Royal Dublin re­mem­bers heroic son of Dol­ly­mount

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - DER­MOT GILLEECE

CAST in bronze and sit­ting on a wooden base, it mea­sured lit­tle more than five inches in di­am­e­ter. Yet for what it con­veyed in terms of pain and loss from hor­rific events of 100 years ago, the so-called Widow’s Penny evoked pro­found emo­tion.

Not sur­pris­ingly, it be­came the cen­tre­piece of a re­mark­able evening, or­gan­ised by Royal Dublin to mark the cen­te­nary of the death of a favoured son. In­deed Michael Mo­ran gained the unique dis­tinc­tion of be­ing ap­pointed pro­fes­sional on the site of his first home.

Through some ad­mirable re­search by the club’s 2017 cap­tain, Peter Fin­negan, five rel­a­tives of Mo­ran’s were present to re­ceive framed pho­tographs of their an­ces­tor. Even more re­mark­able was that they were meet­ing each other for the first time.

Bernie O’Shaugh­nessy, whose fa­ther, John Dearl, was the cad­die-master at Clon­tarf GC, brought along the cher­ished me­mento. Sim­i­lar in de­sign to an old penny coin, the plaque was also known chill­ingly as the “Dead Man’s Penny”, be­cause of the cir­cum­stances in which it was ac­quired.

Raised let­ter­ing on the right-hand side car­ried the name: Michael Mo­ran. As with all of the other plaques, no rank was added so as not to dis­tin­guish be­tween the sac­ri­fices of the fallen. A to­tal of 1.355 mil­lion of them were is­sued to the next of kin of Bri­tish ser­vice per­son­nel killed in World War I. “I had never seen Molly Perry be­fore, and my first thought was that she was a ringer for my aunt,” said Mrs O’Shaugh­nessy. Of the rel­a­tives present, Mrs Perry was the clos­est to Mo­ran who was, in fact, her un­cle.

The win­ner of five suc­ces­sive Ir­ish Pro­fes­sional Cham­pi­onships was an act­ing lance-cor­po­ral in the 7 th Bat­tal­ion Royal Ir­ish Reg­i­ment, when he died of bat­tle wounds in a Ger­man field hos­pi­tal at Le Cateau, France on April 10, 1918. Given that his death was recorded not long af­ter the start of that des­per­ate,spring of­fen­sive, he is thought to have been in the front line. He wasn’t yet 32.

“I’m now 84, liv­ing in Rath­farn­ham and the youngest and last sur­vivor of seven chil­dren,” said Mrs Perry. Then came the stun­ning dis­clo­sure: “My mother, Mary, was Michael’s sis­ter. There was just the two of them and I re­mem­ber Mammy talk­ing about a fire in Royal Dublin and ev­ery­thing to do with Un­cle Mike was de­stroyed in it.”

This was the fire of Au­gust 2, 1943, when the old club­house was burnt to the ground along with the ad­join­ing dwelling-house of the club pro­fes­sional.

She went on: “Mammy didn’t even know about the Mo­ran Cup. Af­ter she died, an in­sur­ance man was talk­ing to me about golf and I told him I had an Un­cle Mike who died years ago. With that, he tells me that the Cup was be­ing played for out in Sut­ton. Up to that point, I had no idea my Un­cle Mike was re­mem­bered, so it was a lovely sur­prise when my daugh­ter, Linda, told me about Royal Dublin’s cel­e­bra­tion plans.

“Though I knew Mammy was reared there, last week was my first time ever at the club. Imag­ine that, af­ter 84 years. It was very emo­tional, think­ing of my mother and how she never knew that Un­cle Mike’s name would live on.”

In truth, few per­sonal de­tails were known about Mo­ran un­til rel­a­tively re­cently. Ref­er­ence was made to him, how­ever, in Joe Kennedy’s Dublin­ers Di­ary in the Evening Press in Au­gust 1983, to mark the re­turn of the Ir­ish Open to Royal Dublin.

Kennedy re­ferred in a fas­ci­nat­ing tail-piece to a pho­to­graph of Mo­ran he had ac­quired through cor­re­spon­dence from Hugh Perry, Molly’s late hus­band. The cap­tion sug­gested it was a pro­mo­tional pho­to­graph pre­sum­ably linked to Mo­ran’s use of cer­tain golf equip­ment.

Dated 1911, it claimed the player had un­leashed a drive of “365 yards at Dol­ly­mount on May 3, 1910.” It added: “He won al­most ev­ery im­por­tant event in Ire­land dur­ing the last two years and has used the Dun­lop Ju­nior the whole time.” Which made it quite a golf ball, given that this was only nine years af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the core-wound Haskell ball in 1901.

In the event, an email from Hugh Perry’s daugh­ter, Linda Byrne, to Royal Dublin only last month, opened cru­cial doors to com­plete Fin­negan’s re­search. “My par­ents were al­ways very in­ter­ested in Michael Mo­ran’s ca­reer,” she wrote. “In 2015, just be­fore my fa­ther passed away, they made the trip to visit Michael’s grave [in France]. As you can imag­ine, this was a very emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for them both.”

Her cor­re­spon­dence be­came a cru­cial link in bring­ing to­gether the Mo­ran rel­a­tives on the night, com­pris­ing as they did, her­self and Molly Perry, along with Bernie, Ann Hickey and Thomas Cur­ley: the Cur­leys were the ma­ter­nal side of the orig­i­nal Mo­ran fam­ily.

“My mother’s fa­ther was Pa­trick Cur­ley,” said Bernie. “I live in Kil­more near Beaumont Hos­pi­tal and I al­ways knew about Mike Mo­ran from my mother Mar­garet [Cur­ley] talk­ing about him. She would say that the Cur­leys were like the Wal­ton fam­ily on TV, the way they took ev­ery­body in.

“I thought the Royal Dublin oc­ca­sion was ab­so­lutely bril­liant and I was re­ally touched by the work that went into it. I found news­pa­per cut­tings about Michael Mo­ran in a box my mother had and I was only too de­lighted to loan them to Peter Fin­negan. His club de­serve great credit for what they did.”

On leave from the fight­ing, Michael Mo­ran made his last visit home in Au­gust 1917. That’s when he played a fa­mous ex­hi­bi­tion match in aid of the Red Cross over the orig­i­nal par-35 nine holes of Clon­tarf GC in the grounds of what is now Mount Tem­ple School.

At­tired in full army uni­form, even down to his spurs and “am­mu­ni­tion” boots, he used bor­rowed clubs to card a re­mark­able three-un­der-par 32. None of the en­thralled ob­servers could have imag­ined that eight months later, he would be dead.

Wild winds swept the Dol­ly­mount links on April 27, when Clon­tarf pro­fes­sional, Ea­monn Brady, won the Mo­ran Cup with an out­stand­ing score of 66, as the high-point of the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions. On beloved ter­rain, one could imag­ine a dis­tin­guished ghost from the past, nod­ding in ad­mi­ra­tion.

He is thought to have been in the front line. He wasn’t yet 32

At the newly-erected plaque on the wall of Cur­ley’s Yard be­side the third hole at Royal Dublin, to com­mem­o­rate the birth­place of Michael Mo­ran on the cen­te­nary of his death in World War I, Howard (Pres­i­dent), Thomas Cur­ley, Ann Hickey, Molly Perry,...

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