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A New Book Explores How Limerick's Famine Begot Its Feast

A New Book Explores How Limerick's Famine Begot Its Feast
By Donny Mahoney Updated
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This might feel presumptive, but I sense the 2018 All-Ireland hurling final will be remembered as a famous day in the sporting history of this Irish century. It was the last All-Ireland final played in September, for one thing. And, of course, it was the first All-Ireland win for Limerick in 45 years.

Something momentous was born that afternoon. Long after the whistle, jubilant Limerick fans sang Linger and Sean South of Garryowen (even though the Croke Park PA wouldn't play the song) on the Hill. The raw emotion of Limerick people was big and it was beautiful. Years and years of hurt and defeat just vanished  into the sky like a Nickie Quaid long puckout. And behind it all was a sense of predestination: this might be no one off. Future legends claimed their greatness that day.

The story of Limerick hurling has been told in a new book by Arthur James O'Dea called Limerick: A Biography In Nine Lives. It is one of the most ambitious GAA books of the last ten years. Arthur was a writer for Balls.ie in 2018. He had written a PhD on Bob Dylan before joining us, and carried his Limerick fandom proudly, if modestly.

This writer happened to sit beside O'Dea on that day in the Cusack Stand lower. I support Galway, and we Galway fans were still in a phase of carefree acceptance after our own drought ended the year before. When it was all over, I couldn't have been happier for Arthur, his dad and all the Limerick supporters who'd waited so long and endured 1994 in 1994 and then nearly a second time that day, only to taste glory. But during those mental final ten minutes of the game, when Joe Canning went full beast mode and Limerick wobbled, we probably would have wrestled each to the death for our respective counties. It was pretty intense down there in the lower Cusack. A cauldron.

We asked Arthur a few questions about his book and Limerick hurling.

Can you explain what made Mick Mackey one of the greatest Irish sportspeople of the 20th century?

In short, I can't really, no. It's one of those great unanswerables to some extent. Obviously, something about the way he played the game endeared him to people, but we've really no visual recollection of that available to us. From my speaking to Ann Mulqueen for the book, someone who knew Mick Mackey personally, he didn't seem to be a very gregarious person (I'm not even sure what kind of charisma would have been transmittable in the 1930s, '40s), so I suspect it can only have been his hurling that propelled him forward as an iconic figure.

Was a there a day or a moment in your adolescence or young adulthood when you came to fully appreciate the psychic baggage you'd be hauling by supporting the Limerick hurling team?

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There are two. Both games against Kilkenny. The 2007 All-Ireland final was absolutely crushing, but it kind of felt like Limerick would probably have needed a miracle to beat that team on that day. All the same, at 16 or so you don't really see it that way. Although I was probably out of my adolescence by 2014, the All-Ireland semi-final defeat that year was arguably worse. There was a game where you really felt that Limerick had what it took. When they did eventually fall short it just kind of confirmed what felt like a pre-destined fate for the county: good, but never good enough.

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2 September 2007; Limerick captain Damien Reale leads his players during the pre-match parade. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final, Kilkenny v Limerick, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture Credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Randomly, we were sitting next to each other when Galway fell just short to Limerick in the 2018 All-Ireland. Do you ever wonder what would have happened if the Canning free went over and Galway found a way to win? Basically, was this era of dominance inevitable?

I mean, for the supporters I think it would have been absolutely devastating. As bad as 1994 must have been to experience first hand, I think losing to Galway from the position Limerick were in could have been catastrophic. Now, what is sometimes overlooked I guess is that those same hurlers in '94 bounced back to reach the final again in 1996. They didn't win, granted, but I do think that given the calibre of hurlers Limerick possess now it is not unfeasible to reckon they could have bounced back similarly. All the same, a serious hurdle is jumped in winning that first All-Ireland and I suppose any era of dominance begins there. I think whatever happened Limerick would have had a team capable of causing problems, but getting over the line in 2018 - even if they just limped over it - removed the inevitable pressure that faces any team looking to end such a long drought.

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The bloodlines of many great Limerick hurling families obviously run through today's team. The Quaids though seem unique. Can you tell us about writing the chapter on Tommy Quaid and how his legacy has shaped his son Nickie?

From my perspective, Breda Quaid was key. She does a good enough job of playing down her own role, so I have no apprehensions about sharing my admiration for her. I absolutely loved to learn that she was at her core a hurling fanatic who happened to fall in love and marry an inter-county hurler. The joy she took in travelling with Tommy and his family around the country to Limerick matches mirrored what I imagine most people who will pick up the book feel about the sport. And then, I mean, for her to lose that person in such tragic circumstances, it is heartbreaking. While it might seem inevitable to some degree that Nickie Quaid goes on to do what he did given his family links, I just think so much credit has to go to Breda. She is the one who in Tommy's colossal absence keeps things going, keeps that initial love of hurling going and makes sure her three sons don't feel at all alienated or disillusioned by the sport and their inherited legacy. Breda is a sensational person and speaking to her about her life was probably the greatest pleasure I had in writing the book.

17 July 2022; Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup with 17-month-old Daithi Quaid after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

You're a Dylanologist. What Dylan song best captures Limerick hurling from 1973 - 2018?

Ha - Dylanologist has connotations I do not want any association with! But to answer your question, "Most of the Time". However frustrating things could be year on year, supporters kept on coming back. In hope more than expectation, admittedly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq7EM8jjNUs

And what Dylan song best captures Limerick hurling from 2018- today?

"Forever Young". What this team has achieved is timeless. They've taken people beyond the limits of all expectation and I struggle to imagine that that will ever be forgotten by those of us lucky enough to witness it.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Frj2CLGldC4

Limerick: A Biography In Nine Lives by Arthur James O'Dea is available in all good bookstores, and their websites.

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