(1933 – 2015 )
Speaking at the funeral of Robert Kennedy, his brother Ted said “that he need not be enlarged in death what he was in life but be remembered simply as a good man.” There is no need for me to exaggerate Michael Banaghan’s contribution to the life of Cloughjordan community in general and the Kilruane MacDonaghs GAA club in particular. He was an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things in his long and active life. For a person who never seemed to be in a hurry and always had time to talk, he accomplished so much. Thomas MacDonagh Park, with its magnificent facilities, will be his lasting legacy and, as long as hurling is played on its lush green sward, the achievements of Michael and his colleagues in the Thomas MacDonagh Park Committee will never fade from our memories.
In 1961 Michael and his great friend Roche Williams watched the young boys hurling on the Main Street. The club had no pitch, so the Street and ”The Meadow” in the centre of the village reverberated with the clash of the ash. Many a window was broken in smithereens and the sound of smashing glass saw the participants scamper in every direction to escape the wrath of some unfortunate householder. This familiar scene on the street was the inspiration for Michael and Roche to set up the Thomas MacDonagh Park Committee. The aim was to provide the club with a playing pitch which would facilitate training for all teams and enable Cloughjordan to host matches. The optimistic objective was to open the pitch on Easter Sunday 1966, the Golden Jubilee of the 1916 rising. To say that this was a daunting task would be an understatement. The committee had no template, no site and no money but Michael, Roche, Dan Farrell and an enthusiastic committee had a vision and a wise man once said that vision gives you direction, motivation, creativity and resilience.
Michael, the youngest member of the committee, took on the role of secretary and was to hold that position for over fifty years. He set high standards, encouraged efficiency, worked tirelessly and delegated wisely. Michael was meticulous and methodical in everything he did. His organisational expertise complemented the enthusiasm and energy of the large cohort of willing volunteers. The Park Committee embarked on a monumental fundraising effort. A door-to-door collection was organised throughout the parish. There was a tremendous response to this initial fundraiser because a love of hurling is deeply embedded in the hearts and souls of parishioners. The Silver Circle and Cloughjordan Carnival proved to be big revenue earners. The Carnival helped put the village on the map. Bands such as the Dubliners, The Cotton Bills Boys and The Premier Aces strutted their stuff on the stage. Celebrities of the day, including Brendan O’Reilly and John Cowley, who played the famous character Tom Riordan in the popular TV soap, were head-hunted to select the Carnival Queen. Buses came from Nenagh, Thurles and Roscrea and for a few weeks each year Cloughjordan was the Mecca for dancers from North Tipperary and further afield.
And while young and old put their shoulder to the wheel it was Michael who spearheaded the committee, pulled all the threads together and kept things running smoothly. Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality and Michael provided effective and efficient leadership. He was never one to seek the limelight and he skilfully shunned the spotlight. Michael had the ability to make every committee member feel important and they responded by intensifying their efforts.
Against all the odds, overcoming many obstacles, surmounting serious setbacks, Thomas MacDonagh Park was opened on Easter Sunday 1966. The dream of Michael Banaghan and Roche Williams had become a reality. On that day Cloughjordan people all over the world were filled with pride as the little village took centre stage and made national headlines. We can only imagine the sense of pride and joy that Michael and his committee felt on that historic day. Michael was not one to rest on his laurels. Drainage problems had to be addressed and the committee set about providing dressing rooms. In 1969 the Pavilion was built. Michael was anxious that MacDonagh Park would become a focal point for community activities in Cloughjordan so the Pavilion was fitted with sliding partitions, facilitating its transformation into a function room. In 1975 another milestone was achieved when the North senior hurling final was played in Thomas MacDonagh Park, the first North senior final to be played in Cloughjordan since the De Wets defeated Roscrea in Killurane in 1901 final which was actually played in 1902. On that day in September 1975 I can vividly recall Michael surveying the scene with quiet satisfaction – another great day for the village he loved so much. In November of that year Tipperary and Galway played in the National League in MacDonagh Park. On that fateful day in 1961 when Michael and Roche chatted on the village street could they ever have envisaged that the Premier County would play an important league match in Cloughjordan? I doubt it. March 20th 1983 was another red-letter day for Michael and MacDonagh Park when the All-Ireland club football final between Portlaoise and Clanna Gael from Roscommon was played there.
Under Michael’s stewardship, MacDonagh Park was maintained in mint condition and continued to be a favoured venue for important matches. By the nineties many of the founding members of the Park Committee had passed on or ceased to be active and there was an urgent need for rejuvenation. The passage of time hadn’t dulled Michael’s enthusiasm or diluted his dedication. If anything his desire and determination to modernise the facilities In MacDonagh Park were as deep-rooted as ever. There was an influx of new members on to the committee — many the sons of founding members. With Michael and Roche at the helm, finance was raised through a number of successful Sales of Work. And how Michael enjoyed the camaraderie and the community spirit that flourished during those very successful ventures.
The stand was built in Thomas MacDonagh Park in 1995, the magnificent Sports Complex and Clubroom were officially opened in 2006 and a Hurling Wall was added in 2010. Through all this development the guiding hand of Michael was there — dispensing valuable advice, identifying possible pitfalls, calmly reigning in uncontrolled enthusiasm, gently deflecting impractical proposals, coaxing and cajoling when momentum stalled. Michael was always a key figure in raising finance from the original Silver Circles in the 1960’s right up to the present. When the Club Lotto first saw the light of day in 1996 Michael was an enthusiastic supporter. Every Lotto night he could be found in Michael Cahill’s kitchen, sorting the tickets. And until his health began to fail he faithfully carried out this task
Michael’s contribution to the success of Kilruane MacDonaghs and the development of Thomas MacDonagh Park has been universally acknowledged. In 2006, on the day the Complex was opened, he received a presentation in recognition of his role in the development of Thomas MacDonagh Park. The inscription read: “For dedicated and devoted service to MacDonagh Park. In 2007 the Tipperary County Board honoured him with a Sean Ghael Award. In 2010 he was elected vice-president of Kilruane MacDonaghs. The following year Kilruane MacDonaghs marked his fiftieth year as Park Committee secretary with a special presentation. Michael Banaghan’s pride in the Park, the club and the parish was palpable. His enthusiasm for Kilruane MacDonaghs, Thomas MacDonagh Park and Tipperary was infectious. To speak to him was to be energised. To embrace his vision was to be inspired. To hear his hearty laugh would lift your spirits. Michael always had the word of encouragement. He was gracious and generous with praise, constructive and sparing with criticism. “Ye’re doing great work with the juveniles. Keep it up.” he would say. Affirmation from Michael put pep in your step, boosted morale and did wonders for confidence. Michael loved to reminisce about characters and events of the past. However, he always looked forward to the future. When we published our Five Year Plan in 2014 he was delighted when I gave him a copy. He was thrilled that the club was looking to the future.
Back in the 1960’s you could depend on Michael for a lift to the matches. Michael and Bernie always came up trumps as we thumbed a lift on the Nenagh Road. We squashed into the car and although someone’s knee might be buried in your ribs, an elbow might be piercing your jaw and your head might be hopping off the roof on the bumpy Kyle road, we always reached our destination safe and sound.
Whether Kilruane MacDonaghs won or lost Michael was never afraid to show his emotion. He savoured our victories in the seventies and eighties in Nenagh, Thurles and Croke Park. If you ever doubted what those victories meant to the people of the parish you only had to see Michael’s beaming face and the tears in his eyes as he offered you a congratulatory handshake.
The passing of one Cloughjordan’s most iconic personalities will leave the parish and the village all poorer. It is truly the end of an era but Michael, who was an optimist by nature, would probably view it as the beginning of a new one. On behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs club, the club he loved so passionately, the club he served so loyally and the club he followed so faithfully, I would like to extend sympathy to his devoted wife Bernie, the Banaghan and Tierney families and all his relatives and friends. Thanks Bernie for sharing him with us for all those years. We enjoyed his company. We valued his friendship. We heeded his advice. We trusted his instincts. We appreciated his assistance. We followed his example. We admired his determination. We marvelled at his persistence and perseverance. And above all we will never forget everything that he did for Thomas MacDonagh Park and the Kilruane MacDonaghs club.
Michael savoured all the recent success of our underage teams. Wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute to his memory if Kilruane MacDonaghs could once again make the breakthrough at senior level. I think nothing would please him more. May God reward him for all his great work. May the Light of Heaven shine on him and may his noble soul rest in peace.