The earliest report of hurling in Gowran is in an account from Finn’s Leinster Journal of July 1768 on a dispute that arose at a hurling match on the Commons of Gowran, County Kilkenny. It was reported that a certain Anthony Langford received a stroke of a hurley that fractured his skull; he was carried off to the County Hospital, with little hopes of recovery. Several others were wounded.
We have no other record of hurling in Gowran before the 1920s. It is recalled by Jackie Harding that there was hurling in Gowran about 1923. He names Pierce Bolger, Jim Martin, Andy Comerford and Paddy McCarthy as some of the committee members. He remembers that they would have played in most of the fields around the village – anywhere a farmer would lend them a pitch. One such field was rented on the Thomastown road near the junction with the Mill Road at the racecourse. Later John Rice, a farmer from Bodal, gave a free pitch opposite Mattie Murphy’s house and they played there for a number of years.
Jackie recalls that the team never got past the first or second round and it was often Conahy or Mooneenroe who provided the opposition. This is backed up by reports in the Kilkenny People of the day. The following is a snippet from a report of the paper dated sat May 21st 1932 re Junior hurling championship:
“At the Nowlan Memorial Park on Sunday Mooneenroe defeated Gowran by 6 – 5 to 1 – 3. It was a second round tie in the Northern Junior hurling championship.
He mentions Paddy Den as being a good full back. Paddy hailed from Tipperary and worked for the Parish Priest. However in his opinion Andy Comerford was “the best for miles around”. Paddy McCarthy was goalkeeper. Others to hurl were Austin Murphy, Danny Doyle, Jack Denieffe, Mick Gorey, Minie Kennedy and his brothers Tom and Jack.
There was a club from Dungarvan affiliated to Kilkenny Southern Board at the time.
During the 1930’s hurling was strong in the county and in Gowran always registered a Junior Team. It would seem that this team went by the name of St. Finbarrs. There was no parish rule at the time. Players from this era were Martin Farrell, Mick Prendergast of Jeanville, John Curran , Upper Grange, Tom, Paddy, Jack and Tim O’Neill, Doninga, Ger Connolly, Dunbell, Billy Martin, John Walsh of the shop who hurled in goal, Paddy Reeves, Paulstown, Davy Power, Skeough and the O’Donnell brothers.
The juveniles were facilitated with a small pitch at O’Neill’s of Clashwilliam but the juniors found it more difficult to find a suitable field. All the area on the southeast of the village belonged to the Annally Estate with a well kept Cricket grounds and a man who worked in the estate to do groundsman. It was hard for the hurling team to progress beyond the first round as they always had to get a new field ready each year – they were always shifting. As a result, practice or training never started until the end of March.
Transport was always difficult in those days and the start of World War Two did not improve matters. Martin Farrell recalls having to sacrifice a Sunday when his father dispatched himself and Jamie Harding, who was in charge of the team, to collect four goalposts from Ryan’s of Maddoxtown and bring them to Clara. The family’s pony and trap were used for the job and Martin tells how the pony nearly got away on them going over the railway line in Clifden but eventually they made it. All this came about as the result of the draw. Gowran were drawn against a team from the City and the idea was to get them out to Clara. The match was on the following Sunday, so they had to give a few nights during the week getting the pitch ready. It was a good game but the lads were beaten by a few points.
In a rural area like Gowran, one had to find some recreation during the remainder of the summer. Many would have been in the Defence Forces and most joined the Cricket and Tennis Clubs.
In January 1944 Castle Rovers was formed. It’s first meeting took place under a hedge in what was then called Quirke’s Field in Bramblestown, now owned by the O’Neill Family. The club was named after Neigham Castle which can be clearly seen from this field. The main officers elected at that meeting were Chairman: Joe Glennon, Vice-Chairman: Jeremiah Hennessy, Secretary: Paddy O’Neill, Treasurer: Paddy Brennan. Other committee members were: John Denieffe, Daniel Murphy, Patrick Brennan(Snr), Thomas Fenlon, John Brennan, James Lennon, Paul Murphy, Thomas Walsh, William Hennessy, James Mullins. It was decided to affiliate a team with the Northern Board. Subscriptions were fixed at 2/6 of which 55 were paid for that year.
In 1945 Castle Rovers played three historic games against Graigue (now Graigue-Ballycallan). The teams drew the first game. The second game was abandoned due to the umpire being struck over a disputed point. Castle Rovers were winning the game at the time. After a meeting of the Northern Board the game was refixed. For the re-match Castle Rovers were missing a number of those who played in the previous games. It is reported that Graigue won the game by 5 points.
Famous players to play with Castle Rovers were Pat “Diamond” Hayden (who won a Junior All Ireland with Kilkenny in 1946 and a Senior All Ireland in 1947), and Nick O’Donnell who was one of the great Wexford stars of the 1950’s and who was picked on the Team of the Century. Tom Ryan was also a member of that great Wexford team. Tommy Maher played in the 1945 All Ireland with Kilkenny and went on to be coach to several All Ireland winning Kilkenny teams and his brother Din won a Junior All Ireland in 1946.
When Castle Rovers disbanded at the end of the 1940’s there was again a team in Dungarvan. According to Paddy Joe Maher of Dungarvan, the team was formed to play a Gowran team at a feis in Gowran. They accounted so well for themselves in that game that they decided to enter a team in the southern championship. They were beaten in the championship by Dunamaggin. The late Acdy Gibbons was one of the chief organisers and hurley maker for this team.
The “Three Parish Rule” was introduced for the 1953 season. The designated three parishes under this rule were Gowran, Paulstown and Graiguemanagh. With this in mind Micheál Medlar called a meeting in late 1952 to form a new club. This meeting was held in the Courthouse in Gowran (now Tommy Farrell’s) and the Young Ireland’s club was formed. The elected committee was Chairman: Bill Hennessy, Secretary: John Hutton, Treasurer: Paddy Brennan. Committee members were Sonny Gardiner, Jim McDonaldof Slate Range, John Byrne of Kellymount, Micheál Medlar, Minie Kennedy, Jim Hanlon of Paulstown, Andy Comerford (Snr), Jimmy Lennon, Jim Harding, Nick Dunphy, Joe Doyle, Jimmy Byrne and Frankie Farrell. The team trained that year in Hennessy’s, Barraghcore. They beat St Riochs in their first game. After the game an objection was lodged over a team sheet alleged to have been written in English. However the objection was overruled when Northern Board Secretary, John Ivory, said that the team sheet he had received was in fact correctly written in Irish.
The three parish experiment only lasted one year and in 1954 the “Parish Rule” was introduced and remains in force to this day.
As you read through the rest of this book the history of the Young Ireland’s club as a one parish team will unfold.