Interview with James ‘Jas’ O’Reilly
Player, selector, administrator and fund raiser. The Portlaoise great Jas O’Reilly.
This is an edited version of an interview Larry McEvoy did with Brian Delaney and Teddy Fennelly in June 2007. Larry was a dedicated follower of Portlaoise teams all his long life as, indeed, were all his family. His father trained the town hurlers to win their first senior championship in 1928. His brother, Tom, was a great hurler for town and county and won a senior championship in 1943.
Another brother Paddy, although working and living in Dublin hardly missed a match in which Porltaoise was involved and he and Larry would always visit the Portlaoise dressing-room and chat with the players after the game – whether the team won or lost. Larry sadly passed away in October 2013, aged 92 years. Larry’s father, Michael, came originally from Stradbally. He worked in Odlums Flour Mills. Kieran McEvoy, postman, was another brother. Larry takes up the story.
“Our family consisted of brothers, Willie, John, Michael, Jim, Paddy, Tom and myself and sisters, Annie, Mary and Kathleen. I was the youngest.
“Father got involved with Portlaoise GAA when he came to town. Tom Moore, (there was no O in front of the Moore), who lived where the Square Bar is now. gave the use of the pitch where O’Moore Park is now to Fr. Kearney for the club in the early years of the last century. I often heard him say that Joe Fennelly, and himself, and a man by the name of Jim Delaney, Abbeyleix Road and ‘Ruddley’ Quinlan, who lived opposite O’Moore Park, where Mick Mulhall and family lived in later years, staked it out and looked after the jerseys and whatever equipment they had.
“Fr Kearney became County Chairman and handed it over to the County Board, who had no field. It was only railed in with stakes and wire. It should be Moore Park but somehow it got changed over the years to O’Moore Park because of the connection of the O’Moores with Laois. After then handing over of the field to the county Portlaoise teams had no grounds of their own and trained and played here, there and everywhere. “I could never understand it how my father coming from Stradbally got so involved with Portlaoise and hurling, in particular. He trained the 1928 team, that won the first senior hurling championship for Portlaoise.. He was telling us about the training, how he trained them and that Paddy Farrell (Hasper’s father) was with him.
“Included on the 1928 team were: Jimmy Fortune, Main Street, in goal. He was brother of Miss Mena Fortune, who had a news agent’s shop at the corner of Railway Street. Their father, Nicholas, was a great man for the club.
“John Kelly, Bloomfield, corner back, Jack Dunne of the Hill, and Mick Dunne, the butcher, were the full back line. Paddy Doran, Borris Road and Mick Conroy, Harpur’s Lane, brother of the Jimmy, the ‘Fiend’ were half backs. Ger Kelly, Kellyville, brother of Tommy of the Foundry, was the Daddy of Them All and Bill Quinlan, a fine hurler and brother of “Ruddley” were at midfield. Larry Cushen of Grattan Street, a man of steel, was centre half forward. Jim Quinn, brother of Leo Quinn and Mrs Keenan, Knockmay Road, and a fellow by the name of Hogan, an army man, were others I can remember.
“My father used to wear glasses and he used take them off to read. Strange, isn’t it? He used to go up to the field on the bike and train the team with a carbide lamp because the championships used run late then. There would be a drop of water dropping on to the carbide. It was the only light you had up the road. Times have changed.
“Why did they only win one final with such a strong team, you might ask? I’ll tell you. There was trouble after that final. I often heard my father saying at the time that they were supposed to play some team in Abbeyleix. Jimmy Fortune’s mother died and Portlaoise tried to get a postponement but were not given one. They asked Dr Murphy, the parish priest here, to arrange the funeral for earlier than usual so that the match could be played. The lads were all at the funeral and togged out in the cars going over. They were late coming out on the field or any reason. That’s how it was. They were trying to get them out any way. Every game they played they had to play it twice. Lar Brady was in the middle of it. There was a falling out after 1928.
“Paddy Campion, Ned’s father, a Rathdowney man who won an All-Ireland with Laois in 1915, came to town and started up a street league for the Perry Cup. There were four teams in it, Green Road, Ridge Road, the Town and the Dublin Road. Only those from the town played in it. The Green Road won it out three years running, and won the Perry Cup outright. The last I heard about that was that it was in the CBS. I have a snap of the Green Road team. Fr O’Donnell also set up a street league in football some years later. He was strict man. They had a great confraternity here in his time.
“The Magpies they used to call the Portlaoise teams. They wore black and white through all those years. There were terrible clashes between Portlaoise and Clonad. Mostly the 1928 crowd but a little later the likes of Jim and Dan Coss, Kevin Croke, Tony, Martin and Bill Delaney, Fint Cooke, Jim Brien, Paddy McEvoy and Dick Rourke came along? A few prison officers played as well, Sheridan from Cork, and Fitzgerald, I think, from Birr were two of them.
“I often heard the old crowd talking about Fr. Kearney. He was a great man. But I could never understand how they (the club) was left without a pitch. They moved around everywhere and anywhere they could find. For a while they trained down the Ballyfin Road at the back of Jim Coss’ house. There’s houses on it now. On Delaney’s field over on the Ridge, the Barrack Field (where the Department have offices now) and any other place they could get. Johnny Conroy (the “Grinder”) in the ESB got them the field at the front of O’Moore Park. Portlaoise had to pay £10 a year for the rent of it. They trained too in the field owned by Meehans at the other side of the road, as well where the ESB is now.
“I don’t know why they went out of existence after winning the final in 1943. There used to be great Feis games. I think they won the Feis Mhor Laois Cup that year as well beating Abbeyleix. My brother, Tom, played in 1943. He won a Leinster medal he never got. He played in one game in 1934 and was a sub in the others. They lost the All-Ireland final to Tipperary that year. They were robbed out of it. There were a couple of latecomers to that team. I asked someone I knew to enquire in the Leinster Council. But they probably wouldn’t have records back that far. If there was a programme for the All-Ireland that year you’d find the names. Limerick, with the great Mick Mackey played Dublin in the senior final. The Limerick players were on the field but the referee kept the minor game going for ten minutes extra before Tipp scored the winning goal. “There was more hurling than football in the club back those years. They did not take much interest in football, there were no games – and then Kilminchy was started up and they won the junior. Jim Brien, Ger Doody, Billy Bunyan played with them. Jack Fennell was on the committee, so too was Dinny Cooke and Jas Reilly’s father, Jim. Arthur Whelan’s father, too, and they used to have the meetings out there. Har Bryan, Willie’s father, played with them. So too Joe Reddy, played centre back, I remember they sent out a medal to him in America at the time. They were, I think, attendants in the Mental (Hospital).
“The Rovers had some great hurling teams. Paddy Brennan played with them before transferring to the town. The town club was reformed in 1949 and Jimmy Conroy and his brother, Peter, and a few others came to Portlaoise for a year or so after that happened. “As regards club officials, Paddy Campion was there for years. It wasn’t formalised as well as it is now. Jimmy Cotter and Jimmy Sexton, Jim Loughlin. Mick Twomey (taking out the cards at halftime) were all great men for the club later on. It was all serious stuff but there were funny things happened as well. Like Johnny Lynch going all the way to Mountmellick on an ass to see the town play Clonad. I remember, too, Brian Reilly getting a point in a minor match and your father, (Joe Fennelly) shouted in at the umpire who signalled it wide that if he did that again he’d be in over the wire at him. Some time later Portlaoise got a wide and the umpire gave a point. So that (pressure) sometimes works. They were great times.”
Player, selector, administrator and fund raiser. The Portlaoise great Jas O’Reilly.
Brian Stack was an active member and great supporter of Portlaoise GAA club all his life. He played football and hurling up to and including senior level and was a well-known inter-county referee.
If there was any one player who symbolised the never-say-die spirit that inspired Portlaoise to become one of the country’s top GAA Clubs in the 1960s and early ‘70s is has to be Pascal Delaney, know to friend and foe alike as “The Red Lad”.