GAA medal from 1923 home at last 2019-07-09 14:23:00

From Irish Examiner 

9 Jul 2019

Pauline Murphy

Denis Bohane, St Finbarr’s GAA club, Adrienne Crowley, Mrs Sullivan, and Tim Sullivan with the Cork County Senior Football Championship winners medal from 1923.

In the 1950s, a man from West Cork was walking down a street in London when he spotted a medal on display in a pawn shop window.

Upon further inspection, he discovered it was a Cork County Senior Football Championship winners medal from 1923, inscribed to the owner ‘C Neenan’ of Lees GAA Club. Needless to say, the West Cork man knew the significance of the old medal, and duly purchased it.

The rescuer of the medal was Bere Island native Leo Sullivan who, as a young man, went to England to find work. In 1970 he returned home to West Cork with his family and with him too was the old GAA medal.

Leo had wanted to track down the owner of the medal, but he never did. Leo died on March 18, 2018, and the quest to find the medal’s owner fell to his son Tim.

His mission was accomplished when, with a little assistance, Tim was able to hand the medal back to the family of its owner in June of this year.

The “C Neenan” was Cornelius Neenan — better known as Connie Neenan — who played football with Lees and hurling with St Finbarr’s. His grandniece Adrienne Crowley and St Finbarrs chairman, Denis Bohane, met with Tim Sullivan and his mother at the Beara Coast Hotel, where Tim handed Connie’s medal over to Adrienne.

Connie Neenan came from the Lough parish on the south side of Cork City. Today the home of St Finbarr’s GAA club in Togher is named Neenan Park in his honour as his generosity contributed to its development in the 1960s.

Connie got involved in Ireland’s fight for freedom and was commandant of the 2nd battalion of the Cork IRA No.1 Brigade.

Lees GAA club is now defunct, but the club which had its grounds near The Marina was once the dominant Gaelic football club in Cork.

For 111 years Lees topped the Senior Football Championship roll of honour in Cork — one of those honours was the 1923 county crown which Lees claimed against Youghal.

Connie’s medal from that county final never made it into his hands, possibly because of the times. The Irish Civil War was in full flow in 1923 and as Connie remained true to his Republican ideals he was a target of the Free State.

Like many Republicans at the time, Connie went on the run and also saw the inside of prison and his medal was never awarded to him.

In 1926, Connie left for America where he became a representative for Waterford Crystal, as well as an agent for the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes.

He returned to his beloved Cork in the 1960s and as Jack Lynch stated upon Connie’s death in 1979: “In all his wandering abroad, he never lost contact with his native place or his own people.”

The same sentiment could be attributed to Leo Sullivan who, all those years ago, knew that a Cork County winner’s medal had no place in a London pawn shop and now, thanks to his son, it is in the hands of the Neenan clan.