IN MEMORY OF CRIOSTÓIR
by Tom Kenny
A ballad is a form of verse, a poem or a song that tells a story. It can be considered either poetic or musical and is written in short stanzas with a rhyming system abcb. These forms of folk songs were often an anonymous retelling of local legends, stories of particular events or characters.
Criostóir Mac Gearailt was a storyteller who penned hundreds, if not thousands of ballads. He wrote tributes in this form primarily about sportsmen and women and their extraordinary achievements. Local events sparked his interest too, it might be a lament for the closing down of a business, a celebration of a new service, an indication of some praiseworthy aspect of a person. He always suggested a traditional tune that his ballad could be sung to …. ‘Galway Bay’, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’, ‘The Boys of Wexford’, ‘In Oranmore in the County Galway’ etc. As you read them, you can almost hear him humming along to the air as he wrote. In 1985, he published a collection of these works in book form, fittingly titled “Tributes”. If he wrote about you, he would simply hand you the typed ballad probably with an introduction to it, with his compliments.
Criostóir came from County Limerick to work here in C.I.E. Though he left West Limerick, it never really left him. He worked in various capacities, but most people will remember him for his work with the school bus system. He was unusual in that, as a C.I.E. staff member, he went everywhere on his bike.
He was a gentleman, a gentle, modest and persuasive man who got things done and was equally comfortable conversing in Irish or in English. He had a great sense of humour and loved a good story.
He will be remembered mostly for his remarkable work and enthusiasm in setting up the Inter-Firm games. Between 1954 and 1959, there had been an inter-factory hurling league organised in Galway. Sadly this league petered out though there were occasional challenge games between firms. In May, 1968, a large and representative group met in the Claddagh Hall and set up an inter-firms committee, a voluntary sports organisation. Jimmy O’Connor was the first chairman, Kevin Blayney the first sponsor and Criostóir aka Christy Fitzgerald the first secretary and driving force behind the organisation.
Initially, it was Gaelic Football that was played. Many players from other sports turned out for their companies as the organisers turned a blind eye to ‘the ban’. The first final was played in the Sportsground between Crown Control and Roadstone. Some years later, a hurling league was introduced and was very successful. Handball competitions became very popular with 03 sets of doubles players competing in five divisions in one year. These games were played in St. Enda’s which had four alleys, and the finals were held in UCG which had viewing facilities.
Other inter-firm competitions included music and recitation, debating, ballad singing, and Trá na gCeist or Question Time with Christy Tyrrell as quiz master. These latter competitions usually took place in the Castle Hotel or in the Atlanta, sometimes in the Great Southern. They were hugely popular and drew big crowds.
Oh, my friends, Inter-Firm’s in wonderful shape
Since ‘twas founded in Claddagh in the year ’68.
We started with football, added quiz next in line
Then came hurling and handball for a programme so fine.
Twenty teams fought for glory in that very first year
We had thrills and excitement and plenty to cheer.
For the victors, McCairns presented a cup
While Roadstone gave plaques to our first runners up.
(To the tune of ‘The Mountains of Mourne’)
Sadly, Criostóir went Ar Shlí na Fírinne a few weeks ago, aged 95, a huge loss to his family and the Galway community so we thought to honour his memory by showing his photograph and two of those inter-firm teams that took part in his wonderful competitions. Crown Control became the first Inter-Firm champions in 1968. They are, front row from the left; J. Hardiman, M. Folan, T. Carty, M. Brennan, M. Tarpey (captain), P. Keane, P. Lee, P. Walsh. Back row; P. McDonagh, W. Douglas, R. Keane, F. Cloonan, M. Deacy, C. Small, S. Fahy, P. Flanagan and J.J. Carr.
Our second image is of the C.I.E. hurling team of 1975. They are, back row Mike Hession, Liam Noone, Noel Thomas, Mike Darcy, Iggy Madden, Mike Philbin, P.J. Finnerty, Fred Fullard. In front are Paddy Gannon, Willie Earls, Morgan Darcy, Tommy Murphy, Tom Feeney, John Daly.