Take The Soup
Even those of you not all that well up to date in sporting information
will know that up to today no senior Wicklow football team has ever graced
the hallowed sod of Croke Park on the penultimate Sunday of September. Of
course now that we have Mick O’ Dywer sure God is good; this may be the year.
But Wicklow men and sons of Wicklow men have played for many another
county’s winning team.
Such was the case in 1928. It was the first year of the Sam Maguire Cup
and Kildare met Cavan in the final.
One of the Kildare forwards was of Valleymount parentage and, of course,
the locality claimed him as its own. Now, money wasn’t plenteous in the
West-Wicklow of 1928. The Wall Street crash was in 1929 but we were ahead of
them. The people in our area couldn’t afford to travel to Dublin for a match.
But they were a very resourceful people. And they did a very clever thing.
They took up a collection and appointed one man, a sort of an emissary, to go
to the match and bring back the info. The man selected as representative
was a farm-labourer, Matt Colley, who had a phenomenal memory, a good eye and
ear for detail and was a good storyteller (albeit, at times, with some
Though times were hard subscriptions surpassed expectation. With the
proceeds Matt boarded the steam Tram, in Blessington, and set out on his
journey to Terenure (where the tram terminated; about 4 miles from Croke
Park.) He walked, at a leisurely pace into the city centre and in the
unfamiliar surroundings of the main thoroughfare of the Metropolis he spotted
an impressive building; The Gresham Hotel. Through the open door he could see
elaborate ornamental plasterwork. (Now, let me explain. Matt lived contagious
to Russborough House, which has the finest example of delicate plasterwork in
the country, crafted by the Francini brothers, from Italy, in the eighteenth
century. His schoolmate was Head-butler in the great house and one day he
brought Matt through the mansion and explained various artistic terms to
Consequently when he entered the posh foyer of the Gresham, despite his
mountainy walk, he amazed the head porter with his comments about the
projection-and-drop of Cornice, the relief of the various Friezes and the
style in which the wall plaques were cast. A few well-placed remarks about
Pilasters, Corinthian Capitals, Corbels and Bosses marked him out as a dark
He took his seat in the dining room but didn’t consult the Menu. With
all due respect to the man, he had a near photographic memory, was a gifted
raconteur but the written word meant very little to him.
A liveried waiter with notebook, and pencil poised, materialised at his
“ Soup Sir?”
“I don’t want any soup”, says Matt.
“But the soup of the day, Sir is the Chefs . . . “
“Amn’t I after telling ye I don’t want soup”.
“All right Sir, the main course. . . “
And the waiter goes on the list the many choices, only to be told, “I
don’t want any o’ that, I want a feed o’ bacon an’ cabbage an’ a few good
floury spuds. Have ye any bacon an’ cabbage?”.
Taken aback and getting annoyed the waiter says, “I’ll see what we have in
” I don’t want to know what ye have in the kitchen, I want bacon, cabbage
The waiter now decides to teach this Russ-in-Urbe a lesson. He brings out
a large serving dish (like the big Willow-pattern dishes that Matt’s mother
kept on the top shelf of the dresser). It was heaped to capacity.
Matt ate and he ate and he ate . . . and then he ate more.
He ambled upstairs and spotted, through an open door, a double bed. It
wasn’t near match time so he stretched out on the bed; face down. Of course
he was asleep in seconds.
Now . . . as luck would have it, sometime later, the male guest in the
adjoining bedroom “took a bit of a turn”.
The Doctor was called and promptly arrived accompanied by a nurse.
Seeing the prostrate figure of Matt, with a belly like a poisoned pup, he
made a rapid diagnosis. “I know what’s wrong with this man” says he.
Without any further instruction the nurse left and reappeared quickly
with a red rubber hose, tapered on one end and a funnel on the other. The
necessary garments were removed, a large white enamel jug of warm, soapy,
water was produced and a certain medical procedure got under way.
Halfway through the irrigation process Matt woke up. And would you
The match was over. He had no information for his financiers. He hadn’t
done what he was sent to do.
He headed for Terenure and the tram but he wasn’t walking too well.
On the tram he met a few fellows from Brittas and Manor Kilbride who
filled him in on the main points of the game.
By Tallagh he knew that Kildare been awarded ten frees in the first
half and that the score at half time was one two to three points in favour of
Jobstown saw him rehearsing his “report”:
Cavan won the toss and played with the wind, from the Railway end, for the
Smith of Cavan got the ball at the throw-in and passed it to Higgins who
Devlin of Cavan scored the first point after twenty minutes of play.
Fitzpatrick of Kildare was injured and spent a long time on the ground.
Joe Loughlin of Kildare was injured and replaced by Dan Ryan.
As the tram passed the brick-works in Tinode Kildare was playing with the
wind in the second half.
He had heard an anecdote earlier in the day, about how the Kildare team
came to be called the “Lily Whites” and he decided to flesh it out a bit and
give value for money so to speak. Seemingly on a previous trip to Croke Park
a number of the Kildare players didn’t have any jerseys. On the way to Dublin
they called in to Shackeltons Mill in Lucan and procured a few lour-bags.
Now, Shackeltons, at the time produced a brand of flour called “Lily White”
and the rest, as the man said is history.
When Matt alighted at the tram-sheds in Blessington, Cavan was two
goals and five points and Kildare was two six and the final whistle blew.
There were men there to meet him from Kylebeg, Lacken, Blackrock,
Lugnagun and Ballinastockan.
It was like a press conference. They were shooting questions at him from
all sides. “ Who won Matt”, “Was it a good game Matt”, “How did our man fare
During a lull in the interrogation he put up his hand:
“I’ll tell yez all about the match in a minute, But first I want to tell
yez this, If any o’ yez ever goes to Dublin and yer in a place called the
Gresham Hotel, if they ask ye d’ ye want soup, for Christ sake take it. For
if you don’t they’ll put it in a big enamel jug an’ they’ll get a length o’
hose an’ a tundish. They’ll take down your trousers an’ savin’ yer presence
they’ll . . . “
Click on author's byline for bio.