An improbable juxtaposition of medieval battles and contemporary contests of a less warlike nature crowd in on my mind this week. I am reminded that down through the generations, men, and to a lesser extent women, have sought to impose their will and might on their opponents, and not always in a friendly or cordial manner.
What reminded me of this was, firstly, a meeting in the Town Hall last week when I listened to James Cavanagh, Chairman of the Clans of Ireland, eloquently put the case for a Viking battle reenactment in Athy next year. James apparently has been involved in this form of pageantry for a number of years and lives in Cloney.
Later in the week, I attended another form of sometimes blood-curdling physical activity, which for want of a better name, we commonly refer to as Gaelic Football. In my younger days I played football for many years, but somehow it never seemed then to have taken on the barely-controlled frenzy which marks the game today. The rushed ebb and flow of the game always accompanied by hard physical contact speaks volumes for the toughened nature of those who participate today. In Sunday’s football game between Athy and Clane each player’s eyes and face reflected the fearful tension which must have marked the faces of the ancient warriors engaged in one or other of the battles which James Cavanagh hopes to recreate in South Kildare.
I suppose in a way the comparison is far fetched, but really it is difficult not to make connections between the warring troops of an earlier age and the highly-trained sportsmen of today involved in a battle to overcome a determined and well-prepared opponent.
Athy’s team on Sunday afternoon in Newbridge savoured for a short time the glory which is the prize for those who strive to succeed. The pleasure of anticipation does not always result in the reality of success, but, as in Athy’s case, is grasped with the belief that past success has brought. The glory was in reaching the final, the ultimate prize was not to be, and in failing, the dream was shattered and pride was dented.
The young players on the team, of which there were many, can be justifiably proud of their success this year. Remember, it is eight years since Athy last reached the final and to do so with players who are yet to mature and who are still far from their full potential, was an achievement worthy of celebration.
If one left Newbridge on Sunday heavy hearted after the events of the afternoon, the same could not be said for those who attended the Town Hall earlier in the week. There we heard of a Viking battle using the as yet uncategorised Dunrally Fort as a staging point for an attack on Athy. A weekend of revelry will no doubt enliven a summer weekend next year and the opportunity of participating is open everyone.
I thought that a Viking battle might be inappropriate for Athy, given the absence of a Viking influence in the area, notwithstanding the recent claims in relation to Dunrally Fort. However, such considerations are mere triflings when viewed against the magnificent and dramatic backdrop which would be provided by a Viking ship slipping into Athy to disembark its marauding hordes on the unsuspecting natives. Almost like the Clane forwards on Sunday as they plundered score after score, the Viking raiders could be expected to pillage the settlers’ town on the River Barrow on a grand scale.
It would not be the first time that such happenings took place here. Was it not a common enough occurrence in the 13th century for the O’Mores of Leix to attack the new village of Athy, and did they not succeed in burning the village on at least four occasions during those early years? Further back in time, the Ford on the River Barrow was the scene of a famous battle between the Munster men and the Leinster men when Ae, the son of a Munster Chieftain, was killed, giving to the Ford a name which is recalled in the Anglicised placename, Athy, and in the language of the Gael, Ath Í, meaning the Ford of Ae.
We are rich in battle lore here in Athy, for we can read of an 11th century encounter just a few years before the Anglo Normans founded the town, when the Dalcassions returning from the Battle of Clontarf faced up to the Tribe of Fiacha. You know, there is a wealth of historical material to chose from, if one wanted to recreate a battle anchored in our local history.
James Cavanagh’s idea is an excellent one and worthy of support from anyone who has either an interest in physical exercise, local history or dreams of the chance of putting his next-door-neighbour to the sword.
As for the footballers, they will have other opportunities to prove their worth, and I am confident that with a little more experience and benefiting from the rewards of commitment and dedication to their sport, they will achieve the ultimate prize of a County Championship before too many years have passed.
Battles and contests are fought to be won and lost. It is the losing which sharpens our focus for the future and serves to replenish our desire to achieve that which we have lost. Athy should not be disheartened by the lack of success on the football field, and in the same way, James Cavanagh should not be deflected from putting into operation his plans for next year, no matter what difficulties might be presented.