John Quirke was born in Milltown, Co. Kerry in 1911. His father got a job at the Ursuline Convent and the family moved to Blackrock and later to 7 Ballinure Cottages known as the “White City”. This famous park in Ballinure, constructed in the mid 1930s has produced so many famous hurlers, camogie and soccer players as to deserve a complete book of its own.
As a young fellow he played in the open fields around Ballinure and eventually in 1929, lined out on the Blackrock senior team which won the County in 1929, 30 and 31.
This was the era when the Rockies had ten players on the Cork team from 1926-1931. However the fortunes of the Blackrock club went down in the 30s and 40s and they were the last senior county medals won by John with his club.
In the publication, “Giants of the Ash” by Brendan Fulham, John was quoted as follows.
“I got my place on Cork team in 1932, with a very lean period until 1941. I won two leagues and eight Railway Cup medals out of ten in a row. Also four All-Ireland medals; 1941,1942,1943 and 1944.” Nine Cork players won all four All-Irelands on the field of play. Johnny Quirke was one of those players.
There were some titanic battles with Limerick in the late 30s and early 40s and he rated Mick Mackey very highly. Johnny twice marked Mackey, playing at centre-back.
He scored goals regularly from the right corner forward position. but he could play anywhere and his versatility was very highly regarded. For example, he scored three goals and four points in the League final against Tipperary in 1940, playing on Tipp captain, John Maher.
“It was John Quirke who saved the Cork team from defeat in the drawn game on July 16th 1944, “The Bicycle Final”, against a Limerick side inspired by the indomitable spirit of 32-year-old Mick Mackey”. Raymond Smith in his book “The Greatest Hurlers of Our Time” further quotes the journalist John D. Power when referring to Mackey “He won the match for Limerick, Quirke won it back for Cork; then fate stepped in and made it a draw”. Cork later won the replay and the All-Ireland Final.
This unassuming hurler regulary praised his adversaries such as Jackie Power and Mick Mackey of Limerick, Waterford’s John Keane and John Maher of Tipperary. Quirke played with and against Christy Ring and Jack Lynch.
Val Dorgan in his book on Christy Ring tells of Ring’s persistent questioning of questioners…….”John Quirke was unwittingly funny about this trait in Ring. When the Cloyne man first joined the Cork team he always sat in the team car with Quirke. “He never stopped putting questions to me”, said Quirke. “About hurling?” somebody enquired.
“Why would he ask me about hurling?”Johnny Quirke.
His final game for Cork was in the Munster semi-final against Waterford in 1946.
Tim Horgan author of Christy Ring, Hurling’s Greatest includes a tribute to John Quirke from another GAA author, John Power to the four-in-a- row team.
“For twelve years Cork has been supplied with a utility hurler who is equally at home at either end of the field and in any position. He is a hurler of quality, skilled in every department of the game and indeed a true representative of the village once reckoned to be the home of hurling. That he kept himself going through eight years of defeat and depression and turns out each year as fit as a fiddle and eager to meet the best in the land speaks volumes for the make-up of this splendid hurling man. Indeed I’d say John Quirke was the most deserving man on the team, though of course he’d be the first to decry this himself”.
Johnny Quirke passed away on 24th August 1983 at the North Infirmary and he lies buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. He was one of the greatest ever hurlers to play for Cork and Blackrock and can be placed alongside Ring and Mackey among the best of that or any other era in hurling.
Con Hannigan’s poetic tribute to his dear old neighbour from August 1983 is displayed.
Johnny Quirke is pictured on the left at the back row.