Cusack 175 celebrations commence this weekend
By Cian O’Connell
“We are calling it Cusack 175, it is to celebrate the 175th birthday anniversary of Michael Cusack -born on September 20, 1847,” Tim Madden, manager of the Michael Cusack Centre, says ahead of a busy few days.
GAA President Larry McCarthy will attend an event at Carron in Clare on Saturday, unveiling a plaque and planting an ash tree to mark Cusack’s birthday.
“This is a very special year for us,” Madden remarks. “We are treating the whole year, the next 12 months, as Cusack 175. So it is going to run until September 2023.
“We are inviting anybody, of every GAA persuasion, to come to visit. It is a bit like connecting 'where we all belong' to 'where it all began'. This is where it all began.”
One of the central figures in the Association’s history, the relevance of Cusack’s work is still being passed through the generations. Stories continue to be told and that is one of the main themes during the festivities.
“Br Seán McNamara - a retired Christian Brother - is 95, he is a specialist on the life of Michael Cusack,” Madden says. “Br Seán has a collection of the Michael Cusack life story and papers which he formerly gave to Clare GAA, but he is going to rehouse it with us.
“We will have a local historian giving a speech and story on the impact of Michael Cusack - where he was born, the landscape, and how that impacted on him.”
Madden is also excited about the family fun day planned for Sunday. “It follows a theme that we have been doing for the last three years,” he explains. “We have celebrated Cusack Day since 2020, to celebrate Michael's life, and this is the third year of it.
“We will have a hurley maker on site, doing demonstrations on traditional hurley making. We will have a storyteller because we are now hosting An Púca. This is an art piece, half man, half horse - a bronze sculpted piece. The address where the Cusack cottage is Poll an Phúca.”
There is a strong GAA connection too. “The artist is Aidan Harte, who happens to be the son of Billy Harte,” Madden adds.
“Billy Harte was on the Kilkenny hurling team with Eddie Keher and Brian Cody in the early 1970s. Aidan is a Kilkenny man living in Waterford, he created this wonderful piece of sculpture - half man, half horse - which is now in our garden.
“We have a lot of visitors coming to us to see the Púca since the end of June. Apart from the Michael Cusack being a wow, we now have a new wow with the Púca on site.”
Cusack’s efforts with the GAA ensures the Association is on the agenda at the centre and in the grounds. “At the centre it is an ideal location for wellbeing and wellness tourism,” Madden says.
“We have been delivering the Going Well programme with Pat Daly, Eoin Morrissey, and colleagues. We have been spearheading that programme for the last two or three years, we are nearly at 200 schools with that programme. We are delivering that programme at present to local schools in Clare.
“We would like it to be going to more and more schools. It has gone nationwide. If people haven't been to our location, it is a perfect location for wellbeing, mindfulness, tranquillity in the centre of the award winning Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark.”
Visitors enjoy the scenery too. “We have an ash tree planted for every county in Ireland, they are all on what we call a GAA family fairy trail,” Madden says. “We have all 32 counties and we have four trees for each of the provinces too. So we have 36 ash trees, they were planted for the centenary of the GAA in 1984. That makes a very nice photograph.”
A sense of pride too is attached to a successful programme that was rolled out in the area recently. “I would use the tag line Camán to the Burren, we have a programme that we ran for youth groups last year called Camán to the Burren,” Madden states.
“It was a one day programme - a half day with us. They came to the Burren for the very first time, usually from disadvantaged areas. They came to the centre, we took them on a half an hour walk just to ground them in the Burren.
“Then we took them down outside the Cusack cottage. We had a local hurley maker, who did a traditional hurley making workshop. He will be with us on Sunday for Cusack Day. He showed them how to make a hurley, we gave them all a hurley. I showed them some hurling skills. There is a dance in the Going Well programme - a dance using hurleys.
“Depending on their levels of interest we should them the cottage or the grounds. They'd go back on the bus up the road to the Burren Outdoor Education Centre, which is managed and owned by the Limerick and Clare Education Training Board. They had lunch followed by an hour of art therapy - painting in the Burren, followed by an hour of music therapy. That day was called Camán to the Burren.”
The innovative idea links the past, present, and future. Cusack will not be forgotten.
On Tuesday, September 20 the GAA history committee has organised a wreath laying ceremony at Cusack’s grave in Glasnevin that will be attended by Uachtarán Larry McCarthy and Ard Stiúrthóir Tom Ryan.