Anthony Beese from Cork sent us this nice piece –
On St Stephen’s day, Heir islanders (1) used to congregate at An Trá Bhán to play football. They chose the strand because a wide expanse of fine white sand is exposed there when the tide ebbs. On their way, they walked along a path that crossed small fields, rock ridges and strips of bog. As they clambered down to the strand, they could see Clear Island (Oileán Chléire) out to the southwest.
The time of kick-off must have been dependent on the tide. The ‘old people’ could anticipate the tide’s cycle by watching the different phases of the moon – for example, if the moon were full, or new, then they knew that low water would be at midday and that tide levels would be close to springs. Plenty of room then for the match.
On a similar tack, Tomás Ó Criomhthain (2) described how hurling was once played on another Trá Bhán during Christmas and New Year. This time the location was the Great Blasket Island in County Kerry. The islanders removed their shoes and socks so that they could more easily retrieve the sliothar when it fell into the sea.
Of course, that strange ritual known as the ‘Christmas swim’ is now played out on numerous strands around Ireland – but surely this is only a temporary madness – this winter, swimmers had to face a biting wind and walk on hard, frozen sand! I would consider a ball game as a much better way of celebrating the year’s turn.
1. Heir (or Hare) Island is one of the islands in Roaringwater Bay, West Cork. The modern anglicism derives from the old Irish name, Inis Uí hÉidhirsceóil or ‘O’Driscoll’s island’.
2. See The Islandman (An tOileánach) by Tomás Ó Criomhthain (1856-1937).