Wednesday, 25 June 2014


TP recalls his childhood friend, Edwin Carolan, who achieved sporting fame in the 1950s when he played GAA football for his home county, Cavan.

He was writing in the official programme for the naming of Mullagh's Community Park in Edwin Carolan's Name.

"It is very fitting that the new Community Park in Mullagh should be graced with the name of Edwin Carolan for no more graceful or sporting footballer came out of East Cavan, never mind Mullagh.

I cannot remember a time when I did not know Edwin Carolan.  Paddy, his brother, was my playmate and Edwin, because he was so much older ... oh, nearly two years older, was my hero.  He did everything better than me.  He even sang better but I didn't mind and you wouldn't mind with Edwin because he had charm.  He could charm the birds from the trees and he frequently did.  Every stray dog that came to the village was drawn to him and he'd look after it.  No wonder he became a veterinary surgeon!

Kicking a ball around was almost an obsession with us and when we lost one or couldn't afford a new one we made one of paper tied up with string and played across Mullagh using the archways as goals, oblivious to the odd cars that passed through every few hours.

In time Edwin and then Paddy were packed off as boarders to St.Finian's in Mullingar and myself to St.Pat's outside Cavan town.  But then we had the long summer holidays and we had kit and a real leather ball ... and we wore the turf bare on the mound that bore the nearest goalpost in Francie Frank's field.  He was a stylist,  Edwin.  No doubt about that.  He was swift; he would come racing at you, hand to toe, drop a shoulder, a wriggle of the hips and he was past.  Then with the right foot or left, depending on a balance, the ball would sail under or over the bar.

In the Spring of 1947  St.Patrick's College, Armagh beat St.Patrick's, Cavan, in the Ulster Final and went on to win the All-Ireland Colleges Final.  They had beaten us by one point.  Someone had arranged a replay for charity to take place in June in Coalisland, home of the famous Devlin brothers.  We had a big problem.  Our forty yards man was injured and we had no replacement.  Fr Paddy Gargan, our dean and football mentor, turned to me and said ... "You're always going on about this Carolan fellow from Mullagh! Would he fit the bill?"   'Oh yes he would', I replied ... and he did.  Midway through the second half he got the ball some fifty yards from the goal.  A turn, a drop of the shoulder, the swerve and Jim Devlin was grasping at air.  On Edwin went, hand to toe, past another defender and another. He swayed right, the left foot flashed and the ball was bulging in the net.  We won, of course.  'Where the hell did you get him', said Jim Devlin afterwards.

So, Edwin Carolan, who had never spent an hour in St.Patrick's College, Cavan, became the first non-pupil before or since to play for St.Pat's.  Later that year the Cavan junior county team beckoned and in the Autumn the Polo Grounds in New York.  The rest is history.

The St.Pat's team at Coalisland, 1947

To me he will always be the 'bonny laughing boy' of the song - so debonair, so careless in the best sense of the word, typified for me in one individual act that I recall vividly from the dying seconds of the All-Ireland finals in 1952 against Meath.  Time was up and the Meath supporters around me were baying, secure, as they thought, with that one point lead.  With the seconds ticking down to the final whistle, someone had wildly, or desperately, hacked the ball up the field and it was going over the line at the corner flag to the left of the Meath goal.  It was a lost cause but one blue jersey was in chase.  He stopped the ball going over the line and standing there by the flag, he stroked the ball lazily, languidly almost, up in the air.  It sailed like a balloon and down and down it came, like the slow-motion replays of today.  Up went the white flag and Edwin Carolan, had singlehandedly snatched the Sam Maguire Cup from the lips of the exulting Meathmen.  I can hear him laughing now as I described it, as he laughed when he talked about it all those years ago."

(TP McKenna, 1985)

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