Mick Quain – An Appreciation

(1914 –2003)

Come gather round me’ friends tonight, come listen to my tale,
Of one great man from County Clare, a staunch Dalcassian Gael,
The blue and Gold he wore with pride from 1939,
With brothers Dan and P.J, a hurling trio fine.

I sing about our own Mick Quain from Cratloe village grand,
Who won much fame with stick and ball throughout this noble land,
In every grade for club he played and then in ’52,
He put away his loved caman, the whistle to pursue.

Through the length and breadth of Ireland he played our native game,
‘Gainst Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick too, he earned early fame,
The names of Ring and Mackey with Langton from the Nore,
Cratloe’s Mick clashed with all the stars, in hurling days of yore.

From ‘Mick Quain’ by C. Mac Gearailt.

It’s a long road from Cratloe Moyle to Kenny Live. An even longer one for a hurling man. Lets not kid ourselves, Cratloe by no means holds fame as a glory-fattened club, and so like every rural parish, any son from our corner of the world who etched himself even half a distinction became a legend at home. Last month, we lost possibly our greatest.

As when the last of Limerick’s famous Mackey’s passed away in Ahane, a family hurling dynasty folded to a close in Cratloe with the death in late February of Mick Quain. One of three brothers to wear the saffron and blue of Clare, Mick was also captain of the clubs most decorated side of the late thirties and early nineteen forties.

The son of a local estate caretaker, Michael came into the world only a month after “The Banner’s” first and for a long time only All Ireland crown in 1914. It was a match his parents traveled to and on the day of his christening the local priest is said to have turned to his mother and whispered, “Is this the young fellow who went to the final and never saw the game?” The parish had itself another Gael.

So it was, after sprouting through the hurling nursery at ‘The Hollow”, the three Quain boys Pa, Danny and Mick were chosen to tog for the county minor team in 1932. Pa graduated to hurl for Clare for a spell of fourteen years from 1936 to ’49, being honoured by the province on four of those and pocketing two Railway cup medals. Now in most households that might be more than enough for the mantelpiece but not for the Quain’s where Michael went and wrote himself into the Guinness Book of Records…and not once but twice!

Although selected for the Clare Seniors from 1939, it was with a whistle in hand and not a hurley where Mick earned his fame, officiating over the game from 1944 to ‘94. At eighty years of age, Mick, after refereeing thirteen matches in the spring, finally decided to put away the pen and note book halting a career that saw him referee five Clare county finals, six Galway deciders aswell as three in Limerick. What a lot of people don’t know however is that it was a lifestyle that fell upon him, rather than ambition. On a summer’s day in 1944, Mick and a few of his cronies’ from Cratloe peddled their way in their Sunday best to Kilkishen to watch a game between O’ Callaghan Mills and Tulla. Larry Blake, another legend of Clare hurling, was due to referee the match but was injured in an accident on the way. Mick was surrounded by both camps and asked take over. It proved to be one of his last Sunday’s off!

Mick refereed the Limerick vs. Tipperary Munster Championship 1st Round Clash in 1947, two years later he manned a League tussle between Cork and Tipp and in the same season took control of his first Interprovincial tie between Munster and Connacht. What followed was a legacy lasting for fifty years where Cratloe’s Mick Quain became one of the most recognised and remarkable men in the Association.

In an interview with the Clare Champion a few years back, Quain dusted down the cobwebs from probably the most famous of the 5,500 matches he marshaled. Known in song and story as ‘The Long Final’, the drawn county championship decider between Ruan and Clarecastle of 1948 was leveled with over twenty minutes of injury time elapsed.

Much of the blame afterwards hung on the shoulders of Mick, who, it turned out, was the only steward that turned up at the game!

“I was walking off the field after three incursions and Ruan were the bulk of the culprits. Mick Hennessy was the secretary of the county board at the time and I told him I was calling the game off. It got so bad that when one of the Ruan players scored a goal, the crowd on the side line got him up on their shoulders and ran the full round of the field”

As legend carry’s it, the same ‘long final’ ended in a draw (Clarecastle 5-7, Ruan 6-4), but Ruan folk long afterwards claim they had been deprived a legitimate goal. “ I couldn’t see it because there was around 150 spectators on the field. It went to the county board and they awarded the match to Ruan. Clarecastle then took it to the Munster council where my report was upheld,” Quain recalled. He also defended the arguments that questioned his timekeeping. “The second half started at 4.10 and finished at 5.03. There were three encroachments on the playing pitch during the period which, according to my time lasted a total of 23 minutes”.

Quain restarted the game for a further three minutes before the crowd again swarmed onto the playing field making it impossible to see man or ball. In the end Mick blew his whistle and called the game a draw. The rest is folklore.

After working in a woolen manufacturer’s in Sixmilebridge, Mick spread his wings to the town of Galway in the late forties where he met and married his wife Merlyn raising four sons. Involved initially in the textile industry Mick soon came to work for V’Soske Joyce in the lovely Oughterard. They say however, that a flower will always bloom where it’s planted, and Mick forever had an ear perked toward home.

Many in the parish still recall Mick shaping hurley’s from Cratloe wood for youngsters when he donned the blue and white. When the club cut ribbon to open its own Pairc Michael Ui hEithir in 1991, Mick returned home, clad in black and green, to referee a match between the parish’s two adult sides. Some of them had trouble keeping up. Mick was 77. In the highlight of his career a famous commentator often nicknamed Quain ‘Mick the Miller’, after a famous greyhound. That man was in Cratloe too that evening to witness the grounds being named after him.

Alas the final whistle has blown on another of Mick’s games. As a club and parish Cratloe can be forever proud and thankful that a certain Michael Quain came this way. The word ‘great’ is an awful dangerous one to put in any sentence when a man’s name follows on behind it. But ‘great’ and ‘Mick Quain’ were often scrolled together. May that continue for many’s the day. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam.

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