Jim Russell – The Three Century Man
Updated: May 15, 2021
11th May 1897 – 8th January 2001
Jim Russell was born in the village of Shanbally on 11th May 1897 and his family later went to live in nearby Currabinny overlooking Cork Harbour. From his home he had a great view of the Harbour and saw all the various types of shipping that passed in and out including the magnificent Trans-Atlantic Liners that called regularly.
In 1901 he commenced his National schooling in Ringaskiddy and made the return journey each day through the fields. Ringaskiddy School was new in those days having been built and opened in 1898. His first teacher was a Tralee man named Peter Gleasure.
Another teacher in the school was Sean McCarthy from Upton, who later became Chairman of the Cork County Board and National President of the GAA. He received his First Holy Communion in Shanbally and received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Parish Church in Monkstown. In those days Ringaskiddy NS had a great reputation in preparing pupils for apprenticeship examinations at the Naval Dockyard in Haulbowline.
In 1912 Jim along with some of his friends got a place in the Dockyard. He trained to be a Fitter-Turner and when he sat and completed his first examination after twelve months service he received first place. Some of his school friends included Bobby Biles, who later enlisted in the British Army and served throughout the second World War and survived. He remained a close friend of Jim’s for many years and often sent him postcards from many parts of the world where he would be stationed.
Another friend was Johnny Thompson from Currabinny who went on to be a very progressive farmer in the locality. Michael John Murphy from the Cliff was another good friend. He went to London to work and met with Michael Collins and befriended him. He returned to Dublin with Collins and went on to command some of the Free State Troops in Cork City during the Civil War.
Hurling With Shamrocks
Jim’s very first introduction to the game of hurling came one Monday morning at school when the pupils asked one of the teachers, Michael Henry Murphy, what had happened to him. He had received a knock playing in a hurling game the previous day.
This man, one of the founders of the Shamrock Hurling Club, introduced Jim to the game. Jim very quickly grew to love the game of hurling and began to excel. He played his first game in the Shamrock colours in 1912.
Pic Jim 1-Michael Brennan, Chairman of Shamrocks, making a presentation to Jim Russell on his 100th Birthday.
He got to know all the players especially those who played since the foundation of the Club including John Murphy from The Kennel Boreen, another Club founder, Tim Hanlon, brothers Andy and Jack Barrett all from Shanbally, Ned Flynn a truly wonderful hurler, Tom Enright a blacksmith who had a forge in Shanbally, brothers George and William Andrews, Sam and Tom Livesey, and Pat Leahy.
In 1914 Shamrocks qualified for the Intermediate Hurling County Final against Charleville in Mallow. On Sunday morning September 27th the team and supporters set off early and firstly attended 7am Mass on the Ballybricken Estate (now Pfizer Complex).
The Munster Fusiliers had a huge training camp on the estate where they trained and prepared for war. They would sail out of Cork Harbour to the various battle grounds of the Great War. Mass was celebrated by the Camp Chaplin. They travelled on foot to Raffeen station where they boarded the train for the Bandon Station in Cork City.
Then they walked to the Glanmire Station and completed their journey to Mallow. They arrived early at 12 noon and had to wait two hours before the game commenced. Unfortunately after all their efforts they lost but twelve months later they were back in the final again in the Cork Athletic Grounds and defeated Castletownroche. A first Intermediate title for the Club and Shamrocks were now in the Senior Ranks.
The historic year of 1916 saw them play their first Senior games and they went all the way to the final against Midleton losing narrowly on the scoreline 4-1 to 3-3. The team trainer was the local Curate Rev. Fr. Tim Murphy. He trained the team on Palmer’s Island in front of the village on a patch known locally as “no mans land” and also at “Pump Field”. Today the Ferry Terminal and the new Port of Cork Complex is located on Palmer’s Island and beyond.
Jim was a young and accomplished hurler in those days and soon the Cork Senior Selectors recognised his talents. In 1920 he was called on to the Cork Senior Panel. One of his early league games was against Tipperary in the Cork Athletic Grounds. The players and supporters were unable to get into the Stadium as it was cordoned off by Black and Tans and Auxiliaries at the ready with their guns and rifles.
However the Cork County Board had a contingency plan and the teams went down river to Riverstown, the home of Sarsfields, and the game was played later that evening. His first championship game was in Tralee on the 13th of June 1920 against Kerry and won 2-5 to 2-3 in the Munster semi-final. In 1922 Jim was joined on the Cork Senior team by another Shamrock player Frank Kelleher. Cork won the Munster final defeating Limerick but lost the All Ireland Final to Dublin. Inter County games were rather restricted then due to the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War.
In 1926 Jim sailed out of Cork Harbour, the place he loved so well, on board the SS Adriatic for New York. He was joining some old Ringaskiddy friends who had sailed earlier, brothers Tom and Dan Bradley.
The voyage took eight days and he did not land on Ellis Island. His trade and skills stood him well and he quickly got work and attained success. In 1937 he joined the U.S. Civil Service. Soon after arriving he joined the New York Corkmen’s Association and of course played hurling with them for many years. In 1929 he played hurling with them in Madison Square Gardens against a New York Offaly Team.
Jim returned to Ireland after his retirement in 1961 to enjoy many happy years blessed with good health. He would rarely miss a game in the ”Park”, and the Blackrock terrace was his favourite perch. He gave up driving at the age of 88 years but continued to travel by bus and train. His daily routine included 10am Mass in Ballinlough Church and afterwards a brisk walk into the City Library where he would read the latest editions of the American newspapers. He went on to be a very enthusiastic indoor bowler, an interest he maintained up to the age of 100.
100 Years A Growing
His 100th birthday was marked by a number of celebrations. His family hosted a birthday party for him which was preceded by a special Mass in Ballinlough Church. Later in the afternoon the Secretary of the Cork County Board, Mr. Frank Murphy and the Captain of the Cork Senior Hurling team Fergal McCormack paid him a courtesy visit.
The Shamrock Club organised a special celebratory birthday lunch for him in Acton’s Hotel in Kinsale a few days later. All Officers and Elders of the Club attended along with Con Murphy, Former President of the GAA and Jim Cronin, Vice-Chairman of the Cork County Board. It was a day to remember and near the end of the proceedings the guest of honour, Centurion Jim, delivered a speech which had his audience mesmerised with its detail, facts and clarity. Surely the trait of a truly remarkable man. Afterwards, Cork Local Radio sports correspondent Pat McAuliffe, did a lengthy interview with Jim, which was broadcast later that evening.
Time To Say Goodbye
Jim was blessed with great health and went on to reach his 104th year. Just before noon on January 8th 2001 his Maker called him home. A great era spreading over three centuries was at an end. Jim Russell was a great self-motivator and this of course contributed to his long life. He relished a challenge, never feared hard work, fasted one day every week, a simple eater, he respected his God and his neighbour.