On the 29th of November 1937, almost 75 years ago, 261 boys came to school at the old St Patricks Boys National School at St Lukes Cross, Cork. When everyone was settled down and accounted for, the boys and their teachers marched up the Ballyhooly Road to the new school that had been built in the fields between the Ballyhooly Road and Gardiners Hill.
Also at that time the Brian Dillons Hurling and Football club was enjoying one of its most successful periods ever. The club’s high point came in 1938 when they defeated Cloughdubh 5-2 to 2-3 in the County Junior Hurling Championship final. Even though the country was in the grips of economic recession, and the German Nazi Party was beginning to cast a shadow across Europe, it was an exciting time to live in the Dillons Cross area.
The old St Patricks School at St Lukes Cross opened its doors for the first time in 1841. It was a primary school for boys and girls. Not that the boys and girls ever got a chance to mix. The boy’s school was on the ground floor of the two-storey building. The girl’s school was on the first floor. The boys entered from the Ballyhooly Road, just above where the pedestrian crossing is now. The girls entered from the opposite side of the building on Alexandra Road.
Only the boys moved ‘house’ in 1938. The girls would remain at St Lukes for another 20 years.
The writer Daniel Corkery was the first teacher to introduce Gaelic Games to St Patricks School in 1917. During his time on the staff of St Patricks he would have a major influence on many of the pupils who sat in his classroom. The sculptor Seamus Murphy and writer Frank O’Connor were two of his pupils. Corkery resigned his job as a primary teacher in 1921. He went on to be an art teacher, an inspector of Irish, a professor of English at UCC and a senator in Seanad Éireann.
He had a permanent limp which never allowed him to take part in Gaelic Games as a young man but he was proud to be the elected the president of Brian Dillons in 1931. One year after this, 1932, another important GAA figure was appointed to the staff of St Patricks. He was Pat Daly.
Pat Daly was one of those remarkable national teachers that seemed to be at the core of every developing community during the 20th century in Ireland. He is highly praised for his work in both Tim Horgan’s excellent books on the history of Brian Dillons (1984 and 2011).
“Pat Daly was years ahead of his time… he introduced coaching to Cork long before anybody knew what the word meant and he was an expert coach at hurling, football, boxing and athletics…he even had basketball in the school years before it became the sport it is today.”
In Pat Daly’s time the school was a conveyer belt of athletic talent. There are comprehensive lists in the Brian Dillons books. It includes All-Ireland hurling winners like Alan Lotty, Joe Kelly and Sean O’Brien, others GAA stars like Donie O’Donovan, Sean “Roundy” Horgan and John McCabe. In boxing, the school produced a series of national champions in Timmy and Tommy McNamee, the White brothers, Paddy Martin and Gunner Murray. As well as being a hurler, Joe Kelly was also an Irish sprint champion. Soccer internationals Jackie Driscoll, Tommy Byrne and Liam O’Neill were also pupils of the school. Not surprisingly, St Patricks Boys were regular winners of the School Shields GAA competitions at this time.
Pat Daly left St Patricks in 1945 but by then the tradition of playing games had been built and a new teacher JJ Fennessy had joined the staff. Between 1942 when he joined, until 1979 when he retired, the school continued to be competitive and successful in schools games and athletics. More importantly he encouraged a culture and environment within the school whereby boys could develop their sporting talents.
The Brian Dillons Club was the chief beneficiary of this. But there were other clubs and sports too. Some players went to Sarsfields and Glen Rovers, and, as mentioned in this column a few weeks ago a St Patricks Club was set up on the Lower Glanmire Road, Christian Brother Schools got players like John Barry, Donal Lenihan and Brendan Brides all of whom won Munster Schools Cup medals.
Through the 1950s and 60s the Dillons Cross area and the whole parish of St Patricks continued to grow. There seemed to be sports mad boys teeming out of every house. St Patricks Boys School, as the only school between Christians on Wellington Road and Mayfield, was a melting pot for all strands of life in the area.
There was no organised Bord na nÓg competition below under-14 level in the 1950s. Street leagues were the way of keeping boys occupied in competition. The street league concept suited the make up of St Patricks Parish and the school. There were teams for the Old Youghal Road, Dillons Cross, Ashburton, Kellehers Buildings, and later on Murmount. These were all natural geographic areas within the parish. In the 1950s there was even a rival street league organised by Glenview, a breakaway from Brian Dillons that lasted a number of years.
When I was in St Patricks between 1966 and 1971, the street leagues were one of the highlights of the year. The influence of these competitions can be seen by the competitiveness of Brian Dillons at juvenile and minor level during this era.
Three things happened in the 1970s to change the symbiosis of St Patricks School, the street leagues and Brian Dillons. The Bord na nÓg introduced competitions which accommodated boys down to 10 years of age. The area grew so populated on its outer edges that it merged into Mayfield, Ballyvolane and the new Glen area. Finally, the population of the old core areas like Old Youghal Road, Gardiners Hill and Ashburton matured and stopped producing dozens of boys.
In some ways the traditions and character of the Brian Dillons club became obscured by the population changes. The members never stopped working however. The headquarters was shifted from the small clubroom on Stream Hill, known as the “Hole-in-the-Wall” to the Tank Field. Finally, land was acquired near Whites Cross and a first-rate, flood-lit facility now stands there.
As happens with most clubs, it is no co-incidence that now, after a couple of decades have been spent on developing facilities; the club is once again in a Cork County Junior Hurling final next Sunday. What is a much more of a co-incidence is the fact that Dillons’ opponents next Sunday are Kildorrery.
The north Cork club defeated Brian Dillons in their last appearance in a Junior County final. That was the football final of 1978. Also, when Brian Dillons won their first county title, the Minor County Hurling championship of 1915 (minor was open to all ages back then), they defeated Rockmills in the final. Rockmills were in essence a forerunner of the Kildorrery Club.
In five weeks time, Thursday November 29th, the current teachers and boys of St Patricks National School will re-enact the procession from St Lukes Cross to the “new” school to mark the 75th anniversary of the original move. The world is a completely different place since the original procession. Despite this, St Patricks School and Brian Dillons have remained as important pillars of society in the north-east corner of Cork city.
No doubt, in 75 years time when the events of the next few weeks will have become part of the folklore of the area, St Patricks National School and Brian Dillons will still be serving the needs of Dillons Cross.