While most people who attended the presentation of the South Tipp GAA Board’s Nationalist Awards drove or took a taxi to Clonmel’s Hotel Minella last Saturday night, one award winner followed a more unusual route to the ceremony.
Ralph O’Callaghan of Carrick Davins, who was inducted into the Board’s Hall of Fame when he received the Hurler of the Past award, sailed to the venue along the river from his home 13 miles away in Carrick-on-Suir.
It took him just over a half an hour to complete the journey in the freighter canoe, which was built in Quebec in Canada, and which is equipped with a 15 horse-power motor.
The return journey, during which he observed otters fishing, took slightly longer because of fog. Wearing “a good warm jacket” over his suit, he didn’t use lights on the boat because he says that the eyes quickly become accustomed to the dark.
Ralph travelled alone - “it was too cold for the girls” - before he met up with his wife Catrine (a great-great grandniece of GAA founder Maurice Davin); his daughter Triona; cousin Gerry Brennan and his wife Liz, and a group from the Davins club at the hotel, where they all enjoyed a great night.
“It was a huge honour to receive that award”, said Ralph, who played for the Tipperary senior team in the 1980s and appeared in that famous Munster Final in Thurles in Centenary Year, when Tipp lost narrowly to Cork.
Travelling on the river is second nature to Ralph, whose family have been steeped in Carrick’s rich boating tradition for generations. When his father, who was known as WilliamO, died just over four years ago his body was brought in the same boat from Carrickbeg, where he used to fish, along the river to his final resting place in the graveyard at Churchtown at Glencomeragh, near Kilsheelan.
The O’Callaghans had the last working barge on the Suir and Ralph’s grandfather Dan took the last horse-drawn barge to Clonmel in 1927, along with Phil Hennessy.
Ralph says that his older brother William was a great influence and an inspiration to him when he was growing up. The trip along the river from Carrick to Hotel Minella is one that the O’Callaghans regularly make, especially during the summer.
Ralph and his family returned to Carrick over 5 years ago after 20 years in the United States. While living in New York he occasionally drove 13 hours to go salmon-fishing in Quebec. “People have salmon-fishing here on their doorsteps but they don’t appreciate it”, he says.
He regards the South Tipperary stretch of the Suir as a great amenity, one that he hopes will be utilised more. “There’s a world of history on the river”, he says.
He claims that the Suir is the only natural navigable river in Ireland, if not in Europe, because it has never been touched by a dredger. He says it’s navigable even in the dark, and he hopes it remains that way.
His freighter canoe was built in Quebec and transported to Ireland across the Atlantic in a container ship. The effort to ship it home was worth it as the boat gives Ralph, who describes himself as “a fanatical fisherman”, endless hours of enjoyment.