August 21st 2022 was a momentous day for the club as we took to Rathcooney Cemetery to commemorate 150 years since the passing of Brian Dillon. The club were honoured to host both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on the day, while acclaimed RTÉ commentator, Ger Canning kindly provided his services as MC.
An Taoiseach agus an Tánaiste both spoke passionately at the event and placed wreaths at Dillon’s eternal resting place, while club secretary Eoin Keane concluded proceedings with an oration. Oisín Vallely, an acclaimed underage player with the club, gave a beautiful performance on the uilleann pipes throughout the event.
A dhoine uaisle agus a chairde Gael. Is pribhléid é a bheith ag seasamh anseo inniu, mar rúnaí ar chlub Cumann Lúthcleas Gael Na Briain Diolúnaigh, ar lá tábhachtach don chlub agus do phobail Chrois an Díolúnaigh, Ráth Chuanna agus go deimhin, Corcaigh ar fad.
We’re here today to mark 150 years since the passing of the former IRB leader, Brian Dillon, a man whose name proudly lives on through our own GAA club, a man who, in the words of Rickard Burke when delivering Dillon’s funeral oration on the 25th of August 1872, described him as“a man swayed by the broadest and most generous principles, a true Irishman and a genuine republican, who threw himself into the ranks of the popular cause with the zeal and earnestness of his nature and became the guiding spirit in the South of Ireland.”
The legacy of the Fenianist movement of the mid to late 19th century is often ignored, often contested, often even derided by historians for what it did and didn’t achieve. It is an unfortunate yet unescapable truth that the names of many Fenians, who gave so much to the Irish cause, with many paying the ultimate price, have been lost to the passing of time. When the leading Irish Fenian, John O’Leary died in 1907, James Joyce declared him ‘l’ultimo Feniano’, the last of the Fenians, and he said about O’Leary that “he had little reason to be happy; his plans had gone up in smoke, his friends were dead, and very few people in his country knew who he was or what he had done”. Sadly, such sentiments could just as easily have been expressed about Dillon, for not many people are aware of his place on the rich tapestry of Irish republicanism. But through commemorations such as this, and the recognition so respectfully afforded to it by the country’s leaders, that ensures that the exploits of Dillon won’t be forgotten; that his country will know who he was and what he has done.
Later today, Mr. Martin and Mr. Varadkar will travel to Beal na Blath to mark the passing of Michael Collins, 100 years ago. It is both fitting and symbolic that such a significant event can be preceded by this commemoration, in the same way that the deeds of Collins were preceded and even influenced by the likes of Dillon. When the ‘unrepentent Fenian’ Jeremiah O’Donovan died in 1915, Padraig Pearse provided a graveside oration that is seen by many to have lit the touchpaper on the decade of armed resistance that would follow. In his speech, Pearse referenced the“seeds sown by the young men of a former generation coming to their miraculous ripening to-day”. It was those seeds, sown by Dillon and Rossa, that would bear fruit years after their passing. Thankfully, the presence of an Taoiseach agus an Tanaiste here today will make sure that both generations of Irish republicanism are remembered and celebrated.
It also guarantees that the Gaelic Athletic Association, so entwined with the republican movement, so ensconced in the history of the Irish state, is given due recognition on such an historic day. Indeed, in 1884, when Michael Cusack called a meeting in Thurles that saw the inception of the organisation, two prominent Fenian men – John Wyse Power from Waterford and JK Bracken from Templemore in Tipperary – were among the seven founders. Nationalism and the GAA have long been interlinked, as the names of so many clubs around the country will attest. To some, this is an uncomfortable reality, even used by some as a stick with which to beat the GAA. But it must be remembered that is due to the exploits of the Fenians, and those that came after them like Collins and the Irish Volunteers, and those that went before them like Emmett and the Young Irelanders, that the GAA has the freedom to exist as it does today in its current guise – as an apolitical organisation, an organisation unburdened and unshackled by oppression, an organisation that can open its doors to people of every religion, sexuality and ethnicity.
And it is due to the exploits of those men that unlike those that went before us, our lives need not be consumed by war and the taking of life, but rather to our pastimes and the enrichment of life. The greatest respect we can pay men like Dillon is not through commemoration, but through our continued devotion to football and hurling, to music and dancing, and to the preservation and progression of our own Irish culture. The greatest thing you can do in your lifetime is to be part of something bigger than yourself, something that was there long before you were born and something that will be there long after you’re gone. Even when it’s hard, even when the odds are stacked against you, as it was with the Fenains. And the most important thing is to keep the fire burning, keep the fire burning so that the next generation can reap the rewards. Keep the fire burning so that in fifty or a hundred years from now, the next generation can too pay their respects, and do this all over again.
A month after Brian Dillons death, a touching poem was written in his honour by a P. Carpenter, from the city of Lowell in Massachusetts. I’d like to conclude proceedings by reciting a couple of verses of that poem.
Ah I stand here, behold the tide / the swaying mass of men
That pours down from the mountain top / that heaves out from the Glen
The bone and sinew of the soil / in counties numbers tread
To pay the last sad tribute / to the brave immortal dead
Say, was he King or Emperor / some ruler of the State
Wearing the crown of royalty / Prince recognised and great
No, he was a FELON / of the deepest darkest dye
Who loved his God and country / and who told the reason why
God rest your soul Brian Dillon / Your manly heart no more
Shall weep for the load of sorrow / that your suffering Erin bore
No more the deadly dungeon dews / shall gather on your brow
No more shall chains oppress you / you are liberated now
Your comrades of the sunny south / will think of you aroon
When drilling in the meadows / at the rising of the moon
And on weary days we’ll miss you / for O bitter was our loss
The day death bore you from us / honoured Chief of Dillons Cross