Lifetime of Commitment To The GAA Club Founded In His Family
Home At Passage West, Co. Cork
March 30th 1952 was arguably the most significant day in the history of Passage West, Co. Cork, hurling and football club. That was the day when the club took a huge step ahead of the vast majority of other clubs in Cork county by opening its newly developed playing pitch which was named ‘Manning Park’. The new pitch is located on land adjacent to Manning Park, formerly owned by the Aherne family.
Passage West is located on the shorelines of Cork’s river Lee as it flows south-eastwards to the Atlantic Ocean. It is just six miles from Cork city centre. On that historic day in 1952 for the Passage club, a seven year old boy, Matt Aherne, sat on the sideline in awe as the nearby Carrigaline Pipe Band paraded around the pitch leading the senior hurling teams of St. Finbarrs and Blackrock into battle to mark the official opening of the new club grounds.
The young boy looking on at the glitz and ceremony on that historic day could hardly have predicted how his life would be so positively shaped and steeped in all matters pertaining to gaelic games. From 1952 right up to the current time, Matt Aherne is the final word on all matters of historic importance in the history of Passage West GAA. He has meticulously recorded, by camera and the written word, most of the facts and figures of the club, from its foundation in 1885 right through to the 21st century.
Matt is extremely proud of the historic fact that when the club was founded, the first ever meeting of the pioneering founders took place at Park Farm, the farmhouse residence of his great grandfather, just a puck of a sliothar way from the current home of the club at Manning Park. And further evidence of Matt’s heritage to the local club can be traced to the first ever pitch used by the club at Rathanker. The field was also the property of Matt’s great grandfather and to embellish further Matt’s G.A.A. roots, his great grandfather is historically recorded, as the clubs first ever chairman.
With such a proud heritage to maintain Matt Aherne has never been silenced when the subject matter is Passage West G.A.A. club. Throughout his life he has almost lived entirely in the house where the club was founded and upon entering the farmhouse residence (as I frequently do) the first and last words spoken by Matt are from the G.A.A. gospel.
In further consolidation of Matt’s G.A.A. heritage, 120 Years Of GAA In Passage, the clubs prize winning history book, researched and written by Matt, was launched in the summer of 2006 and duly won the G.A.A. McNamee National Award for the best club history book of theyear.
Living in close proximity to Manning Park from the age of seven, Matt immersed himself into all things relevant to Passage G.A.A. club and hurling was the main code in the club in the 1950’s and the intermediate grade was the top tier for Passage.
One of Cork’s greatest ever full backs was a Passage player, Frank Maxwell, a stonewall defender and a player who could turn defence into immediate attack, such was the extraordinary distance Frank could achieve from puck outs and frees in the Passage backline. A giant of a man, Frankie was the idol of all Passage schoolboys and juveniles and he was primarily responsible for the induction of young boys into hurling all through the 1950's.
Frank Maxwell, John Barry and Johnny Coughlan all wore the Cork jersey and Matt Aherne claims this famous trio of club legends were inspirational in his own commitment to gaelic games.The formation of Matt’s career with the camán goes back to 1956 when as a schoolboy he was part of a school hurling team, captained by yours truly, and that friendship, on and off the field, has endured for over 60 years.
On the subject matter of the club history book I strolled across Matt on the old Passage – Blackrock railway line in 1988 when walking home from a match in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Matt informed me that he was considering writing a history book on our club and maybe I might consider having an input. After a period of over two hours and a search party breezing for me around the locality, my wife believed I had gone to the boozer and forgot about our music night out. When I announced I had met Matt on the Railway Line and we had talked tactics till dusk fell, no more explanation was required.
Many years later in the early 2000’s I was summoned to a meeting at Matt’s home and I instantly knew the subject matter would be G.A.A. Along with meeting Matt on that eventful night, another great club stalwart was also summoned to be present in the person of Séan Geary. Matt was lining up Seán and myself as the team with responsibility for finally publishing our club history from foundation in 1885 right up to 2005. Scores of lengthy meetings took place in the same house (Park Farm) where our club was founded and now the fruits of those long nights were in transition.
Buckets of ink produced a 300 page club history and Matt Aherne, as the initiator, author and proud Passage man, had achieved a tremendous work of art for current and future generations of Passage West G.A.A. club.From schoolboy hurling at the local national school under the guidance of his teacher, the late Mr. Tom Cotter, Matt progressed to play in all grades of hurling and football with the club and that included senior hurling.
The twilight days of his playing career extended to 1990 playing in goal for the junior ‘B’ hurling team – an outstanding spell through five decades wearing the famous green/white jersey. Practice makes perfect and that can be attributed to Matt in big measures and through juvenile and adult grades, the Passage historian and custodian, spent endless hours pucking sliothars with his lifelong friend and another famous Passage hurler, Bernie Meade. Recalling those far off innocent days, Matt says they played with rubber balls, tennis balls and eventually, a sliothar was procured.
Club administration beckoned when Matt came out of minor ranks and the club appointed 19 year old Matt as delegate to the City Division Board, a duty he fulfilled in company with fellow club delegate, the late Hugh Geary, for seven years. A man of great administrative ability, in the late 1970’s Matt proposed the club set up a separate under age committee, a motion that was passed and the club elected Matt as the first ever under age chairman. Still thirsting for greater club involvement, Matt also took over the envious task of maintaining the pitches in the 1970’s at Manning Park and maintained that job for over fifteen years.
Speaking on matters pertaining to Passage G.A.A. club, Cork gaels will identify Matt Aherne as the G.A.A. voice of the club. The association of Matt and GAA is still vibrant in 2017 as Matt retains liason with the club as the Cork County Board delegate, a post he has held for several years in unity with the late Finny Cronin.Finny was replaced in 2016, following his untimely death, by another club veteran, Ned Harrington. Ned is also enrolled in our All Ireland Hall Of Fame Irish Heritage website as a Champion Sports Volunteer and Ned’s profile has been read by our browsers from all around the globe.
Rarely stepping outside the G.A.A. corridors, Matt is also a keen local community historian and his library of old Passage West pictures of times past is extensive. Whisper Manchester United and Matt becomes energised and grossly involved in debates and banter on the Red Devils and is well informed on the history of the famous Manchester soccer club, especially the Irish players who played with distinction for the club.
Behind every good man is a good partner and certainly Matt chose wisely when he romanced with Anne and took her as his G.A.A. wife many decades ago. As hostess at the farmhouse where Passage West G.A.A. club was founded, Anne has welcomed all visitors to the famous farmhouse with thousands of cups of tea and a great genuine smile for one and all.
Long life and G.A.A. happiness to Matt and Anne and as long as green grass grows and ash meets leather on the G.A.A. playing fields of Ireland, Matt Aherne will never sit quietly on any stool when the subject matter is gaelic games history and especially when the word “Passage” is on the agenda.
Thanks Matt and Anne for the Golden Memories.
Derry JF Doody
@ All Ireland Hall Of Fame