Michael O’Callaghan an industrial Chemist by occupation and Managing Director of the O’Callaghan family businesses that provided much employment in the tanning of leather and manufacture of shoes in Limerick for many years was elected Mayor of Limerick on 30th January 1920.
A dedicated Nationalist and a member of the “Sinn Fein Club” in Limerick since 1905, his grandfather had also been elected Mayor in 1864. His mother was a member of the Smithwick Brewing family from Co Kilkenny. Michael had married Kate Murphy, a native of Cork, who was lecturer in Mary Immaculate training College.
Newspaper articles of the time would point to the strength of the GAA right across the country and the apparent seamless crossover between the GAA, the quest for Irish freedom and the rebirth of interest in all aspects of Irish culture.
The mayoralty of Michael O’Callaghan would probably have been quite an ordinary one except for the backdrop of the times that it occurred in.
1920 was a tumultuous year in the history of Ireland. The first Dail had sat almost a year to the day before O’Callaghan became Limerick’s First Citizen and the forces of law and order of the British Crown were coming under increasing pressure from the armed elements of the IRA.
The Markets Field sports ground situated in the heart of Limerick City was a place where most Limerick people came for sports entertainment. It was the hub of all sports, Soccer, Rugby GAA and even the home to other forms of entertainment like the Circus.
History records that the Mayor was prevailed upon to present a Cup in his family’s name to the GAA, through the Claughaun Club, and that Paddy Kelly from the Pike and Mick Rochford had discussed it with him. It doesn’t show exactly how it was decided that it would be played for between the winners of the Cork and Limerick County championships, though we can speculate that his wife’s Cork roots and the fact that St Finbarr’s were the Cork County Champions and it was in the St Finbarr’s Parish Cemetery that the assassinated Mayor of Cork Tomas McCurtain was buried might have been an influence, but the archives do show that The O’Callaghan Cup was played for in the Markets Field for the first time in 1920.
Claughaun had a been the outstanding hurling force in the City in the mid teen years, winning the County Championships in 1914/15/16 and 1918 and intercounty players such as Mick Rochford, “Wattles” McGrath, Feeney Shanny, Mickey Cross, Bawny Penny, Dan Troy and “Twagger” Grady, some of whom had seen All Ireland success with Limerick in 1918.
The public advertisements of the game didn’t mention that the proceeds of the game were going to the Prisoners Dependent Fund but a sizeable amount was raised by the attendance of a nearly full house in the Markets Field who paid a shilling for entrance to the Enclosure, 6 pence to get to the Pitch side and an additional shilling for the relative comfort and cover of the Stand
The match was started by the Mayor at 3.30pm and the result was a resounding win for the Cork side though few were too put out by that win. The Cup was played for again in 1923 with the Limerick side reversing the honours. It has been played for several times since.
The Cup itself is crafted from wrought silver, and in 1979 it was returned to the Claughaun Club from the Kinnane Family, in whose care it had been for many years in the presence of the then Mayor of Limerick Bobby Byrne with two ex-Mayors Frank Prendergast and Rory Liddy also in attendance.
The relevance of having the Cup returned through the Mayor’s office commemorated Michael O’Callaghan who almost exactly one year after he first presented the Cup to be played for was assassinated along with the sitting Mayor of Limerick George Clancy and a young Sinn Fein Volunteer Joseph O’Donoughue in an infamous night and an event that became known as the “Curfew Murders”
The First O’Callaghan Cup game in the Markets Field was played on March 14th 1920, exactly 100 years ago.
With thanks to
Limerick Leader Archive
The Boys of Claughaun (Christy Mannix)