Monday, April 27, 2015

The M 50 Challenge (July ’09):

Recently I came from North County Dublin along the M 50. Now I am about reasonable in my capacity in dealing with the challenges of motorways but the M 50, of the moment, is not for wimps. The initial challenge is to get on the M 50 in the first place. This isn’t a new challenge to me. 

Anytime I come from Dublin airport it presents itself. On that large round-about which accesses the M 50 the only really helpful sign is that denoting Malahide. This tells me ‘don’t take that one’. Then usually, but not always, by a process of elimination, I have found myself on the M 50 sometimes going in the right direction! In any event last week I arrived close to where the old M50 toll bridge was and there was a plethora of signs. One would need to have a pull over area to stop and assess the situation but with an obviously regular user on my backside and in a hurry; I had to make my decisions on the hoof. (Naively I still thought there might be a physical toll allowing for ‘culchies’ like myself, not so). I whizzed through and knew that the N 4 turn-off was close at hand. However the first N4 Sligo/Galway sign seemed to be contradicted by another some fifty or so metres further on. I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure and by the time I had processed the situation I was past all N4 options and heading for Tallaght and the sea. I feared I might find myself on the Red Cow rollercoaster so I got off at the first opportunity, with the help of legerdemain gymnastics. One of these decisions meant advancing on a V of bollards and holding my flight path in such a way that it afforded a left or right option until the last moment. (Do not try to copy this procedure). Eventually I got off the M 50, and like a donkey after a day on the bog, I cruised back west of the Shannon as the blood pressure receded.

Part two of the little saga came when I investigated methods of payment, not trusting that I might get a first offender’s pardon. If you are a regular user you can ‘set up an account’. I feel that, at the moment, I have enough of those, so ‘tinternet’ was the next option. With the help of a consultant this was achieved and so the trip was assigned to history or folklore. But no! A few days later I received a letter to say I still owed three euro. Apparently I had not paid within the twenty four hours given. Why this was not relayed to me when paying the first moiety remains unclear. I pursued the issue over the phone and having played Sudoku on the numerals eventually got a human, if pretty unsympathetic, voice and the huge transaction for three Euros was finalised.

I am not an expert on the workings of the M 50 and I don’t intend trying a Panorama investigation but I got the feeling that the over time payment was one of the bonuses of the whole set up. Apparently you can pre-pay, pay at garages when you come off the toll road or pay locally. The nearest local agent has been Gerry Mullaney’s of Croghan who had the payzone system used by the M 50 toll operators in his premises for years. Only last week Carty’s garage of Boyle came on stream as a pay option. The other ones listed on the internet for County Roscommon are as follows: O’Connor’s of Ballinlough, Coyle Bros. Ballyleague, Super Valu, Ballaghaderreen, Ashview Service Station and Lyons ‘Mace’, Castlerea; Corrib Oil, Racecourse Road and Eason’s, The Square, Roscommon; Londis Tarmonbarry. Certainly the traffic flows much better now on that M 50 but if you are a little nervy it might be advisable to do a pre-journey recce, in the quiet of the night, to get the lie of the land. But it is still a different and challenging channel at high tide.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Boyle’s All-Ireland Fleadhs

Boyle’s All-Ireland Fleadhs

First published, Saturday, February 20, 2010

“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.

Origins: 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. 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).

John Joe Nerney

John Joe Nerney
First published on Thursday, January 14, 2010

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 40's 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.