By Walter Lawler
I decided so much happened personally, sports wise, historically and politically this year that it deserved a special reflection, 30 years on. I was a 15-year-old 3rd year border in secondary school this year, part of the last year who completed the Intermediate Certificate Exams. Mary Robinson had been inaugurated as our first female President the previous December, Charlie Haughey was Taoiseach, John Major the British PM, George Bush Sr. was President of the US and Mikhail Gorbachev President of the Soviet Union. Starting in 1991, the design of the standard Irish vehicle number plate now followed standard European guidelines, a reg had a blue vertical band to the left of the plate containing the Flag of Europe and identifier code for Ireland, IRL. Eamon Dunphy published his bestseller about former Manchester Utd manager Matt Busby ‘A Strange Kind of Glory’ this year, an all-time favourite of my Laois Library colleague Enda McEvoy, who greatly enjoyed the read, as a 12-year-old in 1991. Also, the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, also known as the Beef Tribunal, was established on 31 May 1991, chaired by Justice Liam Hamilton. The World Athletics Championships were held in Tokyo, Japan from August 23rd until September 1st. Gerry Ryan presented a new Sunday Evening tv show a revamped edition of Paddy Crosbie’s 1960s version, School Around the Corner, where primary school children were interviewed. The Commitments was a big hit on the Silver Screen and the Birmingham Six are released in March after 16 years in jail. The EC fails to mediate a peace in Yugoslavia as Nationalist leaders exploit age old ethnic hatreds. The Serb-dominated federal army lays siege to Dubrovnik. These are just a sample of the year’s events, highlights and lowlights.
The 12 days of Christmas hadn’t passed when a major storm hit the country on 5th January. It did most damage in the north and west, 14 people were killed and resulted in an estimated £15 million worth of damage. It was back to boarding school for myself and my brother on the evening of Sunday 6th January. The week had a nice surprise in store. As the storm moved off east it drew down a cold north westerly with cold polar maritime air and heavy wintry showers by Tuesday 8th January. We were in Geography class with Mr. Behan around 2pm when we noticed the snow, which had been falling all morning, had started to stick. This was just the tonic we needed for our post-Christmas blues! In an instant the snow started to accumulate, it was a very heavy fall, the snow was pretty moisture laden. Mr. Behan left the room, naturally the class went wild, and he returned telling us we were to go home, contact our parents. It was about 7-8 years before mobile phones arrived so we went to queue at the 2 old coin pay phones in the school, there was plenty of shouldering and knocking one another out of the way to get higher up in the queue! Some lads just went straight to snowball fighting. As the hours passed and night fell the school emptied, even the Dunnes from hilly Hollywood in Wicklow got home. By 10pm that night, out of the 250 odd boarders and day pupils who attended Knockbeg, about 6 were left there, these included Willy Fitzpatrick from Emo in Laois, a fella from, Bunclody, Wexford and Joe and Wally Lawler…from Bilbo, which kinda encompasses a bit of everywhere! It was only 10 miles away; we were the closest to the school to be stranded. We spent the evening playing indoor soccer with Fr. Dunne, Fr. McEvoy and Fr. Dunphy. A bit like myself now, they were passed their peak, but they still had a few moves they could pull out. It was tasty and competitive, the way you want it! After watching a few episodes of Fawlty Towers we headed to bed in the ‘big dor’ (dormitory). With all the excitement we stayed talking until around 3am, about when we’d get home, what the weather forecast was etc, we wanted to get off school for as long as we could! The following day the other lads got collected, in parents’ cars. Myself and my brother were the last to get home that afternoon. We went home in style, on the father’s 4610 Ford Tractor. As Joe’s classmate, Mick Barry, commented on the event in the school annual that year ‘Joe and Walter ploughed their way through the snow, back home to Bilbo.. fair tractor I tell ye boy!’. Below, the Knockbeg College motto since 1793; translates ‘that which has been cut back will grow stronger’.
That Which Has Been Cut Back Will Grow Stronger
The other storm that January was a military one; ‘Operation Desert Storm’. The operation to liberate Kuwait, occupied by the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein in August 1990. The Gulf War, as it became known, began with an extensive aerial bombing campaign on 16 January 1991. For 42 consecutive days and nights, the coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most intensive air bombardments in military history. This was the precursor for the ground campaign which began. On the night of Wednesday 16th January 1991, we stayed awake in our dormitories until midnight, when the air attacks on Iraq and her forces began. We tuned in to the latest info on our Walkman. There had been no major war in our lifetimes, the Iran-Iraqi War, 1980-1988, was relatively low key, as was the conflict in the Lebanon, the Falklands War 1982 etc. The build up to this war was intense since August 1990, the British, American and Allied build up was considerable. As young fellas we were really excited by this war, the weaponry, smart bombs, Saddam Hussein not backing down. We wondered how strong his forces were. The next evening we were all allowed go to the play hall (where there was a tv) to watch the highlights of the first night’s bombing on the news.. There were fellas running out of second study, to watch the news that probably never saw the news in their lives before! When I say second study, I’ll clarify now; first study was 5.30pm to 7pm (optional mass 6.30-7pm), second study 8pm until 9.20pm and third study, for all bar first years, 9.30pm until 10.30pm. It may come as a shock to some that often it wasn’t the most pious students who decided to attend mass over study. Though I’m sure there were some pious young men in their number. We were all on a rota, in each class, to do a reading in mass or prayer of the faithful, every few months. This was a bit of an ordeal, well it was for me anyway, in first or second year. You’d have a few ‘well meaning’ members of your class who would come to mass and try and distract you or make you laugh while you were carrying out your duties. Iraq attacked Israel and Saudi Arabia with Scud missiles. The US Patriot missile was used in combat, against these, for the first time. The US military claimed a high effectiveness against Scuds at the time, but later analysis gives figures as low as 9%, with 45% of the 158 Patriot launches being against debris or false targets. In Knockbeg we were involved in patenting a new unique Irish missile; the ‘spud’ missile. It was a low speed missile with a range of 20 feet, launched in a surprise attack in the refectory it easily bypassed defensive radar and was used primarily as an offensive weapon. Its main target was green first years, or any target deemed fair game, Geneva Convention Protocols were not observed. The potatoes bought by the school were of the watery variety and this resulted in few injuries; no one lost an eye.
In February 1991, we had a beast from the east cold spell. Unluckily for us the snow came on a Thursday night/Friday morning and we only got Friday off school. There was a different feel to this air, it cut to the bone. The dormitory I was in that year was nicknamed ‘Siberia’, I think it had been colder when initially built, though I never found it particularly cold, bar that week 3-8 February 1991. Our science teacher, Tom Moran, was having difficulty getting traction on the snow that Friday morning. He had come into work, only to find classes were cancelled. There were laughs aplenty watching lads giving him a push and falling themselves. Mr. Moran was a great teacher, a man I had a lot of respect for, I always regret not studying Physics for the Leaving Cert with him, but I had to choose between it and my favourite subject, History, in the pairings of subjects offered in 5th year. Looking back, I should have worked some way out to do both subjects.
President George Bush greets American Troops prior to ‘Desert Storm’
The year ambled on and March arrived. It was a lovely month weather wise for the most part in Ireland. In the US mid-month, they had the so called ‘Super Storm’ one of the blizzards of the century, which effected many states. In stark contrast our weather was so benign, we were on Easter Holidays and Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday 31st March was calm and sunny with temperatures of 14-16C. I remember at home the first Caesarian being performed on a cow on the farm, a fine Simmental, at this time. The calf was fine but she was very weak after the operation, so my father gave her plenty of raw eggs, he also bought large bottles of stout to give to her, to help her recuperate. He’d give her some drink and shur he’d have a sup himself when sitting with her. He looked forward to having a drink with the cow in the evenings, she was a good oul drinking buddy of his in no time. Anyway, the time came when the cow had thriven, and no longer needed porter, she went back to the field. Well for the next fortnight the poor animal used come up to the gate of the field her head shaking, looking for her evening fix, she had a touch of the DTs! Wednesday 27th was a day red letter day in my memory, Ireland were playing England in Wembley that evening. The Irish football team was probably at it’s strongest ever during this campaign, but regrettably we failed to qualify on goal difference, the English topping the group. We played as well as an Irish football team ever did that evening, including v Italy in Giants Stadium in 1994. Lee Dixon scored a lucky goal aided by a Steve Staunton deflection. After that it was all the Republic. Niall Quinn equalized, with what I’d consider to be his best goal for Ireland, sorting his feet quickly to finish a ball placed in the box by Paul McGrath. Ray Houghton really should have won the game for us, but blazed wide from close range. Both countries took a point a piece from the game but if Ireland had taken the 2 (2 for a win, 1 a draw at the time) the group was sorted in our favour. Of course, later in the year we lost a 3-1 lead against the Poles in Poznan in October, and that was another missed opportunity of finishing ahead of England in the group. A big memory of the Wembley game is a head bandaged, 35-year-old Kevin Moran, clearing ball after ball at centre half. The full match can be viewed here.
I did my Inter Cert mocks in March and the real thing started after the June Bank Holiday Weekend. There was a cold northerly blast starting at the Bank Holiday Weekend and air temperatures fell below freezing on 3 consecutive nights from Monday 3rd June until Wednesday 5th June. Temperatures fell as low as -2C at Ardee on the 4th of the month. When I did my Leaving Cert 2 years later there was extreme flooding, the Barrow was out in Carlow town and we had to go a circuitous route around Milford in Carlow to get in to school for exams. Looking back on the Inter Cert exams they passed by without any undue fuss or stress, not surprisingly I suppose, they were very much secondary to the big one, the Leaving Cert. For the latter, I definitely felt pressure and fatigue near their finish. There were some great subjects for the Inter, like Science, Latin, Commerce. I know they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But I loved Latin, it seemed logical, and I really enjoyed the Roman History side of it. I remember one memorable Latin class with Fr. McEvoy, he was going through our mock results and papers. There was a paragraph in Latin to answer questions on. One question was ‘What did Scipio Africanus advise his men to do at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC?’. The answer was convoluted.. avoid Hannibal’s elephants, drive them off with spears, chase the Carthaginian cavalry down etc. My classmate, I think he’ll remain nameless, answered that Scipio’s advice to him men before battle was ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’! I thought it was a good guess, sound advice! Let’s just say Fr. McEvoy wasn’t impressed with the answer. After my Latin exam was finished on 19th June, a week after the rest, I was a free young man for the rest of the summer, and what a summer it was.
Niall Quinn celebrates his goal.
Crettyard GAA, 1991
Gaelic games, and Gaelic football especially, came late into my life in any sort of formal training sense. In my primary school, Ardough, we only entered Cumann na mBunscoil in 1987-88 when I was in 6th class. We played soccer on a concrete yard everyday in school. We played a bit of hurling in latter years in summer as the Croghtenclogh lads, from Coan/Muckalee Parish brought their hurls to school. During 1987/1988 we had just one trining session a week in 6th class when either Jim Blanchfield, St. Joseph’s, or Mark Behan, Graiguecullen, came to train us the basics. I was only mastering soloing a ball at 12, which is way too late really, but I suppose better late than never. I think our school was in a bit of a no man’s land, in Laois, bordering Carlow and Kilkenny. I knew my neighbours who attended Mayo NS, were playing Cumann na mBunscoil games against Newtown NS and the Swan NS, while I was 8 or 9 and doing Irish dancing! I know what choice I’d make now! Anyway, as the great Scottish and Lions player and coach, Jim Telfer, always said, only weak men make excuses, so I’ll move on. When I went to Knockbeg playing on U14 and Junior football and hurling was a serious thrill, and with accomplished players from Laois, Carlow, Kildare, Tipperary, Kilkenny etc. At a quiz in early May 1991, Paddy Buggy, from Cretty, who would become an early mentor, asked myself and my brother would we like to come play with the club, being in the parish. We were delighted, a new challenge. We went to our first training and were made welcome by all. Ger Kelly, a St. Abbans athlete, was our trainer. He was super committed, and boy did he get us fit with plenty of old school running, which he always mixed in with football drills. Our captain was Noel Kelly, RIP, a corner back with Laois minors, that year and our trainer’s younger brother. He was driven, in a year where Roy Keane was coming to prominence in a run to the FA Cup final with Nott’s Forrest, he was our Keane on the pitch and in training. He ensured our drills were done with 100% commitment, always. At 15, I had 3 more years to go in minor and came on as a sub against St. Michael’s in the first round of the championship. St. Michael’s comprised Arles, Ballylinan and Killeen, and had won numerous underage titles, during those years, they were reigning minor A county champions. That particular year they had 6 or 7 players on the county minor team. We were a goal up at half time but were wore down by a better team in the second half, losing by 4 points, it was respectable, but we weren’t happy, no individual or no team worth their salt turns up to lose regardless of what the odds are. We were then in the Minor B competition with training 3 times a week I started to come on a bit, and as a team we did too. We beat Emo in the semi-final, thankfully Laois teenage star Michael Lawlor, was a few weeks overage for them. I was on the team now, as was my brother Joe, myself in the forwards and himself in the backs. We beat the Harps in the County final by 7 points on the last Sunday in October in O’Moore Park. Playing in your county ground is always a big deal, playing on a full pitch for the first time (for me) before Portlaoise hurlers played Buffers Alley in the Senior Leinster hurling club championship, that was our Croke Park, our Wembley! Winning it was the best feeling I had in sport up to then, I had won a few athletics medals, but playing with a team, it’s entirely different. One particularly funny memory occurred sitting beside my teammate Barry O’Sullivan before the game. He was telling me he had trouble getting to sleep the night before. Our trainer, Ger, had given us a motivational and emotional team talk, in the old club prefab of that time, the previous evening and Barry was so revved up after it he didn’t sleep well. I told Barry I wasn’t too bad regarding sleep and that morning I had put four tablespoons of powdered glucose into a glass of water, stirred it up and drank it to give me extra energy for the match!! I ended up giving myself a dose of something else. I knew the way Barry looked at me that he had reservations about my preparation, in every sense of the word. I thought glucose meant lots of energy, and there was no Sports Science for underage GAA club players in 1991! It was on to Pedigree Corner for celebrations, the local disco/niteclub near Ballylinan owned by Michael Dempsey, Laois Senior Footballer, who would add a lot of managerial achievements to his CV in years to come, and Meath footballer Bernard Flynn. It was my first disco! The team would go on to win the ‘A’ county U21 Championship in 1994 beating Portarlington in the final who fielded star Laois player, Hughie Emerson.
Crettyard’s Current Senior County Man, Evan O’Carroll
1991 in Sport
Laois senior hurlers went out of the championship by a few points to Wexford in late May, this seemed to be an annual occurrence for us in the early 1990s. Most of those Wexford players would be All-Ireland winners in 1996. We had very decent teams from 1979 on but just fell a little short, a notable exception being the Leinster 1985 semi v Wexford. Players like Niall Rigney, John Taylor, Joe Dollard, Bill Maher, PJ Cuddy were as good as was out there. Laois were well beaten by Kilkenny in the minor hurling Leinster final; but with players like David and Paul Cuddy on that team there was hope for the future. Kilkenny scrapped past Wexford on Sunday 30th June to book a place in the Leinster final with Dublin. DJ Carey scored a late goal he broke through the Wexford defence, after taking a fair few more steps than allowed, and kicked low into the net. He was a rising star, I had first seen him play in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise in the All-Ireland U21 final against Tipperary on a gorgeous September day in 1990. Kilkenny struggled past Dublin in a 2-point win in the Leinster final. They beat Antrim by 2 points in the All-ireland semi-final, it wasn’t exactly inspiring form, though Antrim were at a peak during these years, having reached the 1989 All Ireland final. They entered the final v Tipperary as complete underdogs. Tipperary were trying to win their second All-Ireland in 3 years and this was their 4th final in 5 years, they were experienced and had hurlers like Paul Delaney, Pat Fox, Nicky English, John Leahy. They had emerged from Munster that year after beating Cork over 2 excellent games, the replay, in particular, was a classic that will stand the test of time. Kilkenny played better than expected and the game was very competitive. Overall Tipp were the better team with Pat Fox hitting 5 points from play. However, Tipp got a nice slice of luck in the second half when a mishit Michael Cleary free went past Michael Walsh, in goal for Kilkenny, and their defence.
DJ Carey breaks past Liam Dunne Wexford
Tipp Captain Declan Carr has a few words with President Robinson
The Laois senior footballers beat Westmeath well in their first found and drew with Louth in the Leinster semi. Laois won the replay by 8 points and the game would be remembered for 2 main reasons. 18-year-old Mick Lawlor was a star on the day, scoring 2-3 from play. The big talking point was the mass brawl at the end of the game. Laois and Louth were both physical teams at the time. Players, mentors and subs all got involved. After squaring off face to face, both teams eventually stopped and shook hands with one another!! County boards were fined but Laois could field their full team for the Leinster final. If it was nowadays there would be a plethora of suspensions no doubt. On the other side of the draw Meath and Dublin engaged in a 4-match classic saga. Every time it looked like victory was there for the taking for Dublin, Meath would inevitably come back. Keith Barr missed a penalty which would have put the final game on Saturday 6th July beyond Meath. But at 5/6 points down Meath were still alive and Kevin Foley’s fabled last-minute goal and a point from David Beggy brought them victory. 1991 witnessed the open championship draw in the provinces, rather than seeding. Limerick gave Kerry a right fright in the Munster Final. Kerry emerged as 4-point victors, but they weren’t a vintage Kerry team. Two all time greats, Pat Spillane and Jack O’Shea were now in their mid-30s. Tom Spillane didn’t look comfortable at full back and a lot of the younger players were average by Kerry standards. There was an open feel to the championship, as Wicklow drew with Meath and the latter only won the replay by 3 points. Though Meath did ease past Offaly in their semi. Laois played Meath in the Leinster Final on Saturday 10th August in Croke Park, a very late final due to all the replays. Laois’ first final since 1985. Meath beat Laois by 6 points that day, Laois dominated possession for most parts, even though down to 14 men for much of the game. Meath had that bit more upfront and economy on the ball, a full forward line of Stafford, Flynn and O’Rourke would always be hard to hold. For Laois Pat Roe was majestic at centre back as Meath tried a number of players to curb his influence. Laois had come from a 4-14 drubbing by Meath in 1990 to respectability. Our performances v Meath in the early 1990s would turn full circle, and one of the great days in Laois football is beating the Royals in their back garden in Navan on a warm sultry last Sunday in May in 1992. It was knockout football with no back door in the championship until 2001.
The Laois team that beat Louth to reach the Leinster Final
Kerry were beaten by Down in one All-Ireland semi-final. Two Peter Whitnell goals were the difference. Down in their red and black were a glamour side. They played brilliant football and had the physique to compete with anyone, men like Conor Deegan, Barry Breen, Ross Carr. They had an exciting attacking trio of Greg Blaney, Mickey Linden and James McCartan. In the 1991 Ulster final they gave an exhibition of point taking to beat Donegal. As they entered the All-Ireland final, they were probably a little underestimated. There were a few reasons for this; no Connacht or Ulster team had won the All-Ireland in 23 years, since Down themselves in 1968. Meath were competing in their 5th All-Ireland final in 5 years, including the replayed 1988 final, having won 2 finals back to back in 1987/88. Meath’s name seemed to be written on the cup; after all the near escapes against Dublin and then Wicklow, they found themselves down by 5 points against Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi. Derek Duggan, Roscommon’s star 19-year-old, had dummy soloed, Terry Ferguson on his right foot and shot a drop goal all in one movement. But Meath somehow ground their way back into the match. The 15th of September was a beautiful day as Paddy O’Rourke and Liam Hayes captained Down and Meath, respectively, on final day. Down had played in 3 All-Irelands, 1960, 1961 and 1968 and won them all. Between the 19th minute and the 47th minute of the game, Down outscored Meath by 1-9 to 0-1 and raced into an 11-point lead. Great work from James McCartan and Mickey Linden setup a palmed goal for Barry Breen. However, Bernard Flynn and flu victim, who didn’t start the game, Colm O’Rourke kept chipping away at the Down lead. With a couple of minutes left Liam Hayes (who went to Knockbeg up to Inter Cert) burst through at speed and scored a cracking goal. There were 2 points in the game, and it looked like Meath would produce another Houdini act, but down held out for a remarkable victory. As a 15-year-old that All-Ireland remains one of the most memorable I’ve seen.
From 23rd August until 1st September the World athletics championship took place in Tokyo. We’d catch the highlights each morning before farm work at home. (That summer I remember painting every gate on the farm. Clean the gate down with a wire brush and off you’d paint! I didn’t like the job, basically because it took so long to clean up afterwards.) Carl Lewis, now 30, set a new world record of 9.86 seconds to win the 100m final. Moses Tanui, Kenya beat his 19-year-old compatriot, Richard Chelimo in a memorable 10,000m final. Sadly, Chelimo died of a brain tumour, aged 29 in 2001. Rising star of German athletics, 21-year-old Katrin Krabbe won a double in the 100m and 200m women’s events. Her career was effectively ended with a PED ban the following year. However, for me, by far the most memorable event of the championships was the men’s long jump. This was perhaps the greatest long jump competition ever as both of the top two athletes achieved distances beyond the then world record which had stood for almost 23 years. Bob Beamon of the US had held the world record jump of 8.90m for this time, however he was greatly aided by jumping this distance at altitude at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. Carl Lewis’ record at the time was: two time Olympic Gold Medalist, two time World Champion (in the era when it was also still a once-every-4-year event) and, having been undefeated in ten years, he was deservedly considered the best long jumper in the world. Lewis’ fourth round jump was wind-aided, but, at 8.91w m, it was the longest ever competition long jump in history, beating the existing wind-legal world record set by Bob Beamon at altitude at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Powell’s wind-legal fifth round jump topped both, setting the world record at 8.95 m (29 ft 4.36 in). But the competition was not over. Moments later Lewis answered with his lifetime wind-legal personal record of 8.87 m (29 ft 1.21 in) (into a slight headwind: -0.2 m/s). Both athletes still had one jump remaining. Powell fouled, and Lewis made his second-best wind-legal jump of 8.84 m (29 ft 0.03 in). Powell was world champion and posted a world record jump, which still stands to this day.
Carl Lewis and Mike Powell embracing at the Barcelona Olympics.
There’s nothing like a song to bring you back to a certain time of your life and bring back a full gamut of memories, be they good or bad. The musical merit of the said songs may not be that great, what Liam Clancy referred to as ‘the froth of fashion by the pop song of the month’, but nonetheless, for some reason, maybe a catchy chorus or radio repetition, they stay with you. In April 1991 a new 5-part series called ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ was aired on RTE, this was definitely quality rather than the pop song of the month. U2, Elvis Costello, The Pogues, The Waterboys, Emmylou Harris, Hothouse Flowers, The Everly Brothers, Christy Moore, Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Paul Brady and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin were just some of the dozens of artists who contributed to an adventurous series which traced the extraordinary return journey that Irish traditional music has made to America and beyond. One of the highlights for me was Paul Brady’s performance of ‘Nothing but the Same Old Story’ about his experiences as an Irish emigrant working in the UK. The imagery of the 1950s/1960s Irish immigrant working in the UK, in the accompanying video, was very evocative also. See the link below.
Oleta Adams-Get Here, Rod Stewart (The Motown Song and Broken Arrow), Zucchero ft Paul Young-Senza Una Donna, OMD-Pandora’s Box, Frances Nero-Footsteps Following Me, Erasure-Chorus, Beverley Craven-Promise Me, PM Dawn-Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, Scorpions-Wind of Change, Martika-Love Thy Will Be Done, Vic Reeves and the Wonder Stuff-Dizzy, Guns n Roses-Don’t Cry and The KLF ft Tammy Wynette-Justified and Ancient are, for the most part, far from classics. However, whenever any of these songs come on the radio, I’m back in 1991. Of course, Bryan Adams- ‘Everything I Do’ was number one for about 4 months from July, but I always turn the radio dial whenever I hear it! PM Dawn link here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5lByFc7HiM
Some of the classic albums released in 1991 include: Prince & The New Power Generation – Diamonds and Pearls, Primal Scream – Screamadelica, R.E.M. – Out of Time, Massive Attack – Blue Lines, Nirvana – Nevermind, Pearl Jam – Ten, U2 – Achtung Baby, Guns n Roses – Use Your Illusion (both I and II).
‘Bringing It All Back Home’ CD cover
Towards Year End
The summer had brought average weather in June and July, but from 10th August on until around 16th September the weather turned mostly warm, dry and sunny. The highest temperature of this warm spell occurred when 28.4C was recorded on the 5th September in Valentia, a very late date to break 27C. It was the highest temperature of the year and the highest September temperature recorded at that Met Station in nearly 100 years. It was just O.7C off the all-time September max set at Clongowes Wood, Kildare on 1st September 1906. 28.4C hasn’t been topped in Ireland in September since 1991, a noteworthy record given a lot of records have fallen in recent years, probably due to Climate Change. We were back to boarding school on Monday evening, 2nd September, a balmy warm night. You always would be taken aback by lads who shot up 3 or 4 inches over the summer break! That was the warmest September week I remember. The 14-19 September 2003 comes in an honourable second place. After class and afternoon tea at 4pm in the refectory our new Dean of Discipline, Mr. Bradley, would announce swimming down at the Barrow beside the school. If various sport training wasn’t on, I’d go down for the fun, even though I couldn’t swim. Mr. Bradley was a bit of a fitness fanatic; he was introducing us to one arm and military pushups and some of the 6th years were training like the next Arnold Schwarzenegger! I had some new teachers, including Biology teacher Frank Lyons, who had a great way about him, made learning fun. Phrases such as ‘Fasciola Hepatica’ (liver fluke) and ‘Lumbricus Terrestris’ (the earth worm) would never be forgotten. Mr. Lyons experimental classes across the sciences were literally, explosive, sitting in the front row wasn’t advised and the ceiling in the old science room was well discoloured! Another memorable class was Hons Irish with Mr. Killoran, we had 10 or 11 in the class. Now I had Mr. Killoran for 4 years at this stage, a very likeable affable man. There was always a bit of craic in his classes at the top of the Study Hall. Enda Everard from Templetuohy, a gas man, was central to a lot of this. One morning he had decked out the statue of St. Joseph, in the room, in a leather jacket holding a hurl and a cigarette in his mouth, looking like he meant business. Mr. Killoran would try to remain serious, but he never could hold a smile back, and you knew when he was cracking up internally. Even though we were a year and a half away from our Debs Ball, Enda would ask in the middle of class ‘any chance one of your daughters would go to my Debs Sir?!’. Mr. Killoran would try and hide his own mirth and point down at the textbook telling us he wanted to push ahead for ‘the 10%’, this being the percentage he calculated were actually interested in learning gaeilge! Myself and my pal, Fergus Clune, from Rathdrum in Wicklow, were two of the quieter lads in the class. Once Enda remarked ‘if it was Wally (myself) or Fergus asked, I bet ya you’d let your daughters go to the debs with them’!
The Teaching Staff, Knockbeg, 1991-92
Football training for Senior and Junior teams started when we returned in September. We were progressing nicely in the Senior South Leinster competition. In Junior football we failed to make it out of our group, we beat Bagenalstown DLS but lost to FCJ Bunclody and Kildare DLS. Tommy Howard, who reffed the 4 Dublin v Meath games that year was the ref when we played Kildare. Chris Conway was a very talented 13-old-player playing both U14 and Junior. He would go on to be a Laois star in the years to come. I remember getting a talking to by our coach, John Curtis, for sending in ‘high loopy suicidal balls’ to Chris in the full forward line! I was playing midfield with Padraig Costigan from Templetuohy, I suppose you could describe us as workmanlike! If it came to us, we generally moved it on fairly quickly. Overall, we lacked the talent of the Knockbeg football teams of a decade on and later. The 2005 Knockbeg team, trained by Chris Conway, a teacher in the school for several years now, and captained by Laois underage star, Donie Brennan, would win their first ever Hogan Cup against St Mary’s of Galway.
On the domestic political front Fianna Fail were in power, with Charles Haughey leading the party since 1979. Haughey’s grip on political power began to slip in the autumn of 1991. There was a series of resignations by chairmen of semi-state companies, followed by an open declaration by Minister for Finance Albert Reynolds, that he had every intention of standing for the party leadership if Haughey resigned. Following a heated parliamentary party meeting, Seán Power, one of Reynolds’s supporters, put down a motion of no-confidence in Haughey. Reynolds and his supporters were sacked from the government by Haughey, who went on to win the no-confidence motion by 55 votes to 22. However, it was a short-lived victory for Haughey as more problems surfaced in the New Year. In the USSR hardline communists, who opposed Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforming and opening policies of perestroika and glasnost, staged a coup in August. Boris Yeltsin rallied the Russian people and was instrumental in bringing down the coup. On 12 June 1991, Yeltsin had won 57% of the popular vote in the democratic presidential elections for the Russian republic, he was emerging as the strong man, in what now would be the Russian Federation, as the USSR began to break up in late 1991.
One other highlight associated with 1991, which personally I don’t deem to be one at all, is Gordon Hamilton’s try v Australia in the quarter final of that years Rugby World Cup. We played a solid game that day, but we were outscored 3 tries to 1. We led the game with 3 minutes to go and couldn’t hold onto the ball and lead. The try itself, while of fair quality, was far from spectacular! Jack Clarke and Gordon Hamilton did very well to finish the move. In rugby, at the time, we tended to over celebrate ‘moral’ victories. We weren’t creative for most of the decade, we had Simon Geoghegan and other talented individuals, and had once off victories, like in Twickenham in the 1994 5 Nations. When you get yourself infront with 3 minutes to go, like that RWC quarter final, it’s pretty poor game management not to be able to see the thing out. I readily admit the atmosphere at the ground seemed amazing that day you could feel it and the tension through tv. I find the clip hard watching to this day, when you know what came directly after. A year later Ireland played Australia in an autumn international in Lansdowne. Aussie star wing David Campese drew the wrath of the Irish team, management, press and fans before the game. He commented ‘the Irish rugby team has 2 plans, in the first number 9 kicks the ball up in the air and they all run after it, the second plan is number 9 passes to number 10, who kicks the ball up in the air and they all run after it’! We didn’t like it, but he was essentially right. That try from 1991 is on Reeling in the Years and constantly replayed on other programmes too. (To be fair Reeling in the 1990s was made by RTE in early 2000 when this try was as good as it got nationally that decade!) The other side of the coin is, despite our success since rugby’s revival at provincial and national level post 2000, it’s the closest we’ve come to reaching a World Cup semi-final! Here’s a link to the 4 tries scored, Ireland v Australia, on 20th October 1991. (Australia would go on to beat England in the final).
I find it a lot easier to recall events between 1983 and 2007 than I do later years. It must be something to do with these being one’s formative years. While I’d remember the main events of latter years, many of the little things each year that stood out when I was younger no longer seem to do. As the years appear to pass by more quickly certain events seem to merge and coalesce, I find I must check with myself whether something happened in 2014 or 2015! A lot of memories are new in your early years and stay with you, while sometimes later in life there might be a lot of repetition involved in what you’re doing workwise etc. I think new experiences, different stages of life are what really trigger memory. The year 1991 will, hopefully, always stay with me.
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