GAA Football

What Mayo curse? Philomena Begley and Paddy in the tractor on the way out west

Foxford chapel. The scene of the Mayo curse according to GAA folklore
Andy Watters

“GO west young man,” he shouted with a smile and gave the roof of the car a couple of good thumps for luck as I drove out of my local ‘independent’ petrol station yesterday.

“Waaall, where you headin’ boy?” the fella from south Armagh who runs the place had asked while he pumped the diesel.

I told him I was bound for Mayo.

“Ahhh Jaysssus boy, sure ye couldn’t be in a better place this week.”

And so the conversation quickly turned to the big question, the only question: Who’s gonna win on Sunday?

“Ahhh I’d love to see them (Mayo) do it,” says my friend.

“But here boy, if they let Tyrone play football… (shakes his head). “Dooher boy, yer man Logan boy… They’ll have them ready boy and once Tyrone get to Croke Park… (another shake of the head).”

Fuelled up, I hit the road for Mayo through Augher, Clogher and Fivemiletown where red and white bunting and ‘Tir Eoghain Abu’ flags lines the streets.

On through Fermanagh, then Leitrim and into Sligo where I picked up Mid-West radio.

As luck would have it, Tyrone’s queen of country music, the one and only Philomena Begley, was a guest on the show.

“Tell me Philomena,” says one of the presenters: “Will your fellas do it on Sunday?”

Philomena said she hoped they would but added that she wouldn’t be too sad if Mayo finally got over the line and then the chat gave way to one of her Red Hand hits: ‘Tyrrrrrone, Tyrrrrrrone; we want the Sam Maguire in Tyrrrrrrone…’

“Oh course you do,” says the presenter; “But we want it over here too!”

The craic continued between a discussion on how to tell a good egg from a bad one (if it floats in a bowl of water it’s a bad one apparently), ‘Up Tyrone’ and ‘Up May-yo’ messages from around the country and adverts from Loftus Skip Hire who will put your name into a draw for a pair of tickets if you book and pay for a skip this week. Funny enough, I’ve always wanted to hire a skip…

Up Maigh Eo! Guiry's pub in Foxford

Anyway, my first stop was the pretty village of Foxford.

Foxford is, of course, famed as the source of the infamous curse which, believers would say, has derailed Mayo’s attempts to win the Sam Maguire since the team of 1951 offended the local priest as they passed a funeral on their way home with the cup 70 years ago. According to legend, the irate priest said Mayo would never win the Sam Maguire while any of the team of 1951 remained alive.

Is there anything in it? Well, if anyone knows, the people in Foxford should know. There was plenty of chat coming from a little pub called Guiry’s and so I went in to find a group of French salmon fishermen (the River Moy flows through the village) supping les pints.

The landlord suggested that I go and see a local character called Paddy O’Donnell who was sitting down the street in his tractor – a battered old red Massey Ferguson with a fair few miles on its clock – and I took his advice.

“I didn’t see the match,” says Paddy, who was nine in 1951.

“There was very few radios and no television in the village at the time. I remember it after it was won, I remember everyone talking about it.”

And so is there any truth in this curse?

“I don’t know,” said Paddy.

“Some say there is, some say there’s isn’t but there’s something in it – they’ve had hard luck all these years. I don’t know if they’ll do it on Saturday but I’ve had faith in them all year. I’ll be cheering them on anyway, oh my God I will!”

With Paddy a little uncertain I took a walk up to the chapel in search of the definitive answer and stood at the very spot where the priest supposedly cursed the county.

The current parish priest is Fr Pauric Costello. He greeted me at the front door of his office and was only too happy to get stuck into the topic.

“The curse came up a few times,” he said.

“First it was when the team crossed the Shannon, then it was another town and then it was Foxford and it stuck with Foxford. But we don’t go along with it here – we just felt we weren’t good enough on the day, or we were a bit unlucky not to win the few All-Irelands we’ve been in.

“I don’t think any priest could put a curse on anything! I often pray that the Lord will bless players to play to the best of their ability but I could never see a priest being able to curse anything or anyone.”

That’ll do for me Father!

Taking the supernatural right out of the equation, Fr Costello gives his native county every chance on Saturday.

“They had very god second halves against Galway and Dublin but they need to start well against Tyrone,” he said.

“I think they have a fairly good chance and we get great enjoyment from it all. It’s amazing the people that I visit – the elderly people around here. They’re so wrapped up in it and it gives them a great lift, especially in these times.

“Some of the houses… Some of the old ladies like to get the radio or the television on and concentrate on the match. They wouldn’t want anyone coming near them when the match is on!”

Jayssus, there’ll be some craic down here if they do it on Sunday boy, as my friend from the petrol station might say...

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