By Pauline Murphy
On August 26th, 1910, the Cork and Tipperary hurling teams set off for Belgium to showcase Ireland’s ancient national game. The idea for this came from the Chairman of the Cork County Board, J.J. Walsh.
The Brussels International Exhibition was in full flow at the time and the Pan-Celtic Congress was held there in conjunction with the exhibition. Walsh thought it was an ample opportunity to join the Pan-Celtic Congress to promote hurling in Europe, and no better way to do it than to send two of the best teams in Ireland!
To finance this grand idea, an exhibition match between Dungourney and Thurles was organised, with the proceeds of ticket sales going towards the trip to Belgium, but shocking weather resulted in the match being called off.
Munster Council had to stump up £100, while other shillings and pence were squeezed from local GAA friendly businesses and clergy.
The Cork team set off on their Belgium adventure on the morning of Friday, August 26th. Leading them was team captain Jamesy Kelleher of Dungourney. Other Dungourney men included Maurice O’Shea and Jim Garde.
Michael Cotter represented Shamrocks while Willie Williams flew the flag for Midleton. Jim Forde of the ‘Barrs, James Walsh of Sars, Bill MacKesey of the Rockies and Tom Irwin of Redmonds were some of those making up the Cork team.
The Tipp team met at Clonmel railway station to get a train to Waterford. Leading them was team captain Tom Semple of Thurles. Other Thurles man included Jack Mooney and Jack Mockler.
Michael O’Dwyer represented Holycross, while Tim Gleeson represented Drombane. Dick O’Hanrahan of Fethard joined the Borrisoleigh trio of William Carroll, Jack Lanigan and Eddy Finn.
The boys from the Premier County met up with the rebels of Cork in Waterford and from there they set sail for Fishguard. When they arrived, they then took the train to London and from there, they travelled by rail to Dover.
From the white cliffs, they sailed on board the Princess Clementine, which took them to Ostend, and from there, the hurlers took the train to Brussels, where the first of three exhibition matches took place the very next day.
The hurling contingent were tired after the long journey, but they went ahead with their first game at Malines, a town north of Brussels. The teams turned out in the town square complete with hurleys and playing gear and marched to the sports ground behind the O’Neill Pipe Band, who were in Brussels as part of the Pan-Celtic Congress.
The soccer pitch at the Racing Club De Malines saw ground hurling dictate the game for Cork and Tipp. The match was not a high scoring affair. Tipp won with five goals over Cork’s three, and the next stop for the exhibition hurlers was Fontenoy.
On Tuesday, August 30th, the hurling contingent arrived at the site of the famous battle in 1745, which saw an Irish Brigade fight for France against the British.
Local school children turned out to sing ‘God Save Ireland’ as the players took to the hurling battlefield. Unlike the first match in Malines, this one showed the best in the Tipperary Cork rivalry. Up to a dozen hurlers were broken and some bones too!
Cork’s Billy O’Neill met the wrong end of a Tipperary hurley, and while he was being bandaged up, he quipped to onlookers, “I’m not the first Irishman to shed his blood on this plain!” Cork won the day on a scoreline of 2-04 to 2-03.
The third and final game took place in Brussels and Tipp won it, but not before some controversy was kicked up. The match was due to start at 3pm, but players from both sides refused to play while a Union Jack flag was flying over the sports ground.
After three hours or arguments, the flag was temporarily lowered and the match took place.
By Friday evening, the hurling teams from Cork and Tipperary were back on Irish soil. The Tipp team were met at Thurles railway station by cheering crowds and the Confraternity Band.
For the hurlers of Cork and Tipperary, the trip to Belgium was an exhausting and exhilarating experience, but for the GAA, it resulted in a financial headache as the trip saw debt heap up, and it took a long time to sort out!