Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Lifelong Season, by Keith Duggan

The canon of Great GAA Books is not one that reflects the role of the GAA in Irish life. Breandán Ó hEithir’s masterful Over the Bar remains head and shoulders above the pack, but what a scurrilous pack it is, comprised, in the main, of hack jobs, honest but uninspired histories and curiously bloodless and poorly ghosted autobiographies.

At last Ó hEithir’s book has something of relative stature to talk to in the offseason. Keith Duggan has been one of the outstanding GAA writers since he arrived at the Irish Times and now he’s written a book that is commensurate with his great talents.

The Lifelong Season is a series of pen-pictures of GAA life. Duggan profiles some of the people that have made the GAA what it is, and brings them to life with aplomb. Christy Ring is in there of course, the first and, in many ways, the only true icon of the GAA that rose above his own local allegiances to gain the respect and, eventually, the love of hurling followers all the world over. The Gaynors of Kilruane and Tipperary are there, as Len Gaynor, a veteran of the notoriously full-blooded Kilkenny-Tipp games of the sixties recounts that the hurl was used as much as a shield as a device for propelling the sliothar. And Duggan draws a masterful portrayal of the greatest ever Tyrone footballer, Frank McGuigan, whose story is that of so many GAA stars who were consumed by the flames of their own starring role.

In the chapter on Ring, Duggan remarks on how important it is that the story of Ring is recorded correctly, which means is written down. As Duggan wryly remarks, folktales do no travel down mobile phones; the deeds of Ring must be properly and permanently recorded, or else Jack Lynch’s graveside oration will be proved wrong, and the greatest hurler of all time will become just another name of the past.

The resistance of the GAA world to have books written is astonishing, and very difficult to understand, apart from the traditional rural distrust of the man with the pen. The introduction to Val Dorgan’s memoir of Christy Ring, published two years after Ring’s death, is instructive, where Dorgan recounts how he had to beg the Ring family to let him write the book. More of these books must be written, if the heroes of the games are to remembered, warts and all; thank God that a we have a writer of Duggan’s stature willing to take on the job.