Sunday, December 31, 2017

Irish Dance Halls - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Flared-frocks and Brylcreem

Irish Dance Halls, London, circa 1969. I spent some interesting periods of my younger life in London, in the sixties. I first went there in the late sixties. Like most Irish people I became immersed in the social outlets of the huge Irish population in that great city at the time. These outlets were basically the Gaelic football and a vibrant pub culture for men, and the Irish dance halls for both men and women
The London-Irish Dance-Halls:
It is somewhat odd, that, for a person who never really got to grips with the nuances of the dance floor I regularly explored the London-Irish dance halls. It was one of the great diversions for young Irish émigrés who had few other social outlets.
My first 'room' was in West Ealing, so, very early in my stay, I visited the Innisfree dance hall in Ealing. It was my only visit and it being a Sunday night it was a muted affair. It suffered a premature end in a fire in the middle sixties and was not restored which was an inconvenience for us in West London.
'The Garryowen'
Most of London seemed to have enclaves of Irish people living in them, two notable areas being, Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith. Oddly 'the Bush' did not have an Irish dance hall in my time though I have heard of one called 'The Carlton' up the Uxbridge Road, close to Shepherd's Bush. Hammersmith, however, had one of the iconic dance halls in The Garryowen. Close by was another famous dance hall, a mainly English one, The Palais, where Joe Loss and his orchestra were kings. I worked, for a short time, in a bar on Hammersmith Broadway called 'The Swan' and the orchestra members socialised there. Sunday afternoon dancing was a feature of a number of dance halls, the Palais being one, though it was more of the Ballroom variety and while interesting in a glamorous way it was way above my head or my feet. Also in Hammersmith was The Emerald, which I seem to remember as being in the middle of a roadway and opposite Hammersmith Hospital. Another Sunday afternoon dance hall was very conveniently located in the centre of London at Tottenham Court Road, where, when you exited the Tube, your eyes were diverted sky-wise by the high-rise skyscraper just then completed, Centre Point, I think it was called. Like a number of halls it was downstairs to 'The Blarney'. There is reference somewhere to these afternoon dances being referred to as 'Tea Dances'. Alcoholic drink was not a feature of some dance halls.
In Fulham, there was The Hibernian but I only remember one visit though a nearby pub, 'The White Hart', had a reputation for fine traditional Irish traditional music.
Catholic Charlie Mack's:
My sister Carmel was a great lady for the dances and for a time favoured Charlie Mack's in Victoria or Bayswater. It had a reputation as being a very Catholic establishment with the possibility of having to pass some test to prove your religious ethos, to the supervising 'matriach', to get in. This presented no problem to us at that time! I remember it being close to New Scotland Yard with its rotating geometrical sign and to a street named Strutting Ground!

The Galtymore:
As the Carlsberg ad might say, the most famous Irish dance hall in London and a survivor of sorts, was 'probably', 'The Galtymore' in Cricklewood. It was, I was told, originally a Bingo hall, owned by a Mr. Beirne, who turned up in some respect at one of the Dublin Tribunals. It was located in one of the most identifiably Irish areas and close to the famous drinking emporium called 'The Crown'. I was rarely in the Galtymore, which I recall as having twin halls like Dublin's Mansion House. There was a common admission, with one being a Ceili dance hall frequented by mostly west of Ireland people but not me.
What is now Sainsburys of Kiburn was once 'The Banba'. In the 70s' on Kilburn High Road there was 'The National' run by Kevin Flynn from Sligo. I also heard of one called 'The State' in Kilburn.
Generally I never knew or cared who owned these places and my challenges were, to get in with the even greater one of making my way 'home' to the 'room' of the time. The London Transport system had little sympathy for the late night reveller and 'taking a girl home' often posed insurmountable logistical problems. So, one had to attempt to compromise desire with London City geography. Few seemed to have cars and the using of a taxi was only for emergencies or when a full shared load presented itself. There were odd times when the irregular night buses or even 'the Green Line' was resorted to. Like many, I tramped many a long mile home, in the late night, without much anxiety, in innocent immaturity.

'The Buffalo', Camden Town:'The Buffalo' was an apt name for Camden Town's Irish 'dance hall'. This was a 'lively', sometimes explosive venue, usually 'packed to the rafters' and with a decent variety of artists. While London's Irish dance halls may have a legendary reputation for being rough or being fighting venues I rarely encountered this. One of the occasions I did was in the Buffalo and it was wild-west stuff as the Victoria Line miners from Donegal and Mayo (the elite of the labouring Irish in late sixties London) tried to 'sort out' some intractable insult by an unfortunate 'wee gobshite'.
The pre-dance foundations in Camden town could be laid in 'The Mother Red Cap', having escaped the labyrinthine exits and odours of Camden Town's black tube line and past the walls polished by the eternal queues of Ireland's youth as they waited to be selected for the 'shtaart' (sic) to board 'the Green' or 'the Grey' Murphy wagons to be transported to the outer regions of London to pour concrete or for the big cable pull.
Not far from here was a less contentious and later hall called 'The Forum' in Kentish Town, opposite Murphy's yard, which was re-named 'The Town and Country'.
'The Gresham':
In the pecking order of stars the number one hall was 'The Gresham' at the top of Holloway Road at The Archway. 'The Gresham' had illusions of grandeur (as its name implies) with an imposing foyer and modernism (if such was possible with these establishments), a fussy dress-code (ties could be rented for the night) and fussier 'bouncers'. The main night appeared to be Monday night, which presented a many- faceted challenge. Was it that 'the tubes' ran later on Monday nights? If one could gauge accurately the last intercepting Central Line train at Tottenham Court Road it could be worthwhile. Monday nights had a reputation of having present, to use the terminology of the time, the classier Irish ladies or those who thought themselves to be such. Near 'The Gresham' were the Whittington and Royal Northern Hospitals with their population of Irish nurses and their English colleagues. On Monday nights there was a special concession on admission to these ladies, so, if one could cope with the Monday night aspect of things it was an acceptable experience. Saturday nights there was a free-for-all in a very different sense!
Generally before The Gresham I found myself in the adjacent 'Archway Tavern' or 'The Half Moon', a cheque-changing bar, with an acceptable piano-playing Dublin entertainer, some way down the Holloway Rd. Like in Ireland, if one required 'Dutch Courage' before the dance encounter (and many did not, being pioneers), one had to visit the nearby or strategically located bar, which rarely presented a difficulty.
A couple of the rare surviving 'snaps' from this period of my life in London, were taken by the Gresham's resident 'snapper'. One is a group of us bar 'men' from the Queen Adelaide, on The Uxbridge Road, near Shepherd's Bush, who had made the odyssey in our mohair suits and ruler width ties. We were united by a camaraderie of innocence as we waited for the County names of Roscommon, Longford and Leitrim to come around on the green neon strip- light in the mineral bar. I had remembered these halls as not having bars but after discussion with a fellow enthusiast discovered I was wrong. Not all of them had bars but The Gresham had two bars one upstairs and a smaller one downstairs for the inner circle. One would have thought these would have added to their volatility.
'The Gresham' 'imported' the best bands from 'back home' which necessitated more expensive door charges but still resulted in packed houses. Some dance-hall owners owned a string of halls in London and in other English cities like the Reynolds brothers did in the Midlands of Ireland. Thus 'big' bands were restricted or contracted to play in their halls only, which left the smaller 'Independents' with the crumbs.
Despite my best efforts in The Gresham, I was puzzled that I was not more appreciated in its precincts! Perhaps it was my profession of 'shovelist' in response to the lady's 'typist' that let me down! One of the small pleasures of these halls was the occasional meeting of someone from home as when I met Jimmy Coyne a barman in The Gresham around '66.

Lesser Dance Halls:
By way of diversion and research on my way home to 'the room' off Camden Town Road I once or twice found myself in an undistinguished hall, called 'The Round Tower', at the junction of Holloway Road and Seven Sisters Road, where, if I remember correctly, there was a major pub called 'The Nag's Head'.
Once, on a prospect, I made the long journey to, and longer journey back from, 'The Harp' in New Cross; Peckham country, made famous later by Del Boy. I was no Del Boy and South of the Thames held few rewards for me. Near here too was 'The Shamrock' in The Elephant and Castle.
My cousins hung out for the most part around Leytonstone, which had a small hall called, I think, 'The Inisfail'. This was an interesting place as nearby was the large Whipps Cross Hospital, which, like all hospitals, had a considerable Irish nursing population. Near this was the landmark bar, 'The Green Man', standing in splendid isolation as a lighthouse to the weary!
In Wimbledon was the simply titled 'Wimbledon Dance Hall' where the out-of-towners made their way to meet their city-domiciled cousins.
In South -West London, in Balham was the 'Aranmore' and at the opposite end of the compass was 'The Shannon' in Finsbury Park near Stroud Green Road. ...These latter three I only heard of!
Not far from The Jubilee Clock in Harlesden was 'The 32 Club'. John Grehan told me of it having a previous Irish name which I did not record. He may have said 'The Tara'. This reputedly had a Kerry, Dublin clientele but I remember being there with Cork people, it being near their first disembarkation station, Paddington. There was often a whiff of danger about 'The 32 Club'.
I have been told of a 'St. Olives' hall at Manor House though I've heard this referred to as just, Manor House Dance Hall and also reference to a 'Four Provinces' hall in the same area, with mention of another hall in Ilford. In Tooting Beck there was another Saint represented, was it 'St. Barnaville'?
In Romford there was an Irish Club, which people like Pat Carton, working down near the Thames estuary, frequented. It, too, was near another hospital with a big Irish nursing population. Pat mentioned a Glacamorra Club as well but while I'm familiar with it in Finian's Rainbow I never heard of it in this context. It sounds like an apt dreamy, nostalgic name though, for a London-Irish hall of the time.
I'm told of another Carlton, the Carlton Rooms, in Willsden, with many Irish dances but know nothing of them. Later many Churches had adjacent Church clubs but I suppose they were of a different hue with a clientele more settled and mature, long after their 'Buffalo' days were over. These Church halls were there for a number of reasons including the financing of Church buildings. These halls too are in decline.

Decades On ...the Legacy:
In the mid 80s' there was another surge of emigration and new names appear such as 'Dicey Reillys' in Neasden run by Kevin Flynn from '89 to '98. In Hamstead in the early 70s' was the more exotically titled 'The Purple Pussycat'.

These represent a cultural sea change from the 'The Harp', 'The Garryowen', 'The Emerald' and their contemporaries, which proved such magnetic attractions and distractions for that generation of young Irish who flooded England's capital city in the 50s' and 60s' They are now part of a kind of folk history for their patrons but whether they deserve to be or not they are remembered with nostalgia and fondness by thousands of their patrons for whom they provided an invaluable social and emotional outlet. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reflection on the passing of my friend Dr. Bernard McGuire

 Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile” Albert Einstein. This was the sentiment which adorned the back cover of a NUIG Magazine for former students which, ironically, came in the post just last week. In considering an opening for these lines I thought how apt they would be to encapsulate the life of Dr. Bernard McGuire who passed away at his home in Felton, Boyle last Friday.
I first met Bernard in U.C.G. in the late sixties and became a member of the boxing club there for which Bernard was an active recruiter. It is a validation of the activity and adventures of that small club that a number of  members from that time were present at Bernard’s funeral this week almost fifty years later. His Donegal friend from then and always Ciaran McFadden gave a telling account, at Bernard’s funeral Mass, of how they met and the bond that emerged and continued. Ciaran spoke of the qualities of Bernard or Mac, as we first knew him, laced with anecdote and reflection of a good, generous man with a unique personality. Bernard would have been pleased with Ciaran’s summations and would have smiled at some of the evidential anecdotes.     
Of course it was easier for me as both Bernard and I ended up in the same town and our friendship matured. Not alone was he a friend but he was a caring compassionate doctor to our family and to many families in the region of Boyle.
Bernard was not just a fine medical doctor but was a man with a variety of talents as an active brain grappled with numerous projects down the years. In more recent times a major project of his was the harnessing wave power and that continues at a third level institution presently.  
I remember being with him when he first showed me what was become the site for his home of recent years. The site had been a mill, possibly with a hydro power history.
All that remained were some heavy sleepers crossing the river and the relic of an industrial building on the opposite bank.
He was to build a fine house there with which he had a major involvement. It was a fine achievement in a challenging location. As Ciaran said ‘Bernard was as much at home on a building site as he was as a doctor’. The final piece of that jigsaw was the Bailey bridge which he acquired, if my memory serves me right, near his North of England home of early years. He was rightly very proud of that bridge and liked to relate the story of its journey from Liverpool to Felton.      

He loved traditional music and challenged himself with the construction of some instruments, one being a concertina. I was aware of its progress and completion and last August I brought a connection of mine, concertina player Conor Tivnan, out to Felton to ‘launch’ the concertina as it were. Conor did the occasion justice and the concertina got his seal of approval. So Bernard could tick the box on that project. It is something Conor and I are so pleased now that we did that as you can imagine.

On a recent visit he talked of times in the north of England around Liverpool and his progress in education mixed with his experience of working on the motorways and an adventure with a dumper. I seem to be using the word ‘adventure or adventures’ fairly often in speaking of Bernard! He also told me of how he ended up in Galway. He talked of his original home in Sligo and reflected on a picture in the room of his brothers one of whom had died just a short time ago in Sligo.
 In retrospect it was a wider conversation than usual and his handshake as I left had a quality of finality. But I did not know or realise that then of course. Perhaps he did though. He certainly fought the good fight.  

 In conclusion I return to Ciaran again where he said “ Bernard took the cards that were served to him (in difficult times) and through his intelligence and discipline pursued a career that allowed him to do what was at the core of his persona, To Try Help Others.”  That he did in spades.

While it is an oft-used phrase I think it is truly reflective of Dr. Bernard McGuire. Ni fheicimid a leithead aris ann

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Boyle’s All-Ireland Fleadhs:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Boyle’s All-Ireland Fleadhs:

“I was in Boyle once… many years ago now. It was during one of the great Fleadhs… the best I was ever at…I remember it well…great days, great music.” I have had this reaction more than once whenever I mention that I’m from Boyle. The Fleadhs of Boyle live on in the memories of the thousands who visited the towns on those memorable weekends nearly thirty years ago. They act too as markers in the memories of those involved.

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had been founded at the turn of the fifties to nurture and promote Irish traditional music, song and dance. This promotion culminated in the great annual festival of Irish music, the Fleadh Cheoil. These had begun at Mullingar in 1951 and had been held, through the fifties, in towns such as Athlone, Ennis, Loughrea and Longford. Boyle’s turn came in 1960.

Surrounded by Music:While traditional music, native to the town, was scarce enough, Boyle was at the heart of a countryside immersed in music. Among those musicians were Joe and Paddy McDonagh of Ballinafad. They possessed a wealth of tunes which they passed on to the younger generation including Matt Molloy. Also from Ballinafad were Bertie and Michael Joe MacNiff. The sessions in Corrigeenroe revolved around Paddy Nicholson’s. Here was a fine fiddle player, Michael Lyons, who later emigrated to the U.S. while Jim McLoughlin played the whistle. Paddy Nicholson himself played the fiddle, while another great player was Phil McConnon. In nearby Doon were the McGlynns, Eugene, Joe, Pat and Owen and also Peter Gallagher. On the other side of Boyle, in Keash, were Peter and Joe Cullen, Michael Brennan and Mark Walshe. From Killaraght came Mrs. Meehan, Kevin Meehan and Oliver Knott. In Ballinameen there were Eugene Duffy, and Paddy Kenny with E. Lavin in Breedogue. Nearer the town was accordion player Paddy Cregg and flute player Eddie Cummins. From the town were the fiddle players John Dwyer and Paddy Morris and brothers Jimmy and Bernard Flaherty, originally from near Castlebaldwin, both accomplished accordion players. Then there was Kathleen Dwyer Morris who hailed from Ballindoon but became intrinsically linked with Boyle. These musicians flavoured the times as they played at Country House dances, American wakes, occasional concerts and rambling house sessions. They had their own local style dictated by restricted means of transport and local identity. In the fifties this changed and the Fleadhs accelerated the change.

Venue Selection:News of the great gathering of musicians at the All-Ireland Fleadhs, of the early fifties, began to filter back to Boyle. A branch of Comhaltas was formed, instigated by Micheal O Callaghan. He became the first Branch Chairman. Clareman, Garda Joe Leahy was Vice-Chairman; Des Kennedy was Secretary with Paddy Morris and Mrs. Margaret Nicholson acted as Co-Treasurers. Other core committee members included Mr. and Mrs. John O’Dowd; Jimmy and Tess Flaherty, Martin Candon and Kathleen-Dwyer Morris among others. Present, at that initial meeting, to lend encouragement, were Tommy Flynn and Pat Joe Dowd from Lough Arrow. This ambitious committee applied to host the 1960 All-Ireland Fleadh. Because of its youth, it had to overcome the national organisations doubts in its ability to do so at a special meeting in Birr.

Preparation and Anticipation:The town did not know what to expect from the event and could hardly have anticipated the immense size and impact of the occasion. It came as a shock to Boyle but the town rallied and won through on all fronts. The days immediately preceding the weekend were days of feverish activity. Temporary cafes, eating houses and accommodation venues, emerged, responding to the cajoling of the committee’s accommodation secretary, Jimmy Flaherty. Camping grounds sprang up as the town improvised to cater for the expected crowds. And they came, first as a trickle on Friday evening, to a steady stream early on Saturday to a flood on the evening and night and on Sunday morning, until the streets were filled with a happy, jostling throng.

Triumph:The 1960 All-Ireland Fleadh was a triumph for Boyle; a triumph of organisation, co-operation and atmosphere, which left a wealth of memories and established Boyle as a premier venue for the festival. Sunday morning opened to the crash of a thunder storm, which threatened the day. But, having given its salute, it passed on, as the parades and music returned to the streets, while the competitions proceeded in the many centres. Among the winners that weekend were many who were to become household names in the traditional music scene. Joe Burke, Matt Molloy and Josie McDermott were winners as were the Tulla Ceili Band. Locals too performed with distinction, including Frances Grehan, Sean Kenny, and Aidan Sheerin. The St. Attracta’s Ceili Band, Ballinameen; Buion Cheoil Mhuire, Drumboylan and Marian Band, Boyle were successful in the Roscommon County competitions.

A post-Fleadh account went thus “…the memory of it is still fresh in the minds of the thousands…and what memories they are… to try and sort them out is almost impossible for they come crowding into the mind in a confusion of sounds, faces and incidents that prevents the pictures from coming sharply into focus. The skirl of the pipes, the lilt and lift of the dance tunes, the ballad singing and dancing on the pavements, the laughter and noise of the happy laughing crowd seemed to hang over the streets of Boyle.”

Epilogue:The return of the Fleadh of 1966, held in glorious Whit weekend weather, confirmed and enhanced Boyle’s reputation. The opposition encountered by the committee to the Fleadh’s proposed return in 1972, in the nervous atmosphere of the Northern Troubles, was a big disappointment to them. While there were very good County and Provincial Fleadhs in this period, and an active branch, the possible repeat of 1960 or 1966 faded as Listowel took over the mantle. Neither has the number of Boyle musicians grown beyond the traditional families of Flaherty, Morris, Meehan and Grehan. The strongholds are still outside in places such as Ballyfarnon and Castlebaldwin. The local Comhaltas branch is dormant, with little prospect of coming to meaningful life. The twenty fifth anniversary of the 1960 Fleadh inspired the Editor of the Roscommon Herald (and motivator of the first festival, Micheal O’Callaghan) to ask, above a picture of a crowded town; “Will we ever see the like again?” I doubt it very much, so let’s hold on to the memories of ’60 and ’66.
“Ah yes, I was in Boyle once…. “
First published in the important Moylurg Writers Book of essays, on Boyle, Vol. 2, published Nov. 1993.
(Acknowledgements to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson and Mrs. Kathleen Dwyer Morris for their help with this article).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

In Memory Of My Father

(June 14th 2009)

Though he died over thirty six years ago it seems as if I am still getting to know him. I should have done it then of course but it wasn’t fashionable and I was a younger member of the family. Also I felt I knew a lot more then than I do now. In getting to grips with my father he seems to slip through my fingers. I could not but say that he was a solid, hard-working, farming man. When he arrived at the scene of a problem the rest of us stood back we were confident that he had the answers. Invariably he had.
I know now that having the answers wasn’t quite so simple. He was never demanding or commanding. Indeed he was, for a man of his background, deferential. His solution might be pretty straight forward and we would wonder why we hadn’t thought it through. The answer was from his store of experience. He had his weaknesses of course and it surprises me, in a naïve way I suppose, that a genuinely solid and sensible kind of man drank too much. But I’m not here now to talk of weaknesses.
I have many images of him and think of how the poet Patrick Kavanagh, so effectively remembered his parents in his poetry, particularly his Mother and more obliquely his father in his poem ‘In Memory of My Father’; ‘Every old man I see in October coloured weather seems to say to me I was once your father’. It doesn’t happen thus often to me but I can easily recall pictures of my father at his best. I can see him in the tillage field with the knapsack sprayer on ‘the barrel’s edge poised’ as he sprayed the potatoes. He was skilled in the bog with the slean slicing the turf sods or with the shears snipping at sheep-shearing. He is in the hay-field, in his latter days, winding the hay ropes or in that period also when he had graduated to the end of the threshing machine where he bagged the grain. His forte was in harvesting, from the smaller fairs of Creggs, Ballygar and such places, his kind of cattle which he brought together like a football team for the big fairs held in Roscommon town. In a sense I can only post a flavour of the growing number of pictures, as they drift back, for these paragraphs.
We shared a number of lesser things like the adventures of the Cisco Kid in The Irish Press, and occasional articles on World War Two, like Stalingrad, in the Sunday Press. I seem to remember, in his company, the radio programme ‘The Ballad Makers Saturday Night’ though I shouldn’t go back that far and listening to the Derry Boxer, Billy Kelly, being robbed by the referee’s decision against Ray Famechon. He sang regularly from his small stock of songs such as; ‘I Dream of Jennie’, ‘The Galway Shawl’, ‘Noreen Bawn’ and ‘Lovely Derry on the Banks of the Foyle’ and enjoyed Moore’s Melodies and John McCormack.
He had been part of the Independence movement but spoke little of it. He was ‘a county footballer’ and followed the fortunes of Roscommon from a distance but rarely came to watch us play, which was a disappointment. I accompanied him to his last Roscommon match in Ballinasloe, around 1969, against Galway, when they did particularly badly. ‘Shadows on the wall’ he repeated as we headed back to the car in the Fair Green. There was a dividend in being the son of Pat Conboy. It’s a little ironic that I wrote about Roscommon football and the Independence conflict later and had so little information from him, who had been so involved, on those subjects. Before he went to Roscommon hospital for the first and last time, early in 1973, he had his last drink in Warde’s in Goff Street. He did not seem so ill that he was to pass away within a week. I could have stayed and been by his hospital bedside when he died and of course I regret that. Inexcusably I was to repeat that mistake later. I don’t know what he’d have made of the tricolour on his coffin and the volley of shots which were fired at his graveside. I didn’t rail against his death as Dylan Thomas did in ‘Do not go gently into the dark night’ but I missed him and would have particularly liked him to be around for some big occasions later in my life.
Next Sunday is Father’s Day so maybe some of you might meet up with your own dad in an ‘accidentally on purpose’ kind of way. Perhaps it will be in his local as opposed to yours and you could stay with him and not be impatient in rushing off to see your own friends. Make sure this time that you buy the extra drink in three. Perhaps you could ask him about some story, you’ve heard a number of times before, as if it were new. Maybe you could ask his opinion on something. He’d like that. Just make time, because it may surprise you that he’s probably your best buddy. In his mind he has wisdom to dispense from the well of life’s experience and your wellbeing is very important to him. Engage and be patient even if it is slightly challenging. Years hence you may remember the modest occasion and feel pleased by your awareness in making it happen.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Eoin Kennedy

St Brigid’s Kennedy and Browne Complete Golden Treble
Dublin's Eoin Kennedy and Carl Browne continued their successful partnership on Saturday as they captured their third major doubles title by defeating Limerick's CJ Fitzpatrick and Pat Murphy 21-16, 21-16 in the Senior Hardball Doubles Final in Thurles. This caps a remarkable period for the St Brigid’s duo who now hold all three major All-Ireland Senior Doubles titles, having previously won the 40x20 title in March and the 60x30 softball title last October. 

St Brigid’s Kennedy had previously established a winning partnership with Egin Jensen (Na Fianna) but on Jensen’s retirement in 2011 a fallow period followed and while Kennedy continued to excel in singles his successful doubles career seemed to have come to a halt. This all changed following the transfer of Carl Browne to Dublin. They began playing together in 2014 and that year, showed their compatibility, by winning the inaugural 60x30 Nationals weekend tournament. It was in 2015 however that their all-conquering championship run began, culminating in Saturday’s victory in the third leg of the Triple Crown of All-Ireland Senior Doubles titles.

The winning sequence began in October 2015 when they defeated Kilkenny’s Neary and Walsh in a three game 60x30 softball final at Abbeylara, to establish their credentials as All-Ireland senior doubles winners. In March this year they played outstanding 40x20 handball to defeat the multiple champions and strong favourites, Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan of Cavan, at the O’Loughlin’s club in Kilkenny. This again proved a three game thriller with Dublin winning the first but conceding the second to set up a third game decider. The St Brigid’s players made no mistake winning the third 21-13 for a very well deserved victory.

Following a three game semi-final win over Kerry’s Dominic Lynch and John Joe Quirk at Ballina two weekends ago, they played Limerick’s finest on Saturday, winning in two games in the traditional hardball code. In both games they had to come from behind. In the first, Limerick started strong and led 6-4 before building a substantial 14-7 lead with some excellent serving by Murphy and exquisite kills by Fitzpatrick with both left and right hands. The experience of the Dublin pair showed in their coolness under pressure. Some terrific long distance killing by Kennedy and diving picks by Browne negated the Limerick pair’s efforts and the St Brigid’s players gradually eat away at the Limerick lead to bring the score to16-10 and then 16-13 before Limerick again got in to serve. Dublin managed to take them out for no ace and tied the game at 16 all. This was all they needed as they ran out the first game 21-16.

The momentum shift carried into the second game with Dublin running up seven aces in a row with some superb serving and flat killing by Browne on the right. Again the ebb and flow of the match continued with Limerick fighting back to forge ahead at 9-7 and, after some further exchange of hands, they established what seemed a fairly comfortable lead of 13-7. At this crucial stage of the match however, the Dublin pair again tightened up their play and after some breath-taking rallies with all four players making great gets and executing spectacular kills they tied the game at 13 all. They then continued their dominance to lead 19-13 before Limerick again fought back to within two aces at 19-17. This proved their final effort and Dublin ran out winners 21-16, 21-17.

In winning their outstanding treble of gold medals the Dublin pair have underlined their expertise in all three codes of handball and are only the second doubles pair in history to achieve this triple crown of successes. They now head into the softball season and will aim to retain their championship title come next October. If they manage to do so they will be the first to hold all three titles in the same calendar year. Whatever happens, the St Brigid’s players have already made their reputation as the outstanding doubles pair for 2014/2015. We wish them well in the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jon Joe Nerney R.I.P.

First published Thursday, January 14, 2010

John Joe Nerney - One of Roscommon’s Greats

(Published in the 1998 Roscommon G.A.A. Annual. For the most part it is in his own words)

“Old soldiers never die they just fade away”, was most famously quoted by the U.S. General Douglas McArthur on his retirement.

John Joe Nerney, now at the venerable age of 77 and a former soldier of ‘The Emergency’ in the forties has little intention of fading away as the sprightly bouncy step belies his years. Even now John Joe has been going through his paces as he jogs the roads of Boyle or does his circuits of the Abbey Park. He completed half a dozen marathons including the early Dublin City ones his last being in 1988.

It is however as part of the great Roscommon team of the 40s’ that John Joe is constantly associated. He has no hesitation in confirming that widely held belief that it was one of the greatest sides ever in Gaelic football. We will let him tell his story.

“There were powerful men on that team, Jackson, Lynch, Callaghan, Carlos, Gilmartin, Hoare, Kinlough and Boland, a great man. There was not a weak link. They kinda carried me! Jamesie was a great player and a great captain. They were all great.

If you looked back down the field and saw the power of the half back line of Lynch, Carlos, Felim Murray or Owensie Hoare you would get great confidence and then Gilmartin and Boland were never beaten. I passed a lot, especially to Keenan, he was the scorer-in-chief. Up front you had McQuillan battling, in every sense of the word, with Keohane of Kerry. They were both army men then. Kinlough was a great player. He did not train much but he got the goals.

I came on in Boyle in the ’44 Connacht Championship replay and got a great reception from the locals. We should have won any number of All-Irelands with those teams. After the ’43 and ’44 double we were caught on the hop in ’45 by Mayo but I feel we were at our peak in ’46. The late goals gave Kerry a draw in the final were heartbreaking. They were great games though and Kerry were great sports, win or lose.

In ’47 we might have got to New York for the Polo Grounds final but Cavan just beat us in eh semi-final. They took off Tom Collins and Cavan’s Tony Tighe played hell after that.

Mayo came with a great team then but we shocked them in ’52 and should have beaten Meath in the semi-final. O’Malley, Eamon Donoghue and Frank Kelly were there and Boland was as strong as ever. We did not have any luck in ’53 either in the semi-final against Armagh. Boland and myself finished playing County in ’54. We had a good run. I got on for a while for Connacht against Leinster in the ’53 Railway Cup, when it meant something. I also played centre field a few times and once at wing back where I marked Frank Stockwell of Galway. I did alright!

At Club level I played with Boyle. We had some good battles especially with St. Michaels. Fuerty beat us in a county junior final. We had a tough couple of games with Eoghan Ruadhs, of Roscommon town, in Castlerea. It’s history now. I remember I was pleased with scoring a goal from a free against Strokestown in a game. Tom Shevlin was annoyed. The great Boyle clubmen then were Martin Regan, Mickey Morris, Joe Sheehan, Peter Phelan and Jimmy Sheeran among others.
We won county minor championships in ’38 and ’39 and I was a sub on the Roscommon All-Ireland minor winning team of ’39. Oddly my memory of that is hazy.

I played as long as I could for Boyle because I was fit and I enjoyed playing (John Joe played well into his fifties). I got great satisfaction training Eastern Harps when they won the ’75 Sligo, Championship.

We did not hear much back then of hamstrings and such. They might have been something to do with fiddles for all we knew. All we seemed to get were sore knees. We worked hard, walked or cycled most places so that helped. Wintergreen was our rub. The football was tough but fair. It’s faster now but we had our tactics too, the famous L.T.B.L. (keep the ball low) during one of our collective training periods in the old Infirmary (now the County Library). We had great comradeship. We are still friends and meet from time to time. I enjoyed ’91 when we were the team saluted in Croke Park. We have been well treated down the years”.

I ask how he feels talking to reporters about those times; “I don’t say much just send them to Jimmy Murray. He is still the Captain and spokesman, a great ambassador for the team. We all looked up to him and it hasn't changed. A couple of years ago I was invited down to Killarney’s Legion club where I met my marker from ’46 Dinny Lynne. We are both President’s of our clubs. Some other great times were had when Boyle went to Birmingham, London and Manchester. I remember playing with Roscommon, in Mitcham I think, London. Boland and I missed the return train for some reason! A lot of games were played for church building funds and we helped build a good few churches then! One of them was a great game, in late ‘45 for the Pro-Cathedral against the ’45 All-Ireland winners Cork. We won that one. Jack Lynch would have been playing for Cork. We had another big one against Kerry for the Liam Gilmartin fund in ’46. I think that was Gerry O’Malley’s first game for Roscommon. I don’t know why he wasn’t there in ’47. Maybe we’d have been in the Polo Grounds if he was! Did I mention Harry Connor and Paddy Kenny from Ballinameen and Doctor Gibbons?”

John Joe was born in Croghan on April 1st (a cause of amusement) 1922 and on the death of his father the family moved to Ballinameen and then to Boyle. He attended Boyle National School to masters Kennedy, Jordan and Mannion. After school he worked at a variety of jobs such as the County Council and ‘The Railway’. He joined the army in 1943 during The Emergency’ and won the ‘Army Chaplains Cup’ competition while in Athlone. After the army he joined the Post Office where he remained for over forty years clocking up the miles. He married Agnes Lane in 1958. They have a family of two girls Mary and Theresa and three boys, Gerry, Anthony and Raymond. Gerry and Raymond played county minor for Roscommon.

John Joe is a modest man who does not like to push his own contribution and from time to time says, ‘don’t print that they might think I’m bragging’. However he is not one to let the side down either and I often think, though I’ve talked to him quite a few times, that there is a tinge of devilment somewhere and that I have failed to get past his defences. The games are still being played as he steps jauntily away with a twinkle in his eyes.

In any event we of Boyle had our representative, our football hero, in that team of football heroes. John Joe would not want that accolade but he is a constant reminder that one of our own strode Croke Park with the very best.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dermot Earley

First published on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dermot Earley

Every country, every county and every parish requires its heroes. For almost two decades Earley filled that role for Roscommon people at home and abroad. He reached the highest levels in sport and in his chosen profession. He set standards of professionalism, sportsmanship, dedication and example for more than a generation of Roscommon's young people and indeed for many outside the county. In the seventies and eighties Roscommon people could walk taller in the glow of his reputation.

Football Odyssey: 
Dermot's football exploits are pretty well documented. In the mid-sixties, with the end of the O'Malley era, Roscommon football supporters wondered if they would see a comparable player, in the primrose and blue, again. Little did they realise that such a player would emerge within a just a few years. Rumours of this 'special' player filtered through the County in the mid-sixties. His football progression followed a record-breaking introduction of playing Minor, under- 21, Junior and Senior in 1966. He was part of a fine All-Ireland winning under- 21 side in '66 and the future looked bright for the St. Nathy's star. It was to be six years before the Senior side captured a Connacht crown in the scorching heat, of a July Sunday, in Castlebar, in the first eighty minute Final. Earley was an irresistible force at midfield. The characteristics of his play were all in evidence, with sublime fielding, driving solo-runs and precision free-taking. There were disappointments, of course, like the League Final defeat of '74 assuaged by the first All-Star award that year with the second coming in '79. The latter half of the seventies was a golden period for Roscommon with the four Connacht title wins of '77, '78, '79 and '80. As has been said so often this fine team deserved the ultimate award but this eluded them especially in the '80 Final which they might have won. The picture of a downcast Earley, as he left Croke Park after the All-Ireland, contrasted with him being carried shoulder-high after their Semi-Final victory over Armagh. Dermot did not retreat from the challenge of recovery after this deep blow but continued to inspire for a further five years in the County colours. It was an emotional day when he finally called time, (with Pat Lindsay), on his Inter-County career after defeat by Mayo in Hyde Park with an unprecedented tribute by friend and foe alike. The Mayo players carried him shoulder high from the field.

Michael Glavey's:
Dermot of course was devoted to his Club in West Roscommon, Michael Glaveys, named after a patriot soldier of the foundation of the state. His father, Peadar, was responsible for founding the Club. He helped Glaveys to Championship wins at Intermediate level in 1970 and 1972. The friendships, comradeship and fun with his neighbours and friends are always with him, like a band of brothers. This was cemented with the official opening of the Club's fine ground at Ballinlough, named in honour of his father who had died in 1983, and had been a seminal influence on him. Later he transferred to Sarsfields in his new home of Newbridge, County Kildare where he continued to inspire them to further success. On his arrival for a work posting in New York in '87 he was recruited for the Roscommon team and was part of a Junior Championship winning campaign. He also returned to Roscommon for a spell as Manager of the County Senior team in the early nineties and followed this with a similar posting with the Kildare team. He interest was maintained as he followed the fortunes of his son, Demot Junior, in the Lily-White colours of Kildare. Roscommon continued to honour one of its greatest players as he was unanimously selected on the Roscommon team of the Millennium.

Major-General Earley:
In his chosen career, as an officer in the Irish Army he has distinguished himself by reaching the top echelon. This rise has seen him give distinguished service in many troubled parts of the world, where the presence of Irish peace-making forces, with the United Nations, has brought hope and inspiration and left a respect and regard for the Irish Nation. From his cadetship in 1965 his profession has brought him to the Golan Heights, the Lebanon, Iraq, Angola and South Africa and many more danger zones. In 1987 he received the prestigious appointment of Assistant Military Advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Perez de Cuellar, in New York. This led to his ever supportive wife, Tipperary-born Mary, and the family living in New York and becoming involved in Roscommon Gaelic activities in 'The Big Apple'. Dermot's work involved continued travel to the world's troubled areas. On his return to Ireland his career continued to receive recognition and advancement to the level it is at today. So behind the genuine warmth and accessibility of the man there is the necessary steel of the leader as was so evident on so many sporting fields.

Man of Roscommon:
Dermot Earley has an abiding interest in the fortunes of Roscommon and is one of its outstanding ambassadors. This is demonstrated by his willingness, in his busy schedule, to make time and return to the County and its far-flung tendrils, often to present medals to young players, to formally open pitches or to give one of his inspiring addresses. In these he will talk with humility and enthusiasm of; tradition, the role and benefit of sport, the pride in the jersey worn whatever the level, and of discipline, discipline, discipline. Throughout 2006 he often visited the Roscommon Minor team during their great All-Ireland victory march and was an inspiration to them. He was feted in New York at a huge function when Roscommon played there in the Connacht Championship. At the function he enunciated what his native county meant to him in an emotional address.
His presence gives these functions the imprimatur of approval and the encouragement to go on to set and achieve further goals.
It will give those present the opportunity to say, into the future...

'Ah yes, Dermot Earley, he was one of the greatest footballers ever. He played for Roscommon you know. I saw him play many times. He could reach the stars. A pure gentleman. A big broad smile and a powerful hand-shake coming straight from the shoulder. I met him a couple of times once at the re-opening of Boyle's Abbey Park in 2005 and again at their Dinner Dance in January 2007'
(first published in the Journal/Book to mark the Roscommon versus New York in New York in the Connacht Champioship on May 14th 2006)