of wine, loaves and fishes, half a cow, sides of wild boar – a delicacy known as a ‘brolly’ – and the roasted haunches of deer native to the Irish hillsides.
“The ball, fashioned from a wise and aged badger – chased, killed and taxidermed – came to rest beside his father Cian who trapped it under a gnarled toe with an insouciance normally seen about Ardboe and declared – in fulfilment of some ancient prophesy – “This lad shall captain the under-twelves. See to it.”
“At U-12 he played for the minors, at U-14 he played U-21 – his performances safeguarding that grade to this day – and at U-16 he captained the seniors to their first Championship title in an unfeasibly long time (a feat no longer possible due to Rule 132, p78 Official Guide) – so long in fact that the brehons with droopy lids could ill remember when woken from their sleep-dotage.
“Gnarled warriors wept with joy, serving wenches fluttered an attractive bogjuice-stained eyelid in his direction and older women sighed and sighed again in longing. The county manager sat up and took notice – as did a cohort of visitors from the land of Oz who liked the way he avoided the attempts at goring and the gougers that sledged with a passion only seen among the hordes from the river Liffey – far to the South.
“There was his downfall – carried away by strangers, not his own pride or the weasel words of other jealous players but the promise of riches beyond imagine, sun – a rare enough sight in July, and sun-bleached not smoke-caked ladies with free access to the bar b cue, big waves and the life of a pro warrior. Dagda’s cauldron not enough, he left these shores never to return, his likes never seen again. The elders wracked with grief and tearful desolation, the cauldron was taken and buried on a hilltop, beside a goatherd’s shed on the south side, near a stream, as the sun set and rose simultaneously in the east and west – an omen of things dead and of things to come. It was the last thing Lugh had touched before he left – the club committee voting 14 – 2 that a feed from its cavernous bowels might satiate the young hero and make him change his mind. That or a horse well hooved.”
There it remained until 1884 until the visionaries of the modern day set out from Thurles in the dead of night – heading northwards in search of the cauldron of Dagda. They passed through a flat plain north of the Liffey and paused hearing the roar of thousands and thousands – an omen of things to come. Onwards they traipsed, up through the Black Pigs Dyke, past a place in a glen where four roads crossed and the sons of Seosamh Mór among them kicked a bladder vigorously whilst their bear bellied father gazed on in admiration and approval.
Overhead vultures circled and circled, landing here and there from time to time on a patch of grass. Another omen. Westwards they turned – reading the runes – they came to Cluain Eois and eyes closed and nostrils flared they could taste the scent of seared flesh and burnt bread. The debauchery of the meadhall flashed upon their inward eyes. They were getting closer. Onwards and northwards – at last the unspoken advice of their ancestors came upon them and they knew to stop at a place that was simultaneously high and low, verdant and fertile. There was water and air and an atmosphere of deadly calm and determination. There were hazel bushes, some whin and beech and maybe a sycamore, but little ash and definitely no oak trees. The heart of Tír Eoghain.
An oul fella stumbled from a hovel, he’d been guttin’ a stag and he wiped his red hand on the breast of his gleaming white shirt.
Squinting askance at these fellas from the south sez he: “Ye’ll be here for thon oul pot? Take it, but you know it can’t be brought back here for the numbers of years that I have on me now. I am 119 years old and today is 29 Mean Fomhair. If your Association is to thrive and prosper in the manner of those who eat from Dagda’s Cauldron you must bring it back here on this day 119 years hence. Thereafter it will return again and again betimes.”
And so it came to pass…