Ireland Correspondent: The toy leprechaun can go back on the shelf

By Peter Lenaghan

It is a dilemma that I have been wrestling with for weeks. Our time in Ireland is drawing to a close and I need a souvenir. In stores across the island there are enough tacky postcards, fridge magnets, flat caps, toy leprechauns and T-shirts and trinkets advertising a certain black beverage to fill Croke Park to the brim. It is quality I seek.

OK, it is a trivial concern, but I do want a keepsake to remind me of a six-month adventure in an ancient land. During this period I have fallen for the Gaelic games. I love the speed, skill and history tied up in the sports of hurling and Gaelic football.

I could buy a replica shirt, but which county? Dublin, where we have lived, or Kerry, with its distinctive green and gold? I could choose lilywhite and go for Kildare, which boasts a brilliant duo of footballers in Dermot Earley and Johnny Doyle.

Kilkenny’s black and amber stripes are appealing, too. A few days ago we drove through the county, where the All-Ireland hurling winner’s flag and colours were proudly on display outside homes and businesses in each town and village. The joy was infectious.

And then there is Armagh. The county in Northern Ireland has enjoyed some success in recent years: it won its first and only All-Ireland senior football title in 2002. But this season, Armagh sank without a trace. The Orchard County, as it is known, was beaten by Tyrone in the Ulster provincial quarter-finals. It was then knocked out of the All-Ireland championship by Monaghan in a turgid qualifying match. Just last week the players released a media statement to air concerns about the county board’s handling of the search for a new manager.

On a more superficial note, Armagh’s orange, white and black kit is far from the most attractive to grace the Gaelic Athletic Association’s fields. It seems the sole redeeming quality is that the county is my family’s ancestral home.

Daniel Lenaghan emigrated from Lurgan in County Armagh to Australia in 1852, at the end of Ireland’s devastating potato famine. A family historian, Carlyene Lenaghan, has written that Daniel and his wife, Mary, packed up seven of their ten children and headed for the Ballarat goldfields. The clan settled on a farming property at Tourello, north-west of Creswick. Daniel Lenaghan was apparently a friend and neighbour of Peter Lalor, a fellow Irishman who became a leader of the Eureka Stockade uprising and Speaker in the Victorian Parliament. Lenaghan’s Homestead at Tourello was built in about 1857. The property is still in the family. Daniel and Mary are buried at the nearby Coghills Creek cemetery.

My mum and step-dad are currently holidaying with us in Ireland. We travelled north to Lurgan from Dublin early last week to see the city. A sign in front of the main public park tells us that that the Brownlow family played a major role in the Lurgan township’s development in the early 1600s. Two-hundred years later – and two decades before the Lenaghans set sail for Australia – Charles Brownlow oversaw the construction of Brownlow House. Presumably to keep the Geelong Football Club connection going, an architect named William Henry Playfair was employed to build the elegant sandstone property.

Lurgan’s Charles Brownlow is also notable for his interest in coursing and his ownership of a celebrated greyhound. Master McGrath won the Waterloo Cup, a prestigious test of prodigious greyhounds in the United Kingdom, three times in the mid-1800s. The hares killed in those victories are mounted on a wall inside Brownlow House. So beloved is Master McGrath that a statue of the dog stands outside Lurgan’s Civic Centre. An even bigger monument exists near Dungarvan in County Waterford, near where it’s thought the dog was born, and a ballad was penned to celebrate one of the Waterloo Cup wins. It is said the superstar pooch got to meet Queen Victoria, and his image adorned a special edition of the Irish sixpenny coin.

In an article for the Waterford County Museum, Michael Maguire writes that when Master McGrath died on December 25, 1871, “[all] of Ireland mourned his passing and many Christmases were spoiled as the news of his death swept across the land.” Maguire also reports that an autopsy revealed the dog’s heart was as big as a man’s. It is a story to rival that of Phar Lap.

Today, Lurgan appears a prosperous regional centre with a population locally estimated to be 42,000 people. The city boasts a handful of GAA clubs. The main street bustles as gusty winds blow sharp showers through the town. The beautiful, gothic-style Church of Christ the Redeemer, known as “the big church”, watches over the city from its central position. The shops and parking spaces are full. The district’s green and rolling fields are stocked with cows and hay is being baled.

But some of the divisions that marked Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” are still evident in the township. In a suburban street on one side of the city, Emily and I see an ornate sign displaying the loyalist rally cry, “No surrender”. UK flags are also being flown.

On the opposite side of Lurgan’s main shopping strip, lightposts on Lake Street are painted with the green, white and orange colours of the Irish flag, while the republic’s tricolour flies nearby. Graffiti on a wall describes Northern Ireland’s police as “scum”. Those officers were the target of a 270-kilogram bomb that was discovered and diffused last week in southern County Armagh, close to the border with the Republic. “Dissident republicans” were blamed for planting the device.

We arranged before our visit to see records held by the local Catholic parish that confirm our family’s presence in the district. The St Peter’s parish secretary, Ursula, greets us with a smile and tells us “we’re very welcome” to Lurgan. “Lenaghan is quite a rare name around here now,” Ursula tells us. “I only know one Lenaghan family in the area.”

She opens a thick book on the counter. Inside, Daniel Lenaghan and Mary Lynch’s marriage in 1826 is documented, as are the subsequent births of nine children. My mum, Deb, is surprised to find that her name is not unique. A Debby Lenaghan was buried in the Dougher cemetery, near the parish centre, in 1827.

Our brief look into the family’s history ended there at the cemetery. Lenaghans lie there, but their graves are not marked. We went to the graveyard to wander among the headstones, but a heavy shower of rain sent us scurrying back to the car. The parish’s records only stretch back to 1822, and they include no specific address or residence in Lurgan for the family. Ireland’s National Archive holds no mention of Daniel Lenaghan and his mob. The link is distant and faint, but it is story our generation can tell with confidence.

I guess I will learn to tolerate, even like, the orange, white and black shirt that I will be buying. The toy leprechaun can go back on the shelf.


  1. Cousin Chris says

    Hi Peter,
    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. As Raelene, Katherine and I were in Lurgan only twelve months ago, we too looked up the family history. The difference being that we did it in the front bar of one of Lurgan’s pubs while we waited for our meal to be served. They certainly know their way around a potato don’t they? The barman checked the phone book and yep, only one Lenaghan was entered. We felt like going around and rescuing him. We gave Carmel a call and drank a toast to all Lenaghans. Don’t worry about the yukky shirt – we will understand.
    Geelong gearing up for another Grand Final. The town is VERY excited!

  2. Richard E. Jones says

    GOODNESS me, Pete.
    Gaelic football and hurling ? God forbid.
    Wait till you get to the UK and see if you can get tix to the EPL.
    Now, that’s a sporting spectacle.
    We’re going to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea take on mighty ManYoo early November. Saw the Red Devils demolish Stoke City 5-nil at Old Trafford last November. Just a lazy 74-75,000 packed into the Old. T’s terraces.
    And furthermore you’ll have a better chance at understanding the English lingo, as she is spoke.
    No more Irish brogues. Although a full-on Cockney East Ender can be a trifle hard to understand, too.

  3. Richard,

    No problems getting 74-75,000 to the Gaelic football or hurling either. Croke Park has MCG-capacity, and its fills up for the All-Ireland finals without too mooch bodder.

    And this for two amateurs sports in a city of 1.5 million.

    Hurling kills soccer as a spectacle.

  4. Marbles kills soccer as a spectacle

  5. Richard E. Jones says

    YOU blokes will have to lose your southern hemisphere-centric view on sport.
    Football — that’s the World Game with the round ball — is played everywhere and I mean everywhere on this planet.
    Plus the rules are universal. You can have an Argentinian team playing a team from Turkey, refereed by a South Korean, and everyone knows exactly what’s going on.
    Both of you should have a look at the weekend’s Manchester derby, won by United over City 4-3. Absolutely brilliant as a spectacle.
    Are you 2 aware that the Socceroos are now ranked No. 14 in the world? That’s right not far off a Top Ten berth.
    They’ll be playing in the World Cup very soon. And that is a much bigger event for a large slice of the world’s population than the Olympics. Muuuuuuch bigger.

    Irish football and hurling, played by a bunch of Micks and Paddys !! C’mon, Daff. Give us a break.

  6. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Just caught the last few minutes of the Man City-Man Utd match on a TV ?n a bar ?n Istanbul – was rapt to see Bellamy equalise for City then the game ran well over time for Michael Owen to score for Man U. Shame for all of us that love to see Collingwood, Man Utd, the All Blacks, the New York Yankees and any sports team from Texas get beaten!

    Was vainly looking for a live telecast of the All-Ireland Football Final when I found this sports bar…

  7. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Just caught the last few minutes of the Man City-Man Utd match on a TV ?n a bar ?n Istanbul – was rapt to see Bellamy equalise for City then the game ran well over time for Michael Owen to score for Man U. Shame for all of us that love to see Collingwood, Man Utd, the All Blacks, the New York Yankees and any sports team from Texas get beaten!

    Was vainly looking for a live telecast of the All-Ireland Football Final when I found this sports bar…

  8. Spare us the world game v everything else debate. We get it – you love soccer and we don’t. The yanks love their NFL, 2/3 of Australia loves its AFL, the Irish love their hurling/gaelic footy and NZ worships rugby. I personally love it when the Socceroos play a serious match (although thankfully no longer against Oceania nations).

  9. Richard,

    I agree with Mark that this is an interminable debate. Nevertheless, I want to say that if a game is judged by how many people play it, then, yes, soccer wins. But that’s not how this debate started. It’s not about population.

    The debate started about where you like soccer or hurling or whatever game. I hate the argument that you’re somehow a hick if you like footy more than soccer. I just prefer footy as a game, and I prefer hurling over soccer. I don’t think I need to put soccer first to be considered a sophisticate.

    Soccer spread around the world for social and political reasons (read British Empire), and because you don’t need much equipment, and because it’s a good game. I don’t buy the argument that it spread because it’s a better game.

    I, too, love soccer. I just love other games ahead of it.

  10. Stephen Cooke says

    I’m with Uncle Tony – watching a good game of marbles can leave me exhausted.

  11. Richard E. Jones says

    AH well, Mark, I’ll have to come clean. I love the NFL, too.
    But then again I’m as rabid an Aussie Rules fan as the next (southern) Australian. After all, I’ve been writing about and broadcasting matches from the said code for nigh on 40 years. Including three seasons of AFL on the Nat. Indigenous Radio Service with blokes such as Glenn James, Derek Kickett et al.
    You’d have to give Bill Lawry his due, though. One time during a Ch. 9 cricket telecast he said to someone: “You footy blokes can have your overseas trip to Tassie anytime soon now!” Ka-boom.
    Rocket, you must have had the same problems as we did with a Turkish keyboard. They have two forms of the letter “i”, I recall. One comes without the dot on the top.
    I’m an avid collector of caps, but unfortunately my wife left my green Sporting Lisbon cap on an Egyptian bus travelling from Aswan to Abu Simbel just before Xmas last year. Sporting is, of course, the club from whence the great Cristiano Ronaldo hailed B4 signing with ManYoo.
    How about ManCity tosser Hughes (a former Red Devils’ player, and all) barking on about extra overtime. Get real Marko. You got done!
    I have 3 ManYoo caps (followed them since 1952) but sadly only one NY Yankees cap. My NFL team, the Cleveland Browns, aren’t travelling that well but I intend picking up a Browns’ cap when in San Francisco next week.
    Hope you haven’t added Cleveland to your list of team which should be beaten, Rodney.

  12. Peter Lenaghan says

    Chris – was lovely just to see Lurgan and get a bit of a feel for it, although the “Troubles” have flared there again a little in the last week, with a few young fellas hijacking cars and trying to provoke the police

    Richard – you’ll be pleased to hear that emily and i will be going to a soccer game in the beautiful old Mestalla stadium in Valencia this saturday night (valencia is playing atletico madrid)

    Soccer v the rest – i grew up playing soccer and following footy and i think the reason the debate is interminable is because even though they are both football, the games are very different: soccer is tactically far more organised, structured, even disciplined than aussie rules and requires a patient approach, whereas in footy (and it seems increasingly so) increasing the speed at which the ball and the players move is the priority

    when it comes to those american sports, richard, speed seems to be the last thing considered, especially in the nfl

  13. Richard E. Jones says

    PETE: Atletico is my club in Spain. Love them, hate Real. Haven’t got an Atletico cap from there to go with my collection yet, but have my Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Hajduk Split (Croatia) caps. And the 3 Manchester United ones.
    Are you aware that the wide receivers in American football are real speed machines? We’re not talking about the 300 lb offensive and defensive linesmen at the point of scrimmage.
    The wide receivers collect the passes thrown downfield from the quarterbacks at full tilt. The LA Raiders (before they became the Oakland Raiders) had a US Olympic Games 100m and 200m man among their WR squad in the early 90s.
    To counter them the defences have cornerbacks who similarly have explosive speed.
    Don’t worry about 4 blokes on AFL club’s interchange benches, Pete. NFL outfits boast complete offensive, de3fensive and special teams. The latter group is used for kick returns at the start of each quarter, and returns from punters such as Benny Graham and Sav Rocca.

    Not sure why Daff considers being an aficionado of football (‘soccer’ just to us and the Yanks) makes one superior to someone who loves Aussie Rules footy only.
    The kids and young men I’ve seen playing soccer on a patch of waste ground underneath a double-decker Bangkok freeway, or in a dusty Phnom Penh alley some blocks from the tourist precinct, or in the back streets of a poor neighbourhood in Lisbon didn’t look too elitist to me.
    Haven’t been to South Africa but we all know the kids of those teeming black African ghettos in and around Capetown and Jo’burg love soccer. In that nation rugby is the sport of the middle class, and above.

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