They were going for the funeral in black clothes. Everyone is naturally grieving. The procession of the funeral procession is silent. Suddenly, a distant sound came to their ears.
The sound is getting louder. It is understood that the source of the sound is slowly approaching them. The closer the sound source got, the clearer the sound became. The sound of diesel engines, mixed with cheers and chants. At one point the source of the sound became visible. The funeral processions standing at the cemetery saw a group of young people in an open lorry passing by shouting and cheering. Red and green ribbons fluttering in the air.
The lads cheering on the lorry were local Mayo County players who had won everything possible in Gaelic football that season. Their ride in that open lorry was because they had just won that year’s All-Ireland tournament in front of 78,000 spectators at Croke Park in Dublin.
Time period – 1951. Mayo won the biggest match of the season for the second consecutive year, retaining the coveted Sam Maguire Cup title. Cheering in such an open lorry is what they are supposed to do.
But some things are bigger than these game titles. Especially in 1950s Ireland, where religious beliefs and customs are deeply embedded in the psyche. When there is a burial ground ahead and a funeral procession present, it is obligatory to stop cheering for the title. From the direction of the funeral procession, he directed the title holders. But whether it was youthful competition and the excitement of winning the title, that instruction did not fall on Mayo County’s players. The lorry continued, cheering too. The sanctity of the funeral did not remain.
The fiery gaze of the priest leading the funeral procession was cast upon the young men cheering for the title. His eyes narrowed in anger, curses came out of his voice – ‘May you all be cursed! May County Mayo never win an All-Ireland title again as long as you live!’
This is the story that comes to people. Whether the priest actually said such a thing or not, and even if he did say it, there is no way to know after all this time what the actual words were.
But what can be seen right in front of our eyes is that 72 years of that title journey have passed. Mayo County have since reached the final 11 more times. But after that title in 1951, Mayo County was not lucky enough to win the title again.
A little knowledge of County Mayo and Gaelic football is probably necessary before getting to know the story better. County Mayo is a stunningly beautiful county on Ireland’s Atlantic coast. However, the youth there do not want to live there. Migrate to the other side in search of fortune and modernity. That trend continues today. In the mid-eighteenth century, the region faced severe famine, and many people left the region and migrated to other places. Today, Mayo County has a population of 130,000, but before the Famine – in 1841 – it was three times the current population.
Gaelic football is a popular form of entertainment in this town. Two teams will play on a rectangular grass pitch, with 15 players each. There are two systems – goals and points. There is a goalpost with two posts and a bar on both sides, and two posts on either side go up to two and a half meters beyond the bar. If someone kicks and enters the post under the bar, the goal is scored (in this case there is no rule of punching the ball with the hand), and if the ball is kicked or punched with the hand and sends the ball over the bar to the post, points can be obtained. 3 points for scoring, 1 point for punching. You can say, ‘Jat bhai’ of rugby is a game.
There is no end to the excitement of the people of that region about this game. John O’Mahony, who once played and later coached Mayo County, told the BBC: ‘Mayo County are not rich. People here are very hard working, honest and good. Gaelic football has been the big game here since the beginning of history. People here think of the county team as their own.
But that Mayo County team and its people have been the subject of many heart-breaking stories since 1951. Eleven times the team went to Croke Park to play in an All-Ireland final, 11 times the county people turned up in the gallery thinking ‘this time the curse is over’. But 11 times somehow fate returned them empty-handed.
Year 1989 O’Mahony was the county coach at the time. Mayo County reached their first final since 1951. As the second half wore on, Mayo County were still ahead against Cork, having plenty of chances to extend the gap, but were unable to convert. In the end it was Cork who came back into the match, walking away with the title! The result wasn’t exactly incredible, but Mayo County had plenty of reason to think they were doomed.
Unbelievable 7 years later, the 1996 final. The match will end with Mayo leading by one point against Meath. Mith’s Kom Koil floated the ball in the air in front. Several Mayo players saw the ball coming, almost caught, but none could catch it. How the ball bounced over the bar. One point! The Myth team needed that one point to bring the match back to the replay. In the replay, Mayo’s best player Liam McHale, who was man of the match in the previous draw, was shown a red card for an altercation with an opponent early in the match. Mayo lost the match by one point!
Is this because of the curse of 1951? By that time, the idea was surrounding the common people of Mayo. What about the players? Maybe! If not, how does it happen in the 2016 final? Mayo conceded two own goals in the match, a rarity in Gaelic football. With those two goals, Dublin left the field with equality in the match, Dublin won the replay! Before and after five more finals, which was the loss of Mayo Lalatlikhan!
By that time, the feeling of curse had become a belief and embedded in people’s minds. After that, Mayo reached the final three more times – in 2017, 2020 and 2021, losing all three times.
Among the newspapers in Mayo region, the Western People newspaper is the most popular. Anthony Hennigan, the paper’s sports editor, has watched the Mayo team since he was a child – first as a fan, then for work. Hennigan described the experience to the BBC, ‘How we always play badly in finals. This has always been the case with Mayo! Mayo will give you such a great game the rest of the time, but when they play bad, they play really bad. ‘
Although Hennigan doesn’t care about the curse behind it, ‘the curse is completely shrouded in mystery. Why are you saying? Because, how did it suddenly come to the fore! As far as I know, no such curse was ever heard of before sometime around 2000.’
Hennigan said a colleague of his had written a book on Mayo’s history. In need of that research, the gentleman went to Foxford, where in 1951 the open lorry is said to have fallen in front of a funeral procession. ‘He interviewed at least 25-30 people from Foxford who had lived in Foxford all their lives. Some of those people were born in the 1920s, some in the 1930s. “In all the people he spoke to in the research for that book, no one heard anything about curses,” Hennigan told the BBC.
Doubts remain about whether the curse is true or not. But even if the curse is true, it is supposed to expire in 2021. Paddy Prendergast died two weeks after Mayo’s defeat to Tyrone in the final that year. Prendergast, who passed away at the age of 95, was the last surviving member of the 1951 winning team. According to the language of the curse, Maio was not supposed to win the final again while anyone from that team was alive, Maio didn’t win. But after Prendergast’s death, none of that group remained. So the curse is still effective?
But there remains an informational gap. Prendergast was the last living member of the team that played in the final that day, but he was not the last living member of the team’s dressing room that day. Gondita is by no means the last surviving member of the open lorry victory procession after the final!
In the final 72 years ago, the player who was not in the field even though he was in Mayo’s team. Mick Loftus spoke on ‘Amazing Sports Stories’. ‘It was a very special day. I was so nervous to take the field in front of 80,000 people!’ – Memoirs of Loftus. Loftus did not enter the field that day, sat on the bench and watched his teammates win. The victory march has cracked!
Now 93-year-old Loftus’ memories of that day are dusty. All he remembers is that after the victory, they returned to the team’s hotel ‘Barry’s Hotel’, filled their mouths with sweets. “After the final we ate a lot of ice cream,” said Loftus.
However, Loftus is not the first to speak about that final. BBC Northern Ireland journalist Mark Sidebottom has covered Gaelic football for 30 years, interviewing Loftus many times. In that case, the curse should definitely come up in an interview. Sidebottom told the BBC about his experience of interviewing Loftus in this way, ‘He made the matter a game. He used to say, ‘This nonsense! I do not remember any funeral, there is no question of ignoring the funeral! That’s why I thought, then these curses can be washed away.’
Then there was a ‘but’ in Sidebottom’s description, ‘…but after saying this he (Loftus) looked at me and said, “The thing is, everybody was very excited at the time. Now I haven’t seen any funeral processions, I mean any funeral processions.” It was not like that!
It could not be ascertained from Loftus whether the funeral procession and the victory procession actually coincided at Foxford that day. But Arlene Crampsey thinks she can give the right idea. Crampsey, a lecturer in geography at University College Dublin, began work on the history of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 2008, for which he has traveled across Ireland to collect Gaelic football and memorabilia.
Crampsey spoke to 140 people who may have been involved in Mayo’s victory march in 1951. His experience after talking to so many people, ‘Until we asked someone specifically about the curse, no one talked about the curse. This seems different to me. There were many people in that victory procession. They remember the memories, but none of them have said anything about the alleged curse themselves. ‘
Crampsey therefore conducted further research on this. If the living say nothing, the history of the dead may – thinking. He records the deaths of the period around Foxford. In 1951 Mayo recorded one death in the week of their All-Ireland final victory. But the funeral took place on Wednesday of that week, and Mayo’s celebration was said to have taken place on Tuesday. Therefore, it can be assumed that there is little chance of a funeral procession and a victory procession.
But the records of that time are not easy to find completely after so long, the memories of that time are also difficult to match with exact dates from the living. And it is more difficult to prove that an event did not happen than to prove that it happened!
The curse is still a folk tale.
The interview on Amazing Sports Stories is likely to be the last interview of Loftus’ life. Loftus, a Gaelic football team player, later refereed, also worked as an administrator. However, he never lost hope for his beloved team. Asked about Mayo’s chances of winning the title in 2023, Loftus said: ‘I really believe we will one day.’
When Mayo beat reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry a month after his death, many thought Loftus’s belief was about to come true. But then Dublin fell in the knockout round to Mayo, who won six consecutive titles from 2015 to 2020. Mayo lost by a margin.
Shiropakhra is 72 years old. A few questions remained, some doubts. Is the curse really true? If true, when will it end? Will it happen at all?