This interview with Peter and Mary Dunne was first published on our website in December 2013….
In the Second in a series of interviews by Paul Cahill with Cuala Personalities, Paul talks to Pete and Mary Dunne who have been part of the Cuala story since from the late 60’s to the present day.
Late one Sunday evening, long after the playing pitches were closed, and most people were tucked up in bed, there were two people still in the Cuala clubhouse.
Mary Dunne had been organizing the club lotto, as she has done for years, while tending the club bar. As the last punter left, Mary noticed that there was a leak running through the bar which was heading for the safe.
Mary, on her own, was unable to open the safe, so rang her husband Pete, who was settled in at home. Few people would be willing to budge, but like he has done on so many occasions, Pete made his way down to Cuala to lend a helping hand.
They couldn’t get an emergency plumber so they stayed there for hours, into Monday, on their own, trying to stop the water doing any damage.
They would do anything for Cuala – they always did.
Pete and Mary Dunne tied the knot in 1968, (with each other – not on the leaking pipe) and an awful lot of their lives have been based around Cuala GAA club since.
Pete has played and mentored at every grade for nearly 50 years.
While Mary has been central to organization and fundraising events for just as long.
Pete’s affiliation with the club started down in Sallynoggin while helping Tom Holden set up the Sallynoggin street leagues in the late 60’s. But he didn’t commit all of his time to his newly adopted club.
“I was still playing with Raheens in Kildare for quite a lot of that time. They used to give me a red 10 shilling note for my troubles after each game. That would get me a few pints and a few gallons of petrol. Sure what more would you want?”
But what started out as a hobby to kill time while in Dublin, would soon become a lot more.
“We soon amalgamated with Dalkey. Harry Roberts, Paddy Brock Pat Dalton were all on the Dalkey team, and then we joined up together.” Says Pete.
“It was still very small at the time. We just had a few junior teams, and we weren’t really up to much. The first thing we ever won was the Plant Cup. The lowest Cup for the lowest division in Dublin football. They’re probably still playing for it. There was only 4 or 5 divisions. Not like now, where there’s 12 or 13.”
“But Jaysus, we celebrated like we won the senior Championship!” Screams Pete.
Despite that first win for the club, they still struggled to put teams together. Dunner was still playing while coaching the footballers. And he says that they used to do anything to get enough bodies. “When we were playing in that Plant Cup, we’d often just go up to the bus stop and grab a few bodies. And one morning when we were really struggling, I bumped into Ciaran Brennan who trained with us a bit. He had just joined Dun Laoighaire Garda station, and was on the Laois football team.
“I told him I was struggling to get a team together. He said, if I go up to the barracks and head up to the back office and get his gear bag he’ll play. So long as I have him back for 2 pm to clock in.”
“So we went out to the Pheonix Park, and Ciaran was destroying them in the middle. Picking the ball out of the air. But then one of their lads recognised him. So he had to get off the pitch. But sure we had a junior hurling match going on two fields down. So he just joined in there.”
“So we headed back, and I put his gear bag away in the Garda station and he clocked in at ten to two.”
More big days out weren’t too far away as the first wave of youngsters was about to come in, and the club would change forever more from the mid 70’s. “The likes of Mick and Vinny Holden were about 15 or so, and then when they started coming through, things really started to push on.” Adds Pete.
The Kildare native was full back on that first Plant cup team, but soon hung up his boots as he was in charge of so many teams. But before he finished, he wanted to go out with a bang. “Soupy Campbell bet me 10 pounds I couldn’t score two points in my final game. The first ball came in and I caught it and stuck it over… I shouted over “Soupy, that’s a fiver I have off you anyway!”
“But I didn’t touch the ball for the rest of the game, and in injury time I had it, and as I was pushed to the ground I just gave it a boot. It hit the bar and just about fell over. And I just jumped up and gave Soupy an oul smile!”
“And we won on my swansong!” Says Pete, as he nearly jumps out of his chair.
The structures and planning were nothing like they are in Cuala today, and those running the club were struggling to handle the growing numbers in the 70’s. Many of today’s players would have no idea of the clubs humble beginnings.
“There was always only about three of us managing the teams. We were always looking for a few more people to help out with the teams, but we could never get anybody. And I went to the County board meetings for about 20 years. And if a fire ever broke out during those meeting’s, there was no getting out. There would be about 80 of us in the room, waiting on fixtures and all of that.”
By the late late 70’s, a new wave of youngsters were coming through the club.
Davey Hudson and Dessie Cahill came along then, and jumped into the senior football team. But as Pete explains, it wasn’t always just his footballing skills that had people talking about Des. “I remember Dessie writing a piece after he had just started with the Irish Press. He was after playing some junior game, and he wrote about the greatest goal ever scored at O’Toole Park. But sure wasn’t it him who scored it. But I think he kept doing that when he moved to work in Kerry too.”
And having been involved with different age groups since the late 60’s, Pete has seen and mentored hundreds of players that have come through the club. Surely there are a few that stick out?
“Mick Holden was the best player I saw, when you got hold of him. He was on so many teams of course. There was never any troublesome lads that come to mind. They were all good lads. All good drinkers of course. Although PJ Holden… He’d rise a row anywhere!”
But Pete’s fondest memories aren’t from the Hyde Park pitches. In 1986 Mick Holden was selected for the Irish squad to travel to Australia for the International rules series. Mick’s mother had just passed away, and he didn’t want to leave his father Tom alone at home. So He decided to bring him along, and asked Pete to come as well to look after Tom.
“But in the end, Tom was doing most of the looking after.” Admits Pete.
Dunner even picked up his five minutes of fame while in Sydney. “During one of the test games, the boys bet me I couldn’t get onto the pitch and get a photo with their mascot. Sure I got out there in no time, and got my photo taken with and all.”
“A local fella came after me chasing me off the pitch, but sure he hadn’t a chance of catching me. I met him in the bar afterwards and we had a drink. But he admitted I had a few yards on him.”
You don’t need any stories to believe Pete and Tom Holden would have left a lasting impression on Australia, but one memory stands out for Pete which always brings back a smile. “One night a barmaid from Mayo said she’d love to go the test game. We could see she was very homesick. She was a bit jealous that we were all able to head home. Most Irish there at the time were there for life.
So me and Tom asked would she like to go. She asked were we in charge of tickets. We said don’t be worrying about that, and meet us at the hotel at 11am. So when everyone was getting on the bus, Tom and I just ushered her on.
“She was delighted to be at the game. It was nice to help out an Irish person over there. Especially now that we have so many young people moving over there again now.”
“But when the game started, it started lashing rain. The girl from Mayo only had a dress on so I gave her my Cuala blazer.” Screams Pete.
“And at the end of the game, I gave her our address in case she ever did get home. But as soon as I got back to the hotel, I remembered she had my bloody Cuala blazer on. But what do you know, a brown package arrived at home a few weeks later. And it was my blazer, a letter saying how much she appreciated our generosity, and a copy of the Sydney morning herald. And I was on the front of the paper with the bloody kangaroo!”
Most Cuala members feel immense pride at just the sight of the club crest. Whether it be under a player’s name in an inter-County match day programme, or seeing the crest at the entrance to Croker. But most youngsters in the club would find it hard to believe that the club flag was paraded around Sydney.
“Ann Devlin made the flag ahead of the trip to Australia hoping there might be a Cuala flag raised in Sydney. But when we got there, we didn’t know how we’d hoist up the flag. So we took two brush handles from the hotel. But it was fantastic getting to parade the club flag after a test match. Says Pete as he looks back at the photos fondly.
Mary Dunne has been just as central to the club, making sure everything stays on tracks behind the scenes. “If they close the bar, I don’t know where we’ll go.” Says Mary.
Was it inevitable that GAA took over her life when she met Pete? “You just go with the flow when you’re in a GAA marriage. But sure I love it.”
And it’s not as if their love of the club ever stopped them from getting out and about. If anything, they saw more of the Country thanks to Cuala. “One Sunday we went to Dingle for a challenge match.” Explains Pete.
“But sure we’d no idea how bloody far away it was. And sure we didn’t get back until about half two in the morning. We went into the Victor hotel, but sure there was no drink. So PJ Holden heads off to get some chips, and when he comes back, Frances Brown comes over and takes one. She comes back and takes another. “Jaysus they’re lovely PJ”. Says Frances. And PJ is getting red now. So finally he takes out his false teeth and leaves them in the chips. He turnes to Frances and says, “Would you like another one Frances?”
“She nearly got sick there and then when she saw the teeth!”
And being a part of a very small group of people who have seen the club grow from its humble beginnings, Mary and Pete must have seen huge changes over the years.
“It’s basically a different club now.” Explains Mary. “I’d go out with Derek on a Sunday morning, who is helping with the under 12’s, and now there’s four different under 12 teams. They were hardly able to get a minor team together back in the day.”
“I couldn’t imagine that when I started helping with the street leagues 40 years ago with Johnny Robertson and Tom Holden.” Adds Pete. “But it really is an impressive set up now. We are challenging all the top clubs at every age group now. The Minors winning this year was a great win. It was great seeing the A’s beating Crokes because they have been beating us for years…. But when we started out all those years ago, it was always Thomas Davis. They always just beat the shite out of us. We’d rally the lads, and go for it again, and then they’d just kick the shite out of us again! But look at us now.” Says Pete with a proud smile.
And finally, I ask would Pete and Mary say that Cuala has been central to your lives since they’ve been married?
“Are you joking?” Shouts Pete, without having to even think about it. But thankfully, Mary puts it more eloquently. “Well we’ve certainly passed it on to the next generation in Adrian and Derek, and now they’ve passed it onto the next generation after that.”
“Adrian is running the clubhouse at the moment and has always been involved. Derek has been coaching for years now, and was with the lads last year that won the intermediate championship. That was fantastic for all of us. And all of their kids are playing away now, so we’ve plenty of games to be going to.”
So despite closing the doors to his butcher shop in Glasthule for the final time last year, Pete Dunne shows no signs of slowing down.
While Mary still runs the club lotto and be will continue to be central to all major club, And with half a dozen grand kids to support, you can be sure you’ll see the Dunne’s pitch side for years to come.