*Photograph: Joe Buckley
Leading up to the historic 1995 All-Ireland final, talk of the Biddy Early curse began to take hold within the county.
Having been denied an All-Ireland title since 1914, what at first seemed like a tittering tenuous tale, soon began to elucidate fear and worry in the hearts and minds of the Clare people. A traditional Irish herbalist, diviner and healer, Biddy Early was at one time, the most famous person to come out of County Clare.
When Eddie Lenihan published his 1987 novel In Search of Biddy Early, the rumours, occult and distaste for the seemingly supernatural prowess of Biddy Early were set alight and Clare hurling fans really did feel like a curse was keeping them from reclaiming an All-Ireland title. In his novel, Eddie tells the story of two of the players in the 1914 bout. Both men came from Sixmilebridge, and like most of their time, were deeply religious men. The pair decided to get mass at Cratloe as the train stopped there. The railway line was the only way to make it to Dublin to the final.
Mass was delivered in the age-old Latin style and both men sat at the back of the church; ears pricked in expectation for the tumult of the train engine. Nearing the end of the service, the two men made a run for the train and the priest turned around, saying, “ye’ll win today but by the time Clare win again there won’t be one of you alive.”
Twenty-five years later, Eddie Lenihan refutes that there ever was a curse, “If you see the newest edition of my book, you will see what nobody else has ever seen. Biddy Early’s death cert and the death cert of one of her four husbands. And that death cert of Biddy’s proves that Biddy Early died on the 23rd of April 1874 and the GAA wasn’t found until 1884. How could Biddy have put a curse on the Clare team when she didn’t exist, nor did the GAA at the time. That speaks for itself. Biddy was one of the most famous Clare women that ever lived.
“She was a real person, born in 1798. She was a famous healer and thousands went to her. She genuinely cured lots of people. Many people thought, along with the clergy at the time, that she was a witch. She wasn’t. She was a bean feasa (woman of knowledge). There were quite a few people, especially around Feakle, where she was born, who were afraid of priests and there were a couple of priests who didn’t like her. Back then, you didn’t want to fall out with the local priest. That went on long into her death. Stories collected that she was this and that. It drove into various aspects of life, including hurling. Since Clare didn’t have much luck in the hurling at that time, and Biddy was the most famous person from Clare, people put the two together, even though it had nothing to do with her”.
Two years ago, Ger Loughnane helped launch the twelfth edition of Eddie Lenihan’s book on Biddy Early and Eddie quips that the 1995 manager was only delighted to dispel any notion of the completely fabricated curse. “As you know, he is a wonderful speaker and he too, comes from Feakle just like Biddy. I only expected him to say a cupla focal but he did a phenomenal job on the night, going through the entirety of the book. His father had told me some of the stories that were in the book. He did a wonderful job on the night, as you would expect from him.”