Pairc Ui Rinn, a Local Field of Dreams on the Boreenamanna Road.
The first competitive soccer game on the famous Flower Lodge ground was in 1957, when AOH Football Club played Sligo in the FAI Cup.
According to Plunkett Carter (From The Lodge to the Box) the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) purchased the 11.5 acres of land for £5,800 in the early 50s, and spent considerably more, on developing it into one of the best pitch surfaces in Ireland. Pairc Ui Rinn’s unique surface was described as a crown type surface, highest along the entire length of the middle spine and falling towards both sides.
The former President of the GAA, Con Murphy described the County Boards efforts in the early 1950s to buy this land from Sean Hyde, a vet who had a veterinary practise in Conways Yard in Oliver Plunkett Street. Sean had played hurling with both Dublin and Cork. There was, no deal was concluded and the AOH stepped in, developed a fine pitch and facilities and retained ownership until 1988.
Cork Hibernians played their opening league matches there in the 1962/63 season, and continued to play there until 1976, when the club ceased to exist. The grounds witnessed some special moments, especially the derby games with local rivals Cork Celtic in what has often been described as the glory years. The largest attendance at this ground was estimated at an incredible 26,000 on 16th April 1972, against Waterford in a League of Ireland title decider. The dramatic ending still remains painful to this day, although Miah Dennehy, helped to reduce the pain the following weekend with his hat trick in the FAI Cup Final, helping Cork Hibernians win against Waterford.
Other teams to have used Flower Lodge as a home ground were Cork Alberts, Albert Rovers, and Cork City FC from 1984 until 1986, following which City moved to play in Turners Cross.
In 1985 an International game between Ireland and Spain with Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton playing was held while in 1986, Liverpool provided the opposition for Ireland, with Kenny Daglish, Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton showing their skills.
Amazingly, Flower Lodge then went virtually silent from 1986 – 1988 and rumours suggested it might, become the site of a housing development as it was being placed on “the open market”. The AOH put it on the market and had indicated that “favourable consideration” might be given to a bid which stated that the Stadium would be retained for “sporting purposes”. In late November 1988, the G.A.A. announced that it had purchased the grounds for £260,000.
The new pitch was extended to 145 metres by 88 metres and incorporated the original pitch which was left intact. A new stand was constructed, on the southern side with capacity for 3,600 seated and a “shed” on the northern side. Following expenditure of 1 million, the new stadium was named after Christy Ring, Páirc Chriostóir Uí Rinn and it was officially opened on 23rd May 1993, when Cork played Kilkenny in hurling and Meath in football.
It was indeed fitting, that the new stadium, honoured Christy Ring, who lived within earshot of the stadium, for much of his life. Wonder did he ever get to play there at any stage?
Thousands of games, from underage Sciath na Scoil to senior intercounty hurling and football have continued to be played in this lovely ground since then. All the thrills and spills, the nail biting tensions, the brilliant victories, and the crushing defeats are repeated on the field year after year.
Many sporting legends have played in this ground including, Brian Corcoran, Jim Cashman, Patrick Horgan, Wayne Sherlock, John Kerins, Miah Dennehy, Dave Wiggington, Donie Wallace, Dinny Allen and Dave Bacuzzi to mention a few. A tired looking George Best played there in December 1975.
German Player of the Year in 1972 and 1973, Gunter Netzer of Borussia Monchengladbach arrived on September 15th 1971, Leeside had never seen anything like this team (“This is what football is about”…per Jimmy McGee) and he still recalled at Flower Lodge, although World Cup winner in 1974 and future German manager Berti Vogts played also that day……. ….. as indeed did two local legends and former Ringmahon Rangers players, Frank Connolly and John Brohan. Great days and great memories at the field of dreams.
As one passes Páirc Ui Rinn today, the old ground is silent once more, but the sound of sport will hopefully, return soon!