In 1896 Ballyhea made hurling history when they won the Cork Co. Senior Hurling Championship. In the summer of that year Ballyhea were invited to compete in the Charleville Gaelic Tournament. Ballyhea and Doneraile were paired to meet in the opening game of the tournament. Ballyhea team turned up on the appointed day and took their places on the field. However, Doneraile team failed not only to turn up, but did not send a letter of apology to Ballyhea for their non-attendance. Ballyhea remained on the field until six o'clock and were awarded the match. Ballyhea refused to allow Doneraile compete again for the tournament. Some friction arose between the Tournament Committee and Ballyhea. The Tournament Committee ignored the ruling of the referee and ordered the match to be re-fixed. Ballyhea were not agreeable to this and it would appear they took no further part in The Tournament.

Ballyhea defeated Redmonds in the semi-final of The Co. Championship at Mallow, on the score of 3 goals 4 points to 6 points. During the course of play a Cork woman, who had been standing near the Redmonds goal and did not like the tactics of the Ballyhea forwards, rushed in with her umbrella to support the Redmond's goalkeeper in his defence of the goal during a Ballyhea attack. One particular Ballyhea forward was the object of her offensive. "Don't touch him again, you dirty clown," she shouted, "that's nice play to catch a young fellow. I'll settle you with this (the umbrella) if you do it again."

Ballygarvan beat Midleton in the second semi-final. Midleton asked for a replay and appealed to the Central Council that the match be not awarded to Ballygarvan. They further requested that if Ballygarvan refused to meet Midleton in a replay that Ballyhea be declared Co. Champions. Midleton failed in their appeal.

Ballyhea met Ballygarvan in the County Final at Mallow on 6 December, 1896. The Cork Examiner of 7 December 1896 described the game as follows: "Ballygarvan won the toss and played with the wind which was blowing lightly from the west. Ballyhea instantly pressed their opponents and, after some exciting play in the Ballygarvan quarter, scored a point. The leather was now carried down the field by Ballygarvan. Through some excellent hitting Ballyhea brought the ball back and again invaded the quarters of their opponents. Ballygarvan were well equal to the occasion and, carrying the leather quickly down the field, scored a point. Play was now taken to midfield, from which position Ballyhea occasionally placed their opponents on the defensive. But Ballygarvan admirably succeeded in preserving their posts. Their success did not rest here, for they ultimately sent the ball down the field and scored a goal. Mid-field was again the scene of operations. But Ballygarvan soon changed it for they, through really capital play, carried the leather into the enemy's territory and scored a point. The play was now rather slow and was for some time confined to midfield. But eventually Ballyhea got the best of it and gained a point. The ball was made to travel at this stage and, after some capital play on both sides, Ballyhea gained a point. Half-time was almost immediately called, the play standing: Ballygarvan 1 goal 2 points, Ballyhea 3 points.
 On changing sides Ballyhea charged their opponents and in quick succession gained two goals. After a short delay caused by injury to a Ballygarvan man, play was continued, and, taking possession of the ball, Ballyhea, within a short space of time, added a goal and four points to their score. It was by this time evident that all the play was in the hands of Ballyhea, for they quickly increased their scoring by two more goals and three points. Ballyhea continued to hold the field and after an interval scored another goal. The ball was travelling quickly up and down the field. Ballygarvan were showing up well, when the time was called and the result declared to be - Ballyhea 6 goals 10 points, Ballygarvan 1 goal 2 points. Mr. Patrick Coughlan (Blackrock) acted as referee, and gave the utmost satisfaction."

The Ballyhea team was as follows: J. Murphy, [Capt.], R. Mooney [Vice-Capt.], M. Flaherty, P. Bartley, M. Leary, M. Flaherty, P. Daly, D. Higgins, J. Roche, P. Gorman, T. Gorman, M. Reidy, W. Dwane, D. O'Brien, J. Walsh, W. Fennessy, J. Murphy.

Ballyhea, as Co. Champions, now had a crack at the Munster Championship. Their opponents were the famed Tubberadora from Tipperary. The game was played in Kilmallock. But tempers ran to fever pitch and the game had to be abandoned. The replay was fixed for Jones' Road, Dublin (now Croke Park). Ballyhea travelled by train to Dublin on the Saturday prior to the game. For the replay Ballyhea tried to recruit players from Blackrock and Aghabullogue. The sought and hoped-for aid never came. Late travelling and too much liquid refreshments left the Ballyhea team in anything but a fit condition for a Munster Final. Tubberadora won by 7 goals 9 points to 2 goals 3 points. For many years afterwards it was felt that Ballyhea were capable of beating Tubberadora. In the - All-Ireland Final Tubberadora defeated Commercials of Dublin by 8 goals 14 points to 4 points.

It is worth noting that in 1896' Blackrock were beaten in an early round game of the Co. Championship by Redmonds whom Ballyhea easily beat in the semi-final. However, in 1897 Ballyhea lost their title, their conquerors once more being Blackrock. Blackrock went on to win the Co. Championship beating Aghada in the final. Blackrock were defeated in the Munster Final at Tipperary Town by our neighbours Kilfinane representing Limerick. Kilfinane went on to win the All-Ireland Final, beating Tullaroan of Kilkenny at Tipperary Town. The game was played on 20 November 1898. The Kilfinane team that won the All-Ireland were beaten three times by Ballyhea, twice in one year and once the following year. These victofes were achieved in tournaments. Ballyhea competed in the Kilfinane and Churchtown Tournaments in 1897. They also played Caherline at Elton. The game was not finished. It was abandoned with Ballyhea leading by two goals and one point. It was one of the toughest games in Ballyhea's hurling history because ten of their men were taken off the field injured and they carried the scars of battle for many a day.

The Ballyhea Team which lost to St. Finbarrs in the Cork Tournament in 1902

The 1898 Munster Final was played in Kilmallock in November 1899 between Blackrock representing Cork and Tubberadora representing Tipperary. Tubberadora won on the score one goal thirteen points to Blackrock's one goal two points. Blackrock included Mike Flaherty, Matt Flaherty, Bob Mooney and Pat O'Gorman of Ballyhea in their line out. At the turn of the century Ballyhea found new rivals in St. Finbarrs. The teams met in the Co. Championships of 1900, 1901 and 1902. But unfortunately Ballyhea were the losers on each occasion. They were dogged by ill-luck off the field also. On one occasion Ballyhea were paired to meet St. Finbarrs in the championship at Mallow Town Park. The team travelled to the venue in a long car which broke down at Two-Pot-House on the way. A message about the mishap was conveyed to the St. Finbarr's mentors at the venue. Finally the team straggled into the venue over an hour after the scheduled time for the game. By this time the Barrs had claimed the match and so Ballyhea were denied the opportunity of revenge just as in 1896 Redmonds prevented them inflicting revenge on Blackrock.

The following are the names of the Ballyhea 1901 team - Pat Bartley, Castlewrixon; Pat and Tom Gorman of the Old Road; the brothers Mike, Jer and Matt Flaherty of Ballynoran; Jack and Matt Hawe of Dromin; J. O'Brien, Ballinagrath; Danny Brien at the chapel; Jer Murphy, Castlewrixon; Denis Reidy. Glenmore; Walter Lenihan, Ballinagrath; M. Madden and Bob Mooney of Pruntas; Jim "Post" Walshe of Ballycosgry; and Jack Roche of Shinana. Mike Flaherty was captain and Bob Mooney was vice-captain. Rev. Fr. White was curate in Ballyhea in the 1890s and early years of the last century. He was very much involved with the team as one of the mentors. Maurice Hassett was the energetic club secretary for many years. He worked at the creamery for many years. His death was regretted by a wide circle of friends and neighbours. Other officials associated with the team were Ned Scully, Michael Fox, N.T., David McDermott, Peter McDermott, Dan O'Brien and the Brassill Brothers. In the list of players of the 1901 team one name in particular is worth noting; it is that of Walter Lenihan who was a member of the team that won the Co. Junior and Intermediate Titles thirty years later.

In 1902 the hurling teams of Doneraile and Shanballymore were amalgamated. Ballyhea met and defeated this combined team in the final of the Kildorrery Tournament in 1902. After the match the Ballyhea players and followers retired to Clancy's Pub to celebrate. A youngster, who was then, and remained all his life, a staunch supporter of the black-and-white was in the pub. The captain, Jer Murphy, was sitting on a stool with a pint beside him. The old captain caught the youngster by the knees and said - "sit down there until we discuss the victory of an age." Little did he realize how prophetic his words were. With one exception, twenty-five years were to elapse before Ballyhea were to secure another important victory. This sole victory was achieved against Ballyagran in the 1904 Charleville Tournament. The following was the Ballyhea line-out: P. Bartley [goal], Mick Flaherty [Capt.], Matt Flaherty, Paddy O'Sullivan, Bob Mooney, Jack Kelleher, Tom O'Brien, John Sheedy, Denis Reidy, Paddy O'Gorman, Tom O'Gorman, Patrick O'Leary, Thade Walsh, Danny O'Brien, Bill [Walter] Iinehan, John Winters, Paddy Kelleher.

The practice field for the Ballyhea hurlers was in Castlewrixon, on the north-western slopes of the Ballyhoura Mountains, overlooking the flat plain that carries the lazy "gentle Mulla" of Spenser, or the Awbeg as we know it. Not far from it stood Ballyhea Castle which was destroyed by Jephson of Mallow in 1641. Nearby at Pipers' Screen lived Fr. John Power of "the Cures", Parish Priest of Ballyhea from 1811 to 1849. Each night to this venue converged for practice men and boys from the Old Road, Pruntas, Glenmore, Garrane, Ballynoran, Ballinagrath, Shinana and Ballyhoura. For many of them it was a two or three mile trek across the countryside after their day's toil. From Monday to Saturday they gathered there, and on Sundays too, when there was no match to attract them.

Inevitably, the passage of time took its toll and the great Ballyhea team, which first came to prominence in 1889, began to break up. The reasons for this were various. Many of the great players were forced to "call it a day" as their "great day's were now behind them. Emigration now became a fact of life in the parish due to lack of employment at home. During the years of The Great War, 1914-18, a number of young men from the parish joined the British Army, influenced no doubt by the presence of Col. Harrison in the parish. More young men joined The Volunteers in 1919 and did their "bit" in the War of Independence, 1919-21. Then came the Civil War of 1922-23. Like every other part of the country the people of Ballyhea were split in their allegiances.

It would appear that Ballyhea ceased to participate in the Cork Senior Hurling Championship towards the end of the first decade of the Twentieth Century, In 1912 Ballyhea fielded a junior learn which made little impression. In 1913 they lost to Charleville in the junior championship at Liscarroll. From 1914 to 1926 there was no Ballyhea team competing in championship hurling. A number of Ballyhea hurlers joined with players from neighbouring clubs to form the "Magpies" team which played under the colours of black-and-white. This team won the Middle Grade Championship in 1915. Among the Ballyhea section of the "Magpies" were - Walter Lenihan, Dan Ryan, P. Crowley, H. Connors, J. Casey, W. Connell, Michael (Tyler) Connell and later Bill (Hub) Pigott. They beat Shamrocks in the 1915 Co. Middle Grade Final at Mallow. But the War of Independence saw the demise of this team as well.

Magpies Team Cork County Middle Grade Champions 1915

A glorious era had now come to an end. A proud people, who gloried in their parish hurling team, now had nothing to identify with. They had drunk of the "cup of success" and were now left wondering would there ever be a return to the "days of glory". They could be forgiven for despair, because thirteen long years were to elapse before the black-and-white of Ballyhea would re-appear on the playing fields. When it did the "days of glory" would return once again. A new generation of hurlers would come along. A new generation of people would applaud them as their heroes. Older people, their pride restored, with tears in their eyes would say - "I was in Mallow Town Park, son, in '96 and on 'The Foggy Day."

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