Category Archives: Sports

Aviva Stadium

I was driving home on Christmas Eve and I was tempted to stop loads of times in Dublin city by the sky, before I finally succumbed in Ringsend. where I took a photo from the bridge, down towards Lansdowne Road stadium, now known as the Aviva Stadium.

I like the stadium. It’s on my to-do list to photograph at night time, probably from the same spot.

After getting my photo fix I continued happily to Wexford.

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Christmas Day in Cullenstown

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So we decided to ward off Christmas cabin fever by getting out for a couple of hours earlier.

My brothers Declan and Pádaí, our friend Anthony and I headed for the nearby Cullenstown Strand.

It was a beautiful, clear day, with the clouds and inevitable rain only closing in just as we left.

The lads mostly played hurling and I mostly took photographs during the preceding two hours or so.

Anthony, for an Aussie who has never played hurling before, proved a natural.

The exercise and sea air primed use well for a delicious Christmas dinner back in the Cullen household.

Anthony, Declan and Pádaí

Anthony, Declan and Pádaí

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I'm not the only one who takes photos around here - Anthony in action!

I’m not the only one who takes photos around here – Anthony in action!

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The story behind a hero and a statue

Mark Richards hard at work on his statue of Nickey Rackard. The finished article will be unveiled at Selskar Square in Wexford town next March.

There aren’t too many statues being commissioned in Ireland these days.

Even if there was any money left in the public coffers, we veered away from statues some time ago, generally in favour of more contemporary pieces of public art.

However, in a studio on the English-Welsh border one of the UK’s finest exponents of portrait sculpture is currently dedicating almost every waking hour to a statue of one of this country’s greatest ever sportsmen.

Nickey Rackard will be immortalised in bronze in Selskar Square in Wexford town in March 2012.

The Rathnure man was one of the finest hurlers to ever grace the game and his exploits on the field in the purple and gold of Wexford are legendary.

However, Nickey experienced as many low moments as high ones in his life due to his chronic alcohol addiction.

He showed extraordinary courage to not only eventually come to terms with his problem after many years and, as the man himself wrote, experiencing “the depths of misery and degradation”, but to speak honestly and openly about it at a time when it was still very much a taboo subject in this country.

Nickey travelled the country with AA trying to help others and the pieces he penned on his life and battle with alcohol addiction remain as relevant today as they were then. He eventually died of cancer in 1976.

In my humble opinion, Nickey Rackard’s greatest battle was with himself and his greatest triumph was one of the human spirit. There are lessons there to be learned for all of us and that is why far more than a hurling hero is being honoured in Wexford next March.

His life and battle with alcoholism, including the views of Nickey’s son Bobby and some of his own words from pieces he wrote down through the years, are charted in this excellent article by Dermot Crowe.

The fascinating thing I’ve learned about the statue itself is the huge level of research, commitment and attention to detail that have gone into it by renowned sculptor Mark Richards.

Mark has made many visits to Wexford before and since he was awarded the commission by Wexford Borough Council and said he is well aware just how much Nickey Rackard means to people here.

“He’s an iconic figure, but you have to turn that pressure into inspiration or it could become overwhelming. It’s a tall order, but Nickey Rackard is my life at the moment. I’m really enjoying it. It’s very exciting and very challenging,’ he told me.

But before he ever thought about getting to work in the studio, Mark had a lot of research to do, on a number of fronts, starting with the site for the statue in Selskar Square.

However, this was far from the most challenging aspect of his research – hurling is not exactly a popular game where he’s from, he readily confesses! Then there was the significant task of researching the man to be commemorated by his statue.

Mark threw himself right into it and here’s just seven interesting aspects of his work to date:

  • Mark got Wexford’s Kevin Gore to show him hurling in action, paying particular attention to the movements and all the finer details, such as how the hurl and sliothar are held. He filmed the footage to study it.
  • Local hurl maker Philip Doyle made the sculptor a replica of a hurl used in the 1950s, which Mark describes as “a beautiful object”. He also visited the Croke Park Museum, to view a hurl used by Nickey’s brother Bobby in the 1955 All-Ireland Final.
  • He has been working closely with Nickey’s three children, Bobby, Marion and Bernadette. “They have been fantastic, they have been really great to me and provided me with a lot of information and inspiration,” said Mark, who was warmly welcomed and given access to the family archive, a veritable treasure trove of photographs and memorabilia, all of which have proved most helpful to him.
  • His most recent visit to the Rackards was an unusual one as it saw him bring with him a model of their late father’s head to ensure that he gets the likeness spot on! “You can only get so much from a photo and most of the photos are from the front, there’s no profile,” said Mark.
  • The statue will show Nickey Rackard in a pose familiar to people who saw the legendary full-forward play. “I want him to be caught in movement, looking at the goal just before he throws the sliothar up for a strike,” he said.
  • Nickey Rackard, the bronze version, will be over seven feet tall – or life-and-a-quarter size! Mark explained that this is because “humans are actually quite small things in isolation”, but that we seem bigger due to our personalities, movement and the noise we make. He said that you actually have to increase the size of a statue by 25% for it to seem life-size, describing it as “a trick of the trade”.
  • An unexpected by-product of his work has been the emergence of hurling – or a version of it at least – on the English-Welsh border. “The children and neighbours were playing it during the summer. It was funny to see a hurling scene on the common,” said Mark. However, it’s not exactly the game we know and love over here as he did point out that “we have our own version of hurling, which involves the dog!”

You can follow Mark’s progress, get a full behind-the-scenes look at his work on the Nickey Rakcard statue and delve into the more technical details of the sculpting process on this site.

“She won more than medals – she won hearts”

So the Special Olympic are over. The athletes are all home since last Tuesday and the four Wexford representatives won no less than eight medals.

I was in Enniscorthy this morning for the homecoming of Mary O”Brien and Ann Marie Talbot, pictured above with Irish soccer legend Paul McGrath (more about him later).

Pride and joy were the overriding emotions at the County Wexford Community Workshop (CWCW), which the dynamic table tennis duo attend, for their welcome home party.

It’s rare to attend something that is so purely positive and untainted by any sort of self promotion or grandstanding. There were no agendas here, just good old fashioned community celebrations.

I caught up with Ann Marie’s parents, Brendan and Dympna, nestled in a quiet corner, proudly watching their daughter in the spotlight. She may be a sprightly 42-years-old, but there was no doubt from talking to them that she’s still their little girl. Literally and figuratively!

Her height puts Ann Marie at a disadvantage in table tennis, but what she lacks in stature she more than makes up for in spirit, as Brendan explained to me:

“She’s very quiet, gentle and loving… until you put a medal at stake and then she’ll knock the daylights out of you! She fights tooth and nail for every shot and never knows when she’s beaten.”

Mary’s family were equally proud and loved watching her revel in the limelight, not least her entertaining exchange with the excellent MC for this morning’s event, local sports broadcaster Liam Spratt. ‘We’re very proud of her, she’s done so well,’ he sister Anna told me, while another proud sister, Margaret, was not one bit surprised that Mary had returned home with a gold medal.

In the end though, the real measure of success was in the beaming faces of all those who attend the community workshop and their two Olympic heroes.

Fintan Broaders, himself a former Special Olympian, summed it up when he spoke on behalf of all the service users there: “Congratulations Anne Marie and Mary for bring such joy to the workshop. Enjoy your moment, we all know how hard you’ve worked for it.”

On another note, there were lots of local dignitaries there today, but the man who most wanted to speak to was Irish soccer legend Paul McGrath, who lives in the area.

Paul, as was pointed out to me several times by different CWCW staff, is a regular visitor up there and great supporter of the vital services they provide. He also knows a thing or two about the fighting spirit that’s to be found in abundance there.

The polite and unassuming gentle giant of Irish soccer was a real star today, quietly lending his support to the event, while making time for all his friends from the CWCW, which is perfectly encapsulated in Pat O’Connor’s photo above, one of the many great shots the Enniscorthy Guardian man took today.

The Special Olympics is the subject I wrote about in my first ever blog post about, which was inspired by meeting Wexford’s Carole Ryan and her family.

The title of this post is a quote from Carole’s mother Mary. I spoke to her this week after her daughter returned home with two gold medals, countless new friends and priceless memories.

I hope she gets as good a welcome home in Wexford on Saturday as Ann Marie and Mary received in Enniscorthy morning. Bernadette Kennedy also a great welcome in Gorey on Tuesday night.

Get thee to Kilmore Quay… but don’t run in the dunes!

THOUSANDS of seafood lovers will flock to a small Co Wexford fishing village this weekend.

Kilmore Quay is famous for its many thatched cottages and it’s fishing, with the latter taking centre stage over the coming days as the picturesque seaside village hosts its annual Seafood Festival.

The festival begins in seafaring style Thursday night with a maritime-themed parade through the village and the programme of events continues through to Sunday evening.

Tonight also sees the festival’s famous seafood platter prize competition, where the local restaurants and bars compete to create the best seafood platter, with bragging rights bestowed on the winner as their creations are enjoyed by the crowd.

The local fish processors in Kilmore Quay have come together for the traditional fish market, which starts Friday and will offer visitors the best of freshly caught seafood at once-off, specially reduced rates. Fresh seafood will also be available to buy at the harbour stalls on Saturday and Sunday.

However, there’s more than seafood on the menu, Kilmore Quay will also be serving up “mussels” of a different variety during the Republic of Ireland’s Strongest Man competition and there are a vast array of exhibitions and activities, from yacht races to sandcastle building competitions.

Festival Co-ordinator Sylvia Kehoe said this year’s festival is centred on “seafood, fishing and free family fun”.

“This festival has been firmly established over the last 26 years with families who travel to Kilmore Quay to join in the traditional family fun of the festival and to enjoy the fresh catch from the Wexford coastline,” said Ms Kehoe.

“We are expecting large crowds and we have a five day festival programme with something for everyone to enjoy,’ she added.

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I was down in Kilmore village and KIlmore Quay this evening and as I have started running again this week (a whole other blog post in the making!) I said I’d get one in while I was down there.

So I took my dodgy hip and rickety shins through the dunes on The Burrow. Beautiful scenery, but Maram grass is not my friend!

Baring all and risking all for charity

I have spoken to two Wexford people in recent days whose charitable endeavours have involved taking to the sea and both of them had interesting stories to tell.

One of these people, 74-year-old Olive Vaughan from Kilrane, shed her inhibitions and her clothes in aid of cancer research.

Olive took part in the “Dip in the Nip” in Sligo last weekend and had a wonderful time. She went there with her brother Cyril and his wife Maureen, who is currently recovering from cancer.

All three took part in the mass skinny dip and their unusual choice of headwear meant they were able to pick their derrieres out of the many that appeared in the photos in the national newspapers today!

You can read all about how Olive got on (and see some cheeky photos) in the Wexford People on Wednesday, where you’ll also find the story of Pat Whitney (see below), who should have worn a bit more when he entered the water in Curracloe recently.

Pat will turn 60 soon, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down and the end of his cycling career last year has seen him switch his considerable energy and attention to open water swimming.

If you are partial to a dip yourself then please support Pat’s swim in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Turst for Cystic Fibrosis at Curracloe next Saturday. I’ve been in there a couple of times myself recently and it’s not that cold, though if you’re staying in for a while wear a wetsuit!

And you thought “golf widows” had it bad…

BADLY disorientated with hypothermia, Pat Whitney heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line when he dialled 999 from Curracloe recently.

Most people would have thought they were hallucinating in the same scenario, but then most people are not married to Ambulance Control Centre workers.

The Enniscorthy man’s wife Marie picked up the phone and couldn’t make much sense of what her husband was saying on the of the line, but she deciphered enough to get an ambulance out to him quickly.

The 59-year-old’s body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low 32 degrees after he had discarded his wetsuit in favour of his togs and went for a long open-sea swim in choppy water.

‘I felt as if I was drunk,’ recalled Pat. He said he got ‘a bad dose’ of hypothermia and was approaching a point where heart failure or slipping into a coma becomes a danger.

He said he was so disorientated it took him half an hour to get from the water to his car and in the meantime he was exposed to a harsh north easterly wind.

He recalled tha he met another man while he was out swimming (from Ballinesker to Curracloe and back) and he had told Pat he must be ‘hardy’ for swimming without a wetsuit. Apparently that’s not quite how Marie sees it!

He was back swimming in a few days and the incident hasn’t put Pat off his newfound passion, after he was forced to give up his first sporting love, cycling, last year.

‘I had to put the bike away last year. Both knees were gone after 35 years of racing and falls,’ said Pat, joking that he and Marie have spent much of their marriage in A&E due to his sporting interests.

To keep fit he took up swimming and quickly developed a love for sea or open water swimming. ‘I’m not waving the white flag just yet,’ said Pat, when asked about his ambitious plans for the coming months as he prepares to turn 60.

First on the agenda is a charity swim he has organised in Curracloe, which will take place on Saturday, July 2 (three weeks before his 60th birthday) at 5 p.m.

Pat has organised the swim as a precursor to, and fundraiser for, a sponsored swim he is doing in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Trust for Cystic Fibrosis next September, when he will be one of a group from Co Wexford who will swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

Registration for the Curracloe swim next Saturday will take place at The Winning Post in the main car park. There is a short swim and a long swim. The long swim is approximately one mile the short swim is as long as you are able for or comfortable with.

The entry fee is €25, which includes refreshments in Hotel Curracloe, who are sponsoring the event, after the swim.

Not content with the San Francisco swim, Pat is also hoping to mark his 60th birthday by being part of a team to swim the English Channel.

To qualify as a member of this team he will have to complete a two-mile open water swim – without a wetsuit – in Kinsale, Co Cork, on Saturday July 9. Although he said he’s not faring too bad – those hoping to swim solo across the channel have to complete six hours.

In the meantime, Pat is continuing his training in earnest and when she can Marie now walks along the shore to keep an eye on him!

Contact Pat on 086-8172231 or Ian Lawlor on 087-2696983 for an entry form or further details about next Saturday’s charity swim in Curracloe.

Registration forms can also be downloaded here.