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Tribute to Fr. Moling Lennon

Carlow GAA wishes to extend it’s sympathy to the family of Fr. Moling Lennon who passed away over the weekend. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Thanks to Leo McGough for allowing us to reproduce this wonderful tribute to Fr. Lennon.

Stowaway who became a student, a priest, dual star and a president

Leo McGough’s

Published by the CARLOW PEOPLE on 25/01/2011

ON THE same day Hitler’s Germany were penetrating deeper into Poland, prompting Great Britain and France to declare war, an eight-year-old Cournellan boy was experiencing an exciting adventure of his own.

A stowaway in his father’s car, he not only ended up in Dublin but into Croke Park itself to witness at first hand the famous 1939 ‘Thunder and Lightening’ All-Ireland hurling final.

“I got in to the car and I wouldn’t get out,” laughs Fr Moling Lennon who, seventy-two years later, still gets impish satisfaction from his daring escapade.

Though recalling little of the match itself, save the claps of thunder and bolts of lightening, it was an early indication that the GAA would play a major role in his life.

Hurling for Cork that day were such icons of the game as Billy ‘Long Puck’ Murphy and Jack Lynch, later to win six All-Ireland medals in a row (four hurling, a football, another hurling) as well, of course, as becoming Taoiseach.

Among the black and amber legends were Paddy Phelan (left half back) and Jim Langton (wing forward) both of whom were selected on the Hurling team of the Century.

As fate would have it, Fr Lennon later got to know one of the heroes of that ’39 final very well as Jimmy Phelan, the Kilkenny corner-forward who helped shoot down Rebel Cork with a 2-1 scoring barrage, was an active member of the Dr Cullen Park Committee when Fr Lennon served as Carlow County Chairman from 1982 to 1984.

Nor was Phelan the only GAA legend that Fr Lennon worked closely with as he is surely the only man in the country who can say he acted as a selector with both Kilkenny’s Ollie Walsh and Kerry’s Mick O’Dwyer?

“Ollie was a great coach, typical Kilkenny, perfect the simple things” extols Fr Lennon of the goalkeeping great who served as Carlow manager in the early 80s when the good padre was an astute selector.

“We were beaten in a couple of B finals, a high scoring game against Kildare in Tullamore in 1980 and by Antrim in Croke Park two years later. We beat Dublin in the Walsh Cup, great days, Ollie was a coach ahead of his times and I really believe if all the players had practiced what he preached Carlow could have progressed further” says Fr Lennon who two years was elevated to the position of Honorary President of the Carlow County Board at the Convention in Ballinabranna.

On Mick O’Dwyer Fr Lennon is much less effusive. “Micko did his own thing, right or wrong” is his one-liner on the Kerry trainer who on his first coming to the land of the Lily-whites had the Carlow priest as one of his selectors.

“Kildare reached the league final, the run created great hype but were torpedoed by Louth in the first round of the championship” says Fr Lennon who was a selector when Naas, managed by Declan McGovern (later to steer Carlow to a first ever Leinster MFC final), won the 1990 Kildare SFC title.

While Ollie and Micko, two men who hardly require a surname to be added, are among the GAA elite it was at grass-roots level that Fr Moling Lennon was happiest. And you won’t get much more grass-roots then cultivating the youth of the country as they sprout their early football and hurling leaves.

During his 28 years teaching in famed Knockbeg College, Carlow – be joined the staff in 1957-58, taught until 1984-85 – Fr Lennon combined coaching and cajoling the spirited boys on the Sportsfield with inculcating the intricacies of Latin and Religion in the classrooms

It was in those same classrooms the young Moling himself sat for six years, entering Knockbeg in 1944, having attended Inch National School before that, Michael Donoghue, a Kerryman an early influence.

Moling sat the Leaving in 1949 by which stage he had arrived at the big decision to become a priest. He was not alone in that Vocation, no fewer than six of that Knockbeg class of ’49 – Bishop Ryan, Fr Garry Doyle, Fr John Aughney, Fr John Fingleton, Fr Matt Kelly and Fr Lennon himself – entering Maynooth, all six ordained in 1957. Fr Moling’s ordination took place on June 17th which, by coincidence, was feast of St Moling.

Though war rationing was in place for his boarding days in Knockbeg and times in Maynooth could also be austere, Fr Lennon speaks fondly of his days in both educational establishments.

Mr Pat Gillman, a Cork man, who thought Mathematics comes in for special mention from his Knockbeg days while Dr Crowley who gave a memorable lecture on the excavation of Vatican and held a hall of 500 spellbound for two hours gets the Maynooth garland.

Fr Lennon has no problem either in picking out two sporting highlights from his path to the priesthood though in one case he had to wait fully fifty years for written vindication?!

“In 1948 Knockbeg hurled St Kieran’s in the first round of the Senior hurling, there was no B or C grades in those days. The game was in Nowlan Park and Kieran’s, of course, beat the living daylights out of us” says Fr Lennon.

“They scored 15 goals and I was the goalkeeper” he revealed with a smile as he reached inside his jacket pocket to withdraw a little cutting from his wallet.

“Would you believe a ’50 Years Ago’ column in the Kilkenny People reproduced the report of that match in 1998 and a woman posted it to me” he says with a glint in his eye.

Scanning down, reading that Kieran’s won 15-7 to 0-2, the losers points coming late in the hour, we come to the bottom line.

“A feature of the game was the brilliant display by M. Lennon in the Knockbeg goal whose repeated saves brought loud applause from the spectators”.

If preventing hurling scores was his Knockbeg highlight, raising a flag in an historic football match came in for special mention from his Maynooth days.

“The first time Maynooth played outside opposition was in 1956 when Jack Mahon, the great Galway footballer, organized a game against pastpupils of which he himself was one” explains Fr Lennon.

Mahon’s team had Eamon Boland (Roscommon), Seán Foran (Offaly), Noel O’Reilly (Cavan and Railway Cup with Ulster), Pete Smith (Derry) and Christy McGrath (Palatine and Carlow).

On the Maynooth team, Carlow had the most of any county, Garry Doyle, John Aughney and Moling Lennon, who normally lined out at left full forward.

“The other corner-forward asked me would I switch, I said I didn’t mind and ended up playing on O’Reilly the Cavan Railway Cup man. He was 5’7, a right good footballer, but things ran well for me that day. I remember getting a ball near the sideline, less than 14 yards out and putting it straight over the bar though I was really trying to cross it” chuckles Fr Lennon.

That point helped his side to a narrow victory and another score of Moling Lennon’s played a major role in the winning of his greatest sporting memento, the 1953 Carlow SFC medal won with Ballymurphy. His father had played with Borris in the 1910 County final and Moling himself began his football life in the fields around Cournellan where he was born in 1931. “Are you going kicking this evening” the young lads of the area would ask and as chaps also we would kick the ball back to the seniors, to county men like Luke Kelly and Ted Joyce” recalls Fr Lennon.

“We had to kick it back with our weak foot, if you didn’t you suffered the disgrace of being sent home” he continues giving a rare insight to the incisive coaching the existed ever before the word entered GAA parlance.

All that football paid off too as Ballymurphy became a football force, the championship won in 1947 when Moling was a 16 year-old spectator and again in 1953 when he scored the decisive goal in a memorable 1-7 to 1-5 victory over Palatine, a final that attracted 4,158 spectators to Dr Cullen Park.

“Pal had beaten Ballymurphy in a final replay the previous year but both Garry Doyle and myself were unable to play as we had returned to our studies in Maynooth and getting out for a match was a complete non-runner” says Fr Lennon.

“The club got a motion passed at Convention that the county football final be played by the end of August and that came to pass, it took place on August 23 and we won” he recounts with glee.

“That was a great day for our family. My father James (who was elected to the House of Commons for Sinn Fein in the 1918 election) had played with Borris against Carlow-Graigue in the 1910 County final in Bagenalstown and on that victorious Ballymurphy team in 1953 were three of his sons, Martin who was captain, Joe and myself”.

Fr Lennon didn’t mention in our interview that all three scored in that county final and that it was he who rose the green flag. Mind you the match report would suggest he was deadly from six inches! “The ball was rolling along and the Palatine goalie was coming out to clear when a defender rushed across to clear. He missed the ball and unsighted the goalman who turned to see the ball in the back of the net”.

However, a goal is a goal is a goal and that first half strike by Moling Lennon completed the first half of a notable double as two years later he pocketed a Carlow JHC medal, junior then the county’s premier hurling grade.

Though he didn’t play the 1955 final – the Maynooth dead-line again an impediment – Cournellan beat Hacketstown 54 to 3-2 but the championship would not have been won without his semi-final tour-de-force.

At our interview he simply stated “that was the best day I ever had in hurling” as he spoke of the joy of beating St Mullins six-in-a-row team in the semifinal in Bagenalstown. Think the current Kilkenny team getting shot down in the championship and you are close to the sensation that Cournellan victory was.

When it was mentioned that ‘Butcher’ Deegan played a prominent role in that semi-final victory, Fr Lennon agreed and on consulting the newspaper archive it was verified that Deegan scored the two clinching goals.

However we also read that one M Lennon scored an early goal, tacked on a first half point and when a Shunt Ryan goal for St Mullins had levelled proceedings who should step up to the mark but Moling Lennon with three priceless points.

The 3-6 to 1-3 Cournellan victory sent shockwaves around the South East and allowed one happy apprentice priest return to County Kildare a contented figure.

Over a half a century on the now retired Parish Priest of Naas still cuts a contented figure, his work for the GAA rewarded on St. Patrick’s Day in Croke Park 2007 when the recipient of the prestigious Presidents award from Uachtaran Nickey Brennan.



In keeping with his delightful tendency to be a source of unusual stories, Fr Lennon came up with another quirky tale when asked of his sporting highlights while teaching in Knockbeg.

“We were playing Gormanston in a Leinster U-14 football semi-final when one of our best players, a lively half forward, Martin Duggan from Court Place in Carlow, got a wallop on the head. He was bleeding a lot and we had no option but to bring him off and get the cut attended to” says the team manager.

“The fellow that went in as a sub played well but after a while the injured player looked alright and asked him to go in again. Now normally a young lad would be mad to get on but young Duggan said ‘I can’t go on Father, the sub is playing well'”.

“I thought that showed great nature in a young fellow” remarked Fr Lennon though he quickly added “I had no intention of taking off the sub, there were other candidates for withdrawal”.

Knockbeg drew that game, won the replay but were beaten in the final by a St Vincent’s powered Dublin school for whom Dave Billings, current head of sport in UCD, was a star. COLLEGES STARS

Having spent 34 years of his life in Knockbeg, six as a pupil, 28 as a teacher, Fr Lennon is a good position to comment on outstanding colleges players and has no hesitation in nominating Tommy Murphy.

No, not Tommy Murphy, the Boy Wonder of Laois fame, though he did wear the famed blue and white hoops of Knockbeg. The Tommy Murphy of which Fr Lennon refers to is from Baltinglass, an All-Ireland Club SFC medal winner in 1990.

“He was an unbelievable colleges footballer” declared Fr Lennon, “powered us to the Leinster final in 1974 where we were beaten by a Gormanston team on which Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran was a key player”.

As to the small ball, he speaks fondly of the early 70s when Fr Noonan was the ‘hurling man’ in Knockbeg, the college contesting a few B finals at Junior and Senior level.

“Syl Hennessy of Paulstown Barrow Rangers who won an All-Ireland Minor medal with Kilkenny in 1975, was a lovely hurler, as good as I saw in Knockbeg”.

As that ’75 Kilkenny Minor team featured no fewer than seven players who went on the win All-Ireland SHC medals on the field of play, Hennessy had to be fairly handy.

“Cyril Hughes, of course, was a brilliant dual player, equally adept at football or hurling, he starred with Knockbeg and of course went on star with Carlow too, won a Railway Cup football medal with the Combined Universities (1973) and travelled on the All-Stars tour as the dual replacement, a fantastic achievement for a Carlow (one replicated by Paddy Quirke)” said Fr Lennon of the Ballinkillen man who is now the Principle of Knockbeg, his old alma mater.

Mick Fennell of Graiguecullen was another colleges star who Fr Lennon held in high esteem. “Better known for his football exploits, and he was a great footballer, Mick was a fine hurler too, won a Leinster Minor medal with Laois and with Knockbeg, in both codes, played a string of marvellous games” he informed us. THE HOLY GRAIL

Fr Lennon is a regular attender at GAA games, any fixture involving Carlow or Knockbeg almost certain to be graced by his presence.

While Knockbeg’s famous 1955 Leinster A hurling and football double occurred in the gap between his days there as a student and his return as a teacher, it was an achievement which gave him great satisfaction.

However the Holy Grail that was winning the All-Ireland Colleges SFC in 2005 and watching Donie Brennan hold aloft the covetd Hogan Cup in Semple Stadium, Thurles filled all Knockbeg people with joy and for Fr Lennon, who had given so much of his life to football in the college, it was a day of days.

He also greatly enjoyed Carlow’s backto-back Christy Ring Cup successes in 2008 and 2009, memorable days in Tullamore and Croke Park while among his greatest sporting regrets is the 1984 Leinster U-21 FC final when as Chairman of the County Board he watched a Lar Molloy inspired, Paudie Doyle managed and Vinny Harvey coached side fall by a single point to Dublin in Newbridge. Last years replica result against the Dubs in the U-21 FC semi-final also rankes as a major what might have been.


1953 CARLOW SFC FINAL Dr Cullen Park, 4,158 (£308) Ballymurphy 1-7, Palatine 1-5 Scorers: Ballymurphy: Moling Lennon 1-0, Joe Lennon, Garry Doyle, Johnny Byrne 0-2 each, Martin Lennon 0-1. Palatine: Jim Hayes 1-4, Liam Hendricken 01.

Ballymurphy: A McGee; G Dalton, M Doyle, M Dalton; W Walsh, J Kennedy, W McGee; P Doyle, Martin Lennon; J Byrne, G Doyle, J Lennon; John Kennedy, T Leonard, Moling Lennon.

Palatine: P Hickey; J McAssey, L Moran, S Deering; B McGuill, L Murphy, S Kelly; P Metcalfe, J Harmon; L Hendricken, J Brady, C McGrath; S Hickson, J Hayes, L Hickey. Sub: J Mahon for Hickson.

Note: Both No 15s, Moling Lennon and Luke Hickey went on to become Chairman of the Carlow Co Board. 1955 CARLOW JHC SEMI-FINAL McGrath Park, Bagenalstown Cournellan 3-6, St Mullins 1-3 Scorers: Cournellan: Jimmy Deegan 2-1, Moling Lennon 1-3, F Kiernan 0-1, Willie Walsh 0-1 each. St Mullins: M Ryan 1-0, J Ryan 0-3

Cournellan: T Doyle; L O’Connor, P Doran, J Quinn; J Lennon, Martin Lennon, W Hynes; F Kiernan, P Hynes; W Walsh, T Doyle, Moling Lennon; J Doyle, J Deegan, P Dalton.

St Mullins: N Ryan; L Ryan, J Gahan, P Galavin; M Morrissey, P Morrissey, J Gahan; R Nolan, T Nolan; N Gladney, M Morrissey, W Walsh; M Nolan, M Ryan, J Ryan.