MacRory memories: War-time travel issues made fulfilling fixtures difficult

November 08, 2023

The 1940s were years of hardship occasioned by the problems associated with the Second World War. Travel was difficult and often severely restricted and fulfilling match-fixtures was almost impossible.

In May 1942, the Irish Free State government banned private motoring. Petrol-rationing and cross-border travel imposed a heavy burden on the Ulster Colleges’ Council in attempting to complete a fixtures programme for the MacRory Cup competition.

Cross-border travel was particularly awkward and in the case of St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny, they had to forego completely their involvement in competitions. In 1941, a letter to the Ulster Colleges’ Council made reference to the hazards associated with ‘long distance travel by bus in the dark’ and noted the need for ‘Identity Papers, insistence on which by authorities is a very variable quantity.’

Reports detailing the activities of inter-collegiate matches in the early years of the decade are often sparse. The shortage of newsprint meant that newspapers suspended the publication of lists of players.Press coverage of all sports but particularly that of the Ulster Colleges’ activities was often sparse and in the case of the Irish News almost completely absent. Certainly, coverage increased in the Post-War era as evidenced by the detailed accounts in the local press and, in particular, Armagh’s success from 1945 onwards.

Not surprisingly, this had a huge impact on the outcome of the playing of the competition. Between 1935 and 1943, the actual MacRory Cup never saw the light of day north of the border.

In the 1935 to ‘37 period it resided in St Patrick’s, Cavan while in 1938 and 1941 it was housed in St Mary’s College, Dundalk . At the outbreak of war in 1939, it resided briefly in Cavan followed by a two-year stay in Monaghan (‘40 and ’42) and in 1943 it made the short hop back to Cavan again.

Reorganisation of the MacRory Cup competition on geographical grounds

There was feeling that change was needed and the Ulster Colleges’ Council responded with a reorganisation of the MacRory competition into two geographically compatible sections with the winner from each competing in the final . Section A: Newry St. Colman’s, Abbey Cbs and Dundalk St Mary’s. Section B: St Patrick’s, Armagh; St Patrick’s, Cavan; Monagahan CBS and St Macartan’s.

But things did not go according to plan. In 1945 St. Mary’s, Dundalk, left the competition. As a competing college, it had made a more than a significant contribution on the field of play. Between 1937 and ’41 the college had contested five MacRory Cup finals, winning two.

Their final match was played at Breffni Park and ended in a 7-6 to 3-5 success against St Patrick’s, Cavan.

On the other hand, St Malachy’s College, which had withdrawn from the MacRory competition requested permission back in 1941 to rejoin the competition. It was not granted and the Belfast side only came on board in 1948.


By JA Walshe Published in The Irish News 07 November, 2023 13:01