This extract from “ Skirts Hurlin’ “, written & researched by Pat & Kathleen McNamara from Killanena, gives us an excellent account of the early days of camogie in the Banner county.
The early days
In 1932, Mick Hennessy of Clooney, the founding father of camogie in Clare, was secretary of Clare County GAA Board, a position he held with great distinction for many years. He was an extremely popular officer of that board and also commanded great respect among the sporting public, having been an outstanding hurler himself. His playing career extended over many, many years with the great Clooney team of the era. He also lined out with both Clare & Munster.
Mick Hennessy was given to preparing in good time for upcoming challenges and was mindful in 1932, that the GAA would celebrate its Golden Jubilee two years later. He knew that attention would be focused generally on the state of Gaelic Games in the country and more particularly, in the county of Cusack himself. He was concerned that unless something radical was done, and soon, that there would be a void in the Banner Countys Jubilee celebrations due to the absence of any meaningful camogie presence. While there are fleeting references to the occasional game having been played in previous decades, Clare lagged behind other counties in its duty to organise camogie.
Mick decided to grasp the nettle himself and looked to his native Clooney to ascertain the level of interest in getting the game established. His initial promptings were received with much enthusiasm and in no time, up to sixteen girls, whose average age was just over fourteen, began training informally. Clooney Camogie Club was officially founded in 1933, thereby providing Clare with its first club. Initially, the girls trained with the hurlers on Sundays and a couple of evenings a week. Paddy Carmody took charge of training sessions and was ably assisted by Sean Lee, a Cork native living in Ennis.
The first County Camogie Board:
Hennessy used his considerable influence to encourage the further establishment of camogie clubs, particularly where hurling clubs were already in existence. During 1933, quite a number of friendly games were played in various parts of the county. The time was now ripe for formally setting up Clares first camogie board and this historic event took place in February 1934 in Clooney. Delegates attended from Clooney, Ennis, Kilshanny, Doolin, Newmarket, Meelick, Ballynacally & Tulla. The officers elected were : President : Sean Lee; Chairman : Michael Hennessy and Secretary : Martina Griffin. They immediately organized a league and Sean O’Grady, a T.D. from Crusheen, donated a cup bearing his name for that league. The first league match took place in the Fairgreen in Ennis on St. Patricks Day, 1934 between Clooney and the host club. Clooney won the match and remained unbeaten that year, earning the honour of becoming the first camogie champions in Clare.
Hennessys success in establishing camogie in Clare was evident as eight camogie teams, led by Martina Griffin, paraded through Ennis as part of the GAA Golden Jubilee celebrations in the summer of 1934.
Clare up to 1958:
The early era of organized camogie in Clare was dominated by Clooney at club level. Indeed, at one stage in the late 1930s, their most serious adversary was a second team from the parish called Creevagh. Kilshanny seems to be the only team that put a stop to Clooneys gallop by eventually annexing the O’Grady cup in 1945.
Clare fielded teams in the Munster championships of 1934 & 1935, losing out to Kerry and Cork, respectively. The county board decided to withdraw from inter county competition as there was not a sufficient spread of clubs to supply players of adequate quality to trouble the powers in Munster, particularly Cork. By the early 1940s, Clare Camogie was in sufficiently good shape again to re-enter the Munster championship. This decision was vindicated when the Banner girls won their first Munster senior title in July 1944, defeating Waterford in the final on a scoreline of 3-01 to 3-00 at Cappaquin. Chris Markham was an outstanding player of that era and scored all of Clares tally in that historic final. Unfortunately, the Clare team was roundly defeated by Dublin in the All Ireland semi-final by 8-00 to 0-00.
The decline in Clares camogie fortunes from the pinnacle of July 1944 was swift and surprising. Clare did not defend their Munster title well in 1945. In subsequent years, matters declined to such an extent that the game almost ceased to be played, except sporadically. One of the reasons for this decline was the stagnant state of the Irish economy which was still heavily reliant on agriculture, resulting in emigration on a vast scale. Another factor to mitigate against camogie was early marriage and motherhood. Young married women in their twenties had plenty to occupy them between raising children and strenuous manual labour in the home and on the farm. There was little spare time for leisure pursuits. It was to be quite a number of years before Irelands Industrial Revolution arrived, but, when it did, it altered the face of a countryside that had seen little change for generations.