-The Munster Boys of Melbourne, 12th July 1843-44
The Munster Clans from far and near,
All thoughts of danger scorning,
With hands and hearts that knew no fear,
Came mustering fast that morning,
A warning voice had speeded forth,
Which brooked of no delay;
And East and West, and South and North,
Were at their posts that day
- Edmund Finn
All lovers of hurling know that the ferocious intensity and at times, naked aggression of the Tipperary and Clare clashes of the mid to late 1990s were born of the antagonism that was sparked between two clashing cultures. One county’s tradition spoke of a prime hurling pedigree, of Hell’s Kitchen and the Doyles, Jimmy and John. And, of course, scintillating stylists like the smiling assassin Nicholas English, a brave and magnificent hurler. The other county’s hurling tradition spoke of God’s musical people, the nearly men of Clare. It was a county which had bequeathed venerated greats to the game such as Jimmy Smyth and Dr Tommy Daly but had always come up short on the big stage since 1932. Even the famed optimism of the Banner folk of Clare, which had once caused the Limerick legend, Mick Mackey to remark that ‘Clare expect to win an All-Ireland every year’, was almost permanently extinguished by 1995. It was only when a Feakle native, one Gerard Loughnane, Clare’s first All-star hurler, a man who witnessed up close the playing out of this valiant losers/chokers tag on the hurling fields of Munster, steeled a team of both manly and gifted hurlers to annex their first All-Ireland in 81 years, that Clare could regain its rightful place as kingpins of hurling. Yet to the Tipperary man, no such bold claim could ever be asserted without having the scalps of the proud blue and gold to hand. When these two houses furiously clashed on the double in 1997, the ‘whipping boys’ of Clare backed up the street cred they had earned in 1995, and there was no more ‘dissing’ to be heard from Slievenamon. Respect had been earned the hard way.
Amidst the rancour of these and later matches, including one particularly bitter u-21 feud at Cusack Park, it was conveniently overlooked by many in each camp that it was the father of Gaelic football, Maurice Davin, the great Tipperary world champion athlete and the true father of Gaelic football who had led the answer to the Clareman Michael Cusack’s clarion call to form the Gaelic Athletic Association. Yet what was never mentioned was a place called Batman’s Hill, thousands of miles away in the Australian state of Victoria, and how the Premier and the Banner counties through their hurling prowess were in the vanguard of physical and cultural resistance to imperial domination.
Melbourne, a sophisticated world city in the south-east corner of mainland Australia, is a sports mad town with a particularly fervent passion for Aussie Rules. Originally founded as Port Philip in 1835 by Tasmanian settlers, it is the state capital of Victoria, an area which had in the mid-nineteenth century attracted a large influx of Irish emigrants from Munster, and in particular Clare and Tipperary. It was at Batman’s Hill in Melbourne, named after one of the original Tasmanian settlers, that a great battle for Irish sporting, cultural and religious freedom in Australia was won.
Sectarian tensions had been transported from the old country and when it was announced in the summer of 1843 that a July 12th Orange parade was to be held in Melbourne, many Irish feared that it was to be a continuation of the ritualistic violence which had accompanied such parades at home. The parade had been called by the recently formed Orange Confederation to ‘perpetuate the glorious, pious and immortal memory of William the Third’. Then three days before the planned parade an advertisement in the Herald newspaper appeared, inviting all Irish colonists to attend on July 12th the county hurling match for £50 between Clare and Tipperary. It was an apparent ploy, a call to arms as such, to assemble a large crowd with hurleys. The call was answered. There was a very strong Munster contingent present as indeed a notable constabulary presence also who were all treated to a glorious exhibition of hurling by the Clare and Tipp men. This clever ruse achieved its purpose of a display of strength that would not be cowered, and indeed not alone was the Orange parade cancelled but some of the intended marchers enjoyed the lively day’s hurling. The footballers of Clare and Tipperary thereafter thrilled the gathered masses of exiles and curious Antipodeans as a sequel to the day’s hurling affairs.
A contemporary account continues:
“The old year died, and the New Year was born, and about its period of middle age, rumour, with her hundred tongues, began to babble in loud whispers of the wonderful things to which the next 12th July was to bear witness. This time there was to be a grand Orange procession with flags flying and drums beating. The Orange tune of ‘Croppies Lie Down’ was to be played, and no hurling match or any other power under the sun should prevent it…
The preparations on both sides were quietly prosecuted, and the first startling intimation given was an advertisement in the Herald of the 10th proclaiming that ‘The greatest sport under the sun! – The grandest hurling match ever witnessed (even in old Ireland) will come off on Saturday next (12th) at twelve o’clock noon, on Batman’s Hill’. It was to be between all the Munster men in the province, and the players were to constitute a numerous team, for the ‘boys’ of the six counties were to be in the fielding, viz., Tipperary, Clare and Limerick against Waterford, Cork and Kerry. ‘All strapping young fellows were requested to attend, and to be sure and bring good hurlies, etc., etc., with them.’ What ‘the etceteras’ included was left as guesswork and widely interpreted.
Saturday, the 12th., was a fine winter’s day, and three fourths of the Melbournian population went off to the hurling. The spectators could be reckoned by thousands, and about 500 of as fine specimens of adult population as could be picked out of Ireland, threw off their coats, and set to work with a ringing Hibernian hulloo. Such a gathering of the clans, and such a real Irish turn-out have never been reproduced in Victoria. On the hill prevailed a promiscuous sort of enjoyment, much appreciated; and although there was no refreshment, gambling or music tents there, pocket-pistols, well primed with strong mountain dew, were in much request, and nipped and shared with true Irish hospitality.
And thus did a hurling match achieve for a second time a peculiar and bloodless victory. No third hurling match was ever required, for no Orange procession afterwards was either effected or even menaced.”
The Clare and Tipperary hurlers of 1843-44 showed that this was a new world where croppies would never have to lie down, where the prowess of the Gaelic games Cusack was to codify forty years later could be enjoyed by three quarters of Melbourne’s population. Today, the city of Melbourne is the home, workplace and leisure centre of one of the world's most harmonious and culturally diverse communities. This owes much to the unique and momentous occasion of the great gathering of Gaels at Batman’s Hill, Melbourne, Australia in 1843. The new sporting association founded by Cusack with Davin, forty years after the events of Batman’s Hill, would in effect represent a sporting reincarnation of the pre-famine Catholic and Repeal mass-movements. Cusack himself admitted that ‘every social movement in Ireland is to a certain extent necessarily political.’So scratch enough beneath the surface of a Clare-Tipp rivalry, and there you will find a brotherly bond, bewitched by an endearing love for an ancient Irish art form, a bond that stretches back through turbulent ages.
One final shout to Loughnane who presented his and Clare’s first all star trophy to this writer some moons ago when setting up the award winning Riches of Clare Museum. He once invoked the spirit of the Orangemen at halftime of the single most defining match of his tenure, the Munster Final breakthrough of 1995, and is now going toe to toe with a serious illness, and we return that shout to him now – no surrender.
Daniel McCarthy can be contacted at [email protected], all heritage project commissions considered, regardless of international boundaries,Tipperary related included.