There is an old Irish Proverb “Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin” - “There is no place like home.” The Windmill was home for Michael. He was born, raised and spent all his life there. The Windmill is a part of the village that we thought was, is and hopefully will always be special. In Michael’s youth the Windmill was a bit of an independent Republic with its shop, garage, forge, mill, barber, two blockmakers, water tower, fountain, milk supplier, the Stickfield for hurling and of course the Parochial House and the Church. The people who lived in the Windmill were called the Windmill Dukes. All the Windmill lacked to be completely sovereign was its own currency. It was an area full of great characters such as the Bunch Reddan, Rodge Skehan, Sonny Foote Killackey and many more. In the Windmill neighbours were always there for each other. You could borrow the cup of sugar, a jug of milk whenever the occasion arose. Doors were seldom locked and an invitation was never needed to make a visit. You rambled in whenever you wished, were assured of a céad mile fáilte and never left hungry. Growing up in the Windmill in the 50s and 60s the pace of life was slow, money was scarce and luxuries were few. I’m sure Michael didn’t get everything he wanted but had all he needed
Michael was born on the 31st May 1953 and I arrived on the scene on 4th December. We started school, made our First Holy Communion, became altar servers and were confirmed together. We teamed up to hunt the Wren and made our debut for Kilruane MacDonaghs on the same evening. In later years we socialised together. Michael went to the local National School. The principal Roche Williams fostered a love of all things Irish in his pupils. Hurling was the only game played in the school and there were tremendous matches in the playground. There was generally only one sliotar or shoeleather, as we called it, available. Many valuable minutes were often lost searching for the elusive sliotar in the ditch. Roche always gave a little extra time for the hurling to finish. When the bell rang the cries of Naíonáin - could be held from the older boys to signal the infants to get into class and let the hurling continue.
MacDonagh Park was not opened until 1966 so Meadow in the centre of the village, the Stickfield and more often than not the road were all used to play hurling. Traffic on the road was minimal and only the arrival of the local Garda on the scene brought a halt to proceedings. “Three To Be In” was a popular hurling game. Two jumpers or rocks were used to make one goals and the first player to score three goals then took his turn as goalkeeper. There was never any conflict over fouls, scores or square balls. There was no need for Hawkeye. Whoever owned the sliotar made all the decisions. His word was law and nobody disagreed with him or else he could head home with the sliotar and the game was over.
Michael perfected his hurling skills in this environment. Even at a young age it was obvious was that he had the talent to make it as a hurler. Hurling was in his DNA. His father Jim had played with Knockshegowna and was on the first Knockshe team that won a North Junior final in 1934. There were actually five players with the surname Waters on that team. Jim transferred to Kilruane MacDonaghs when he married Nellie Burns and settled in the Windmill. He won North senior medals in 1940 and 1944. Michael’s uncles Billy, Tony and Joe Burns also played with the club.
Hurling wasn’t Michael’s only pastime. He played billiards and table tennis in the Youth Club and was handy at both. I know he was good at table tennis because he beat me in a final but our friendship survived. Michael like myself hadn’t a note in his head and we wouldn’t have nailed down a place in the Palestrina Choir. However, that didn’t deter us from hunting the Wren on St. Stephen’s Day. The neighbours in the Windmill would always give something to the Wrenboys no matter how bad the singing was. Actually the worse you were the more you got as people had pity on those of us who were musically challenged. I recall one St. Stephen’s Day. Michael and I were hunting the Wren. We called to this particular house where a new arrival was now domiciled. We belted out the Wren Chant and then tore into a song called “Brennan on the Moor” a song made famous by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and if you can remember this song you are showing your age. The door opened and the occupant – we will call him Philip for the sake of the story – appeared and disappeared quickly. We thought he was gone into the kitchen to root out some cash so to give him value for money we went up a few decibels and as John B Keane would say we gave it our almighty best though I would be telling a lie to say were singing in tune. Philip returned with the sweeping brush in his hand and growled “ If ye don’t get to hell out of here I will give ye Brennan on the moor.” We took him at his word and made a hasty retreat. We crossed Philip off our Christmas card list and gave his dwelling a wide berth the following years.
Michael was witty, intelligent and quick to think on his feet. As teenagers we would often loiter on the village streets on summer nights. I remember one night as we were assembled in front of Percy’s shop a local character who had exceeded his quota of drink waddled into our midst and addressed this question to Michael. “What is life?” That was a six marker. A question that has baffled philosophers and theologians down the centuries. We fixed our gaze on Michael to see what his answer would be. “ I will tell you in the morning” was Michael’s calm and composed reply.” Fair enough I will see you in the morning then” mumbled our satisfied questioner as he shuffled on home. I doubt if Michael ever solved the mystery of life for this character the following morning or any other morning. Michael always looked the picture of innocence but was quick to seize the opportunity to have some fun. A few weeks I got word to call to his house as he wanted to buy some tickets for the latest draw. He was in tremendous form and we had a great chat. Michael told me that he had a recent caller, a member of a Christian Evangelical Group. Michael politely declined to engage but advised him to go to a certain house nearby where the family might be more receptive. “I wonder what kind of reception he got there” laughed Michael.
In his late teens and twenties Michael liked to take a drink but never let drink take hold of him. No matter how many pints he drank he remained steady on his feet, coherent and composed. We marvelled at his capacity to consume alcohol without undergoing a character transformation. One of his favourite haunts was Williams’ pub on the Main Street. He enjoyed the company of the older customers especially the prime boys from Kyle. The pub was like a university. You always learned something there. However, it was often difficult to decipher what was fact and fiction as tall tales were spun. In the pub truth and lies coexisted in perfect harmony and there was no Google to check the veracity of supposedly solid facts.
Michael played his first juvenile game for Kilruane MacDonaghs against Shannon Rovers in Ballinderry in 1966. Fr. John Greed, an uncle of Fr. Pat’s was one of our mentors along with Din Cahill. We had very little if any preparation done for the game. Selecting the team was far from scientific. Fr. Greed asked who wanted to play in goals. There wasn’t a stampede for the number one jersey but eventually the position was filled. The same was done for the backs. Michael volunteered to play wing-back and was destined to play most of his career in the backs though he had the ability to play anywhere on the field. He won his first medals in 1968 when he captained the U15 team that included his brother Mackey to win the North Rural and Urban/Rural titles against Shannon Rovers. In 1971 he was centre-back on the minor hurling team that won the North and County finals. The Guardian report on the County final win over Boherlahan remarked that “Michael Waters was a half back of note.” A year later Michael was wing-back on the U21 hurling team that won the club’s first ever title in that grade with a victory over Roscrea in the final. If you read a report of that game you will find no mention of Michael or indeed Mackey and they are not named in the team even though they both played and played well. Michael played under the name of Michael Walsh and Mackey was given the name Martin Walsh. They weren’t illegal and there was nothing sinister in this apparent duplicity. Their uncle Billy Burns had died in Bristol before the final and out of respect the lads didn’t play under their own names or stand in for the team photograph. Luckily enough neither of them were booked because I wonder what names they would have given. Michael went on to collect two more North U21 hurling medals and two County medals. He played at midfield in the famous 1974 County U21 victory over Thurles in Nenagh. Red-hot favourites Sarsfields with the aid of the wind raced into a ten-point lead inside the first quarter. I can distinctly remember a well-known Thurles mentor urging his charges to pile on the agony. However, a few switches helped turn the tide in favour of MacDonaghs who went on to record a famous eight-point victory, one of the best in the club’s history. Michael had a preference for hurling rather than football but he enjoyed great success with the big ball winning North and County senior medals, three U21 medals and a minor medal.
After his underage hurling days Michael progressed on to the junior team. He was corner-forward on the team that overcame Templederry to win the divisional title in 1975. Last Wednesday we laid to rest Paddy Mulrooney, another member of that team. Michael retired from hurling at the end of the 1975 season. It had been a short but very successful career in the black and white jersey. Had he the ability to play senior? Most definitely. Michael had a great pair of wrists, could strike comfortably off of either side and had as we would say a great “snig of the ball”. He hurled the ball in an era where that wasn’t mandatory. Michael had the head, hands and feet to make it. There was no lack of talent but probably a lack of ambition to follow the same path as his father Jim and brother Mackey and play senior hurling.
In retirement, Michael remained a faithful follower of Kilruane MacDonaghs. Even in later years when his health deteriorated he kept in touch with the progress of all club teams. He was a mine of information on the GAA as he was an avid reader of match programmes and yearbooks. Michael and Mackey supported every draw, raffle and fundraising venture that the club had. They were not afraid to put their hands in their pockets and dig deep.
Nobody had a bad word to say about Michael. The heartfelt tributes that can be viewed on Rip.ie are eloquent testimony to his popularity and standing in the community. As a childhood friend, neighbour and playing colleague I can say that those tributes were well deserved as Michael Waters was a gentleman.
On my own behalf and on behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs club I would like to extend sympathy to Mackey, Mary, Paddy, Jamie, Shane, Elaine, Lisa, Peggy, Jane and extended families.
Leaba i measc na naomh dó.