Pupils in Parteen National School are seeking the assistance of the public with a project that aims to tell the life-stories of 15 Parteen rugby team players more than a century ago.

Parteen rugby team (1902–1910) Back row l-r: Joe Keegan, Mickey Boyle, Jack Freeman, Pat ‘Marshall’ McMahon, Michael McMahon, Willie Small, James Hartigan. (Middle) John McMahon, Joe Clear, Pat Clear, Jack Kelly, John Keane. (Front) Paddy Cahill, Tommy Woulfe, Willie Woulfe and Jack Larkin.

Much of the project, entitled United by Sport, Divided by War’ will focus on how conflict changed the lives of the players. The men were united in their love of rugby in peacetime but ultimately war would tear the team apart and have a devastating impact on many of their lives.

Third class teacher Cathal Crowe and 17 history-loving pupils have been meeting after school to delve into the players’ untold stories.

The project is centred on an old photograph of a Parteen rugby team, from the period 1902-1910, that features in a book titled The History and Folklore of Parteen and Meelick written by Dónal Ó Riain and Séamas Ó Cinnéide.

The names of all the players are captioned with the photo and some of the surnames resonated with the pupils as the names Boyle, Browne, McMahon, Hartigan, Clear and Larkin feature prominently in the community.

According to Cathal Crowe, the photograph is particularly interesting for a number of reasons:-

• All of the men were born in the late 1800s and lived through some of the most turbulent times in Irish and world history, including the 1916 Rising, World War I, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Some of their parents would have lived through the Great Famine when Ireland was on its knees yet most of them lived to see the construction of the Ardnacrusha Power Station – a bold statement of a new and ambitious Irish nation arriving at the world stage in the 1920s.

• The men played rugby, known as a “garrison game” by nationalists at a time when there was a surge in support for Gaelic games.

• The men photographed were all from the locality. Many attended Parteen School, married local women and remained in the area.

At least two of the team, Jack Kelly (grandfather of Dónal Ó Riain’s wife Mary) and Jack Larkin (of Larkin’s Pub) fought in World War I. Kelly was killed in Flanders in 1917 leaving behind a very young family.

Several members of the team were directly or indirectly involved in the Republican movement on home soil. Michael Keegan, whose father Joe was one of the team’s coaches, was interned at Spike Island and Jack Browne (of Browne’s Pub in Parteen) lost his brother-in-law, Michael Gleeson, as a result of a botched ambush in Meelick.

The children involved in the project would love to hear from living relatives of the men featured in the photograph. A key component of the project will be to interview descendants of the men.

To date the children have interviewed Billy Browne, Dónal Ó Riain and Mary Ó Riain née Kelly. They also plan to interview Pat Clear, a local man in his 90s, whose father and uncle both played on the team.

Staff at Parteen National School believe that the collective narrative of the 1910 rugby team is worth retelling but will need the assistance of the public to piece together the fragmented parts of the player’s stories.

Anyone with relevant information can either phone the school on (061) 340457 or email: parteenhistory@gmail.com

Commenting on the project school principal Ger Ruane said, “This is a fantastic opportunity for the children. I’d like to thank Mr Crowe for volunteering to do this after school and acknowledge the interest of the 17 children who stay on after school to complete this research. I’m really looking forward to where this project will lead!”