Page 4 - The Kerry News 2019
P. 4

WFrom a Jack to a King
  ith the moniker ‘King famous card night where up to of the Cards’, Mick 60 people would pack into
  South African painter (and one time resident) Ray Williams painting a hunting scene on the wall of Killarney publican Dan Linehan’s Bar in College Street, Killarney. Mr. Williams was famous for painting
Cronin swans into another ‘31 card drive knowing he is feared by fellow card players.
With trademark wooly hat and a glint in his eye the teetotaler takes his seat knowing he is the target man for fellow card sharks. Playing the game of ’31 seven nights a week for most of your life and knowing you are the ‘Mick O’Dwyer’ of card skills is not an easy title to shoulder. Mick started playing cards when he was 10 years old at home in Aughacree, Two Mile School, Killarney. One of 10 children (7 boys and 3 girls) born to Mary and Lawrence on a small farm about 5 miles from Killarney the children would sit around the dimly lit kitchen table illuminated by a tilly lamp in the 50’s and learn the skills of playing ’31.
every downstairs room in the house in the hope of winning a black and white turkey. The smoke from the turf fire mingled with cigarette smoke and it would go on till 2am in the morning before a victor was declared. There would be a raffle for a calf, a cow, a donkey even a goat which Mick won one night and it was the prize that nobody wanted to win. He marched the goat back the three miles to his home and tied him to a fence post. However during the night the goat broke free and tucked into the cabbage patch feast. The following morning he had to pretend to his mother it was a stray so he took it that night to another card game and raffled it on to someone else. ‘The same goat must have been raffled a 100 times’ laughs Mick.
Although a lifelong pioneer Mick loved playing cards in the local pubs in Killarney like The Flesk, The Red Shadow, The Gleneagle, McSweeneys, and Step-in’s and he recalls one famous night on November 22nd 1963 in The Laurels Pub Killarney. ‘We were playing for serious hampers and the barman got news on the wireless that President Kennedy had been shot dead in Dallas. Standing on a high stool, he roared from the top of his voice to tell everyone of the tragedy and got quare looks as nobody took a blind interest in his news keeping their gaze firmlyonthecardslookingfor the 5 of trumps or the ace of hearts which to us was more important’ sighs Mick.
He once won the ’31 Kerry County Championship and several club championships including Spa & Dr Crokes, Ballydesmond, Knocknagree and many team events where his regular playing partners those days included May O’Donoghue and Marie Lynch but the card player he most admires is Nora O’Connor
Mick Cronin
from The Gap of Dunloe.
“In 1976 Myself and Nora’s husband Michael once won the Monster Christmas Day 31 drive in Faranfore. 48 tables of 6 and ‘twould go on till St. Stephen’s morning with the final table winning about £300. Santa arrived a few hours late for us lucky winners that night” laughs Mick.
So prolific a winner was Mick that he used to travel the county teaching the card game and imparting his knowledge for the benefit of the game.
Mick is a painter by profession starting as a 15 years old with Mahony’s Painters and then Galvin Builders in Killarney. The first job he painted was ‘The Airplane Bar’ (owned by Gerry O’Connor in High Street and known as Step-in’s). He also painted Dicko’s, Ahernes, Sheahan’s Pharmacy, Benny Healy’s, Shamrock House, Eugies and O’Brien’s Fashions to name a few. In fact he painted Con Courtney’s Bar in the early 60’s and 50 years later he painted the same building again during the summer gone. An avid footballer with Dr Crokes and Fossa, A county cross country runner and an all round sportsman Mick recalls one of his Christmas travails to County Clare. Faranfore man John Crowley gathered up 9 runners into the back of his van and headed off in deep snow to Tulla for the Munster Championships. Half way up Glounsharoon and with temperatures minus 6, the van slid into a ditch and the runners poured out the back door onto the dry snow. Undaunted and none the worse, they retrieved the van and the intrepid runners made their 3 hour journey only to find the games cancelled due to bad weather!
The game of 31 is making a bit of a comeback against the odds these days thanks to people like Fr Paddy O’Donoghue who organizes the Dr Crokes game on Wednesday nights and regular 31 drives in Faranfore, Milltown, Firies, Ballydesmond to mention a few. Perhaps tv and computer games have competition after all as local people look for more sociabilty and interaction in their community. Mick plays cards 7 nights a week and is as passionate today as he was when as a 10 year old boy he trumped his mothers knave of hearts with a crowning 5 of trumps.
Hegarty’s trucks on Muckross Road and many murals around the town in 1978. archive
 Kerry Footballer Ambrose O’Donovan serves up the best burgers as Guest of Honour at the official
opening of Burgerland on High Street Killarney (now a bookmaker) in 1992. archive
‘Everyone played cards in the 50’s. You met your neighbours at Mass and at Cards. There was no tv only radio and entertainment for most people was playing ’31 or ‘110. It wasn’t real gambling as you could only lose a modest amount of money and equally win a modest prize but it was social interaction for country folk. There were card houses every mile and neighbours would pile into other neighbours houses week after week to enjoy the social occasion. We were lucky with 12 family members in our house and some nights we would have two card tables going at the same time. The craic was mighty even if it got a little heated at times if one of my siblings made a mistake... the prize might be a tuppeny bit or a sixpence so we took it serious...ah those were the days...!’ said Mick.
Another near neighbour was Mrs Murphy from Knockasartnett who lived to be over 100 years old and was much loved by card players. She was a lovely lady but I learnt my first serious card lesson there when I ‘reneged’ (played the wrong card) and boy did I get a lambasting that night. But it was a lesson that has stood to me all these years that you have to know the rules to play the game the right way, says Mick.
 Recalling his teacher in Two Mile School organizing a 31 drive with the pupils to raise funds to build a safety wall around the school Mick had a skill advantage over his friends. The kids qualified and the winning parents then fought out the final for a half crown prize.
‘My father represented me but got beaten on the last hand. The school raised enough money to build the wall and its still doing a great job’ says Mick.
As he became a teenager he started playing in neighbours houses like Paddy Regan in Aghadoe. Paddy whose famous phrase was ‘Up or Down’ ran a
  Mick Cronin teaching ‘31 card players - ‘people looked up to the king of the cards’

   2   3   4   5   6