Conna Gathering Weekend
Tom Finn Writes
The weekend Thursday August 1st to Monday August 5th saw the Conna Gathering take place. A lot of planning, organising and general hard work went into the event for weeks and months beforehand.
When the time arrived there was an air of anticipation and excitement tinged with nervousness in the hope that things would go well. Well, there was no need to worry because the weekend surpassed all expectations and became a most enjoyable and entertaining community reunion.
There were visitors from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other places. There were also many natives who journeyed back to renew old acquaintances. It was great to meet and catch up with former schoolmates, neighbours and friends after many years apart. It was everything the organisers hoped it would be and the weekend will be recounted with pleasure for years to come.
The Gathering kicked off with the inaugural Conna 5k Road Race in conjunction with St Catherine’s Athletics Club. Great numbers of runners, walkers and spectators took part in and supported the event on the night. The weather was wet and windy but that did not deter the 192 runners who left the village and headed out the Tallow road.
They turned right in Curraheen and looped around to join the Conna/Ballynoe road and began the downhill descent to the Castle Cross and back to the sports complex. James McCarthy was the first man to cross the line in a time of 15:37 despite the challenging course profile. Aisling Moran from Leevale AC was the first woman home.
The indoor football hall in the complex was an ideal venue for all the pre-race and post-race activities, such as registration, presentations, changing, showers etc. Denis O’Sullivan also enthralled all present with his vast display of GAA memorabilia.
Meanwhile, the Muintir na Tire hall hosted the Gathering official opening ceremonies. There were a photographic display by Conna Camera Club and an Art Exhibition by local artists. Lorna Macdonald launched her two calendars to mark the occasion. They contain beautiful pictures of local interest and are on sale in shops. Sheila O’Leary had her magnificent Conna Gathering tapestry on display. It depicts Conna village and castle and is a permanent reminder of the Gathering.
President of Muintir na Tire, John Hogan, and Cork County Mayor, Cllr. Noel O’Connor, spoke on the importance and benefits of the
Gathering. Jim Hagerty of Canada who travelled with his extended family group then entertained the listeners with his humorous anecdotes. This was followed with a Power Point Presentation of a brief Conna history. This was a very comprehensive narration of events in Conna on a timeline from 1169 to the present day. The presentation was created and set up by Gary Dunlop of Castlebrook and narrated by local historians Tom Finn and Pa Barry. The overhead projector was kindly provided by Sean Meehan. The evening was rounded off by some great tall stories by our local Seanachi Peter Barry.
On Friday afternoon there was a conducted tour of Conna Castle at 3 o’clock. There was a big crowd present. It included members of the Hagerty family. The tour was conducted by Christy Roche, Tom Finn and Gerard O’Mahony. Friday evening was very showery but m iraculously the weather cleared and the sun shone for the Fancy Dress Parade which started at 7:30pm with Castlelyons Pipe Band leading the way. Members of the Fermoy branch of the Irish United Nations Veterans Associationparaded next, looking well in their full uniform.
For many it brought back memories of times past at Conna Carnivals when these parades over to the castle were annual events. Most local clubs and organisations were represented, such as St Catherine’sCamogie, the Dramatic Society, the Vintage Club, Conna Community Childcare, the Social Centre, Hip Hop Dancers etc. There were numerous hilarious individual acts also which greatly amused the crowd. The viewing and judging stand was in front of the hall which consisted of Eleanor Ronayne, Dick Morrison and Tom Cotter in his tall hat! The running commentary by Willie Kearney was informative and hilarious, creating a great atmosphere.
After the parade the crowds moved to Gallaghers’ field for more activities. There was terrier racing with local dogs taking part, fun tug-of-war and wheel barrow races.On Saturday evening a great programme was arranged for the Social Centre and its grounds. Outdoor mass and an ecumenical service was planned, with local choirs, musicians as well as Fermoy Concert Band. After that an outdoor concert was planned with the Bride Valley Band and a host of other singers and musicians. An outdoor Arts and Crafts Fair was also due to take place as well as all types of games for children. During this time food was to be served indoor and outdoor from the Social Centre.
However the weather, for once, was unkind and it rained non-stop for most of the evening. In spite of this all was not lost. The ecumenical service took place in the church instead. Food was still served in the Social Centre and a marquee. The Bride Valley Band and other musicians decided to improvise and entertain the crowds indoors.
The mass celebrated on Sunday morning was a special occasion for a group of American visitors. Ed Hogan and his wife Joan have visited Conna a number of times. Ed’s grandfather was born in Conna in 1878 and emigrated to the U.S. Ed’s wife, Joan, also has Irish ancestry. They were married at Ascension Church in Oak Park, Illinois on 3rd August 1963 and now live in South Dakota. They decided to visit Ireland and Conna again this year but this time to bring their extended family, a group of 32, with them. They were aware of the Conna Gathering and it tied in neatly with their Golden Wedding Jubilee. They asked if it was possible to renew their wedding vows on Sunday August 4th in St Catherine’s church where Ed’s grandfather was baptised. In a very moving ceremony accompanied with beautiful music and singing Fr. Billy O’Donovan P.P. facilitated the renewal of their vows and afterwards presented them with a framed papal blessing. The music and singing at the mass was outstanding and was very much appreciated by the Hogan clan.The singers were Frank Ryan and his sister Sinead and Sally O’Leary. The family then had their lunch in the Social Centre with local historians Pa Barry and Tom Finn. Later they toured the castle where pictures were taken by Lorna Macdonald of Castlebrook. To wind up the day they had pub food and refreshments in the Fisherman’s Rest. In the sports field Valley Rangers organised an Over-30’s married V Under-30’s single football match refereed by Derry O’Leary. It was 20 minutes aside. The final score was 9-5 to the married Over-30’s. Some of these taking part were Johnny Lonergan, John Hurley, Conor Kearney, Alan O’ Mahony, Daniel Hayes, Chris Kelly, Ronan Carr, John Noonan, Adrian Carr, Eoin Condon, Sean Twomey, Shane Cogan, David Wallace, Paudie Noonan, Tony Harpur, Alan Carr and James Casey.
Back to the village for a family fun day. There was a great crowd in the hall with Martha O’Brien and her Band playing. There were also stalls of arts and crafts, sale of calendars, face painting, games and tea and coffee. In the evening there was wellington throwing, wheelbarrow races, busking and Fancy Dress Crazy Football, refereed by Noreen Mulcahy. All of this was on the street and the appreciative crowd thoroughly enjoyed the craic.
On Sunday in Aghern the Harps Tug of War Club hosted four Gathering pulls. First up was the Under-18 event which was won by the home club, Harps who beat Rathkeale, Co. Limerick. The second event was the novice 600kg. There were four teams in this; Harps, Rathkeale, Streamtown, Co Westmeath and Farrenreigh,Co.Tipperary. Farrenreigh took the gold and Streamtown the silver. Next was the Under-23 event and here Harps took gold and Rathkeale silver. The final competition was the 5-aside catchweight with four teams involved. It was won by Streamtown with Harps as runners-up. Afterwards all retired to the Big Tree for the free barbeque and refreshments.
On Monday morning there was a farewell breakfast in the Social Centre for everyone. It was a lovely morning and there was a carnival atmosphere around the place. People sat at tables outdoors and enjoyed the breakfast provided by the catering staff in the Centre. A little ceremony to mark Dick Morrison’s 80th birthday coincided with the celebrations. Many of his colleagues in the St Catherine’s Club were on hand to congratulate him and help him celebrate. At 11:30am a large crowd assembled at the new cemetery for a conducted tour of Conna Castle. There were some visitors but many were locals who had never been through the castle before and were anxious to avail of this opportunity. Tom Finn conducted the tour which lasted until 2 o’clock. Afterwards other people expressed wish to tour the castle also and this can be arranged if there are sufficient numbers.
Gallaghers’ field was the venue for some outstanding entertainment for another large crowd. First off was the school sports which was watched with special interest by the parents. Following this there was an event that really captured the imagination. It was a gun dog de monstration with Patsy McCarthy of Carrigmore, his son Vincentand grandson. The tasks performed by the two dogs were quite amazing.
Next was the inter-county sheep racing, complete with fences, which provided great amusement for the spectators. Some of the jockeys were unseated so it was just as well that they were knitted jockeys!
The donkey derbys were a huge hit with the crowd and provided some of the funniest incidents of the entire weekend. We had thrills and spills, jockeys falling off and remounting, slow donkeys and stubborn donkeys and an odd fast donkey. Willie Kearney’s commentary added to the enjoyment.
The crowd were then treated to free barbeque food and hamburgers as well as getting ice cream, chips, minerals etc. from the vans. There were also arts and crafts stalls on view. The Bride Valley Band concluded the entertainment when they took to the stage and entertained the crowd with some great numbers.
A new Bowling Club that has recently been re-formed once again in Conna after a lapse of around 30 years held two scores on Monday. The route they chose was from Conna Bridge up to Ballybride finishing near Joan Leahy’s gate. The first score was between the Hoare Brothers of Fermoy,Benny and Denis. Both are well known bowlers in the Fermoy and North Cork area and the new club put them up against Clonmult men, Leo and his son Michael Hegarty. Both are well-known bowlers in the Dungourney and East Cork area. A large crowd came to follow the score. Both young and old alike were interested in seeing it. The score was tit for tat all the way until they came to Ballybride Hill and as they upped the pace the Hegartys
were stronger and took advantage by clearing the hill with almost two bowls of odds. The Hoare Brothers didn’t get it back afterwards when they went over the hill so the Hegartys took the title by almost two bowls of odds.
On the return, the score it was made up between Mick Hurley and Michael Byrne v Billy Hurley and P.J.Cooney of Clonmult. This was another great score and there was little between them until they passed the school. Here Michael Byrne got a great long shot where it took Billy and P.J. too shots to cover it, so it ended with Mick and Michael winning by over a bowl and a half of odds. A great beginningfor the latest new club in Conna!
Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the Gathering weekend the success it turned out to be. A special mention of the two people who jointly masterminded the whole process. Gerard O’Mahony and Willie Kearney planned, organised and coaxed so many people to volunteer and use their talents to make the Conna Gathering an unforgettable experience.
Lots of visitors on the social media are saying how much they enjoyed the weekend and how grateful they are to the people that made it possible. One comment on Facebook sums it all up: “What a fab weekend we had at the gathering. Conna still has a great ommunity spirit. A big thank you to all the people who made it such a great event. We really enjoyed meeting old and new friends. I am so pleased I was part of the Conna Gathering”.