REMEMBERING 50 YEARS OF REPORTING by Michael Dawson
On Wednesday 30 August, just one day after my fiftieth anniversary of reporting news from Ballon and Rathoe had appeared in the Nationalist, I attended a meeting in Ballon Community Centre where three ladies, Helen Wheeler, Máire George and Eileen Murphy, on behalf of Ballon Improvement Group were attempting to ‘sell’ Ballon to an adjudication panel of three in the Bank of Ireland Enterprising Towns Awards.
I was there purely as a spectator but during questions after the presentation one of the adjudicators addressed me personally with the question ‘what is the most important or memorable story you have written during those 50 years’. It was unexpected, and I couldn’t give a concise or clear answer. So, I went home determined to rectify the situation should I ever be placed in a similar position again.
I started to compile my list and when l had completed put it in chronological order. This list may not be a summary of the most important events I reported on but it is a list of those l remembered when l had time to think.
MACRA COMES OF AGE
Close on 100 guests, many of them founder members, attended the Ballon Macra na Feirme Dinner Dance in the Slaney Hotel, Tullow to mark the 21st anniversary of the club’s foundation. The 21st cake was cut by the first secretary, Maurice O’Neill, Laragh and the then secretary, Mary Jordan, Killane. A special souvenir booklet was produced for the occasion. Back then Macra was very much a part of the local community with teams representing the club in debating, question-time and public speaking at county and provincial level making their mark.
CLOSURE OF MIDLAND DAIRY
There was bad news in May as Ballon’s Midland Dairy (formerly Slaney Valley Dairy) closed with the loss of over 20 jobs. Slaney Valley Dairies was founded in the early 1950s and was located at Ballykealey. It later merged with Dublin Dairies and traded as Midland Dairies Ltd until its closure. There was further bad news on the jobs front that same month as McGonnell Brothers, makers of uniforms for the defence forces and situated in Ballon old National School, were forced to lay off ten girls and put the remaining staff of ten on a three-day week because of lack of orders.
PRESIDENT O’DALAIGH OPENS COMMUNITY CENTRE
“I wish to call attention to, and to commend the techniques by which Ballon, acting as a united community has provided itself with a £50,000 hall”. These were the remarks of President Cearbhall O’Dalaigh at the opening of Ballon’s new Community Centre in July. The president praised the community for the co-operation in the project and held them as an example to other community associations. Fr. Jim O’Connell CC (now back as Adm) was very much to the fore in getting the project to fruition and was assisted by a dedicated committee chaired by Simon Kearney. Ballon village took on a carnival appearance for the Presidents visit with the streets decorated with banners and bunting and the President was escorted into the village by the committee members led by the Myshall Pipe Band. Afterwards the centre was full to capacity for a cabaret featuring Tom and Pascal and a host of local artists and the evening concluded with a dance featuring the Country Roads Showband.
President Cearbhal Ó Dalaigh officially opens Ballon’s new community centre in 1976
JIMMY REACHED NATIONAL HANDBALL FINAL
Thirteen-year-old Jimmy Farrell, Chapel Street, came within one game of bringing Ballon its first-ever All-Ireland title in June when he was defeated in the All-Ireland U13 handball championship final at Croke Park. Playing against County Limerick opposition Jimmy won his first game 15-12 but was defeated 4-15 and 6-15 in the subsequent games. On his arrival back in Ballon Jimmy was met outside the village by the local school band and well-wishers and escorted to the Community Centre where a reception was laid on.
THE LONG WAIT IS OVER
On Sunday 3 September the long wait was finally over. After forty-two years in the wilderness Ballon finally recaptured the Carlow Junior Football title that they last won in 1937. They defeated The O’Hanrahan’s by 1-5 to 0-5 to win only their second junior title and their third championship in all, having won the first ever Carlow championship in 1889. Of course, the club had disbanded in the early 1950s and was only revived in 1977 and they lost the 1978 final to Ballymurphy. It goes without saying that there were great scenes of jubilation as Johnny Corrigan was presented with the trophy by Andy Sullivan, vice-chairman, Carlow County Board. The club has gone on to win four more junior and two intermediate championships since.
TOPS GLORY FOR BALLON/RATHOE
Four years of dedication and patience by Ballon/Rathoe Variety Group was rewarded when the group finally won the Carlow area finals of the John Player Tops of the Town by defeating Tullow in an exciting final in The Captain Murphy Memorial Hall in April. The group had contested all four competitions to date and contested the final in 1979 when they were defeated by the Carlow Banks. The Ballon show also won three awards. Their three female singers, Clare Thorpe, Jo O’Donovan and Anne Butler received the adjudicators special award while they also won the choreography award for the ‘disco scene’. However, of the minor awards received the most deserving was the one received for their costumes. While other groups hired out their costumes the Ballon/Rathoe ones were all home made. The producer was Brother Camillus, Patrician Brothers, Ballykealey. The Group finished 9th in Ireland. They would go on to win the Carlow title again in 1987 beating Red Cross, Co Wicklow in the decider.
Tops of the Town island scene 1981 (l-r): Deirdre Donoghue, Tom Fitzgerald, Joe Donoghue, Marian Kelly, Noreen Condron, Dessie Donoghue, Joe Whelan, Mary Butler, Jane Nolan, Michael Dawson and Ann Butler. Ballon/Rathoe won the Carlow area finals and finished in 9th place nationally that year from an entry of 84
FINE TRIBUTES TO JIM MORRIS
Tears were shed in Ballon in July when Jim Morris, schoolteacher, scholar and “the greatest football midfielder ever produced in Ireland” retired as headmaster of Ballon National School, a post he held for 32 years. Mr Morris was described by Fr John Flood PP as “100% teacher” and by Fr Tom Little CC as the “fatherly figure of the community.” The clergy and Ballon GAA Club made presentations- a small token for all he had done for the children of Ballon over the previous 32 years. Mr Morris assured everyone that his retirement did not mark the end of his active involvement
In the community but sadly he was wrong as he died suddenly on 28 November, just five months after his retirement.
Pictured at the retirement presentation to Jim Morris as Principal of Ballon NS in 1982 were (l-r) Rex Barry (representing Ballon GFC), Mrs Peggy Morris, Very Rev John Flood PP, Jim Morris and Rev Tom Little CC.
RATHOE’S £70,000 SPORTS COMPLEX
Most Rev Dr Patrick Lennon, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin appealed for the full support of the community for Rathoe’s Sports Complex which he officially opened in December. The Bishop described the complex as an illustration of what could be done when everyone puts his shoulder to the wheel. The impressive building, comprised two squash courts, a badminton hall, a games room and full dressing room and spectator facilities for the general public. Although a dedicated committee under the chairmanship of Jack Kinsella brought the project to fruition, there is little doubt that Fr Tom Little CC was the driving force behind the project.
Most Rev Dr Lennon, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin blessing and officially opening the new Sports Complex in Rathoe. Photo includes Jack Kinsella (chairman), Mick Lyons (foreman and committee member) Anne Connors (secretary), Fr Tom Little (vice-chairman) Fr John Flood PP and Fr Jim Kelly CC, Fr William O’Byrne and Fr Brophy
PARISH SAYS IT WITH GIFTS AND FLOWERS
Throngs of people, young and old, turned out in June as the people of Ballon and Rathoe paid tribute to their much-loved and long serving Parish Priest Very Rev John Flood on his Golden Jubilee. Traffic came to a standstill in Ballon as hundreds of parishioners gather to await the arrival of Fr Flood who had earlier con-celebrated Mass in St Patrick’s Church, Rathoe. He was escorted from the outskirts of the village to the Community Centre by members of the organising committee, led by Killeshin Pipe Band, Boy Scouts, First Communicants and juvenile athletes. Warm and glowing tributes were paid to sports-mad Fr John by Fr James Kelly CC, Fr Sean Kelly CC, Fr P.J. Brophy and Fr Tom Little on behalf of the Diocese and by Eamon O’Byrne and Seamus Hogan on behalf of the parishioners. The parish presented Fr Flood with a holiday in the Holy Land while member of various sporting and cultural clubs also paid their tributes and made presentations. Fr Flood was ordained in June 1934 in Maynooth College and served as Parish Priest in Ballon/Rathoe from 1960 until his retirement in 1987.
COLLETTE ENTERS THE RECORDS BOOK
Ballon/Rathoe competitors have won many gold medals since but back in 1986 eight-year-old Collette Corrigan was the pride of the parish in September when she became the first individual national gold medallist in sport from the parish when winning the 80 metres for girls under-8 at the National Community Games finals in Mosney. The only daughter of Johnny and Sheila Corrigan, Ballon Hill, Colette produced a powerful run to win the final in a time of 12.02 seconds, having easily won her two qualifying rounds. Two years later Collette went to repeat the fete as an under-10 athlete.
Colette Corrigan receiving a presentation from Seamus Hogan on behalf of Ballon/Rathoe Community Games following her success in winning the 80 metres for girls under-8 at the National finals. Also in the photo is Marion Doyle, secretary; Johnny and Sheila Corrigan, Colette’s parents and Joe Donoghue, trainer.
TOP AWARD FOR ICA GUILD
Members of Ballon ICA Guild were on top of the world in October following their success in taking first place in the National Guild Book of the Year Competition. Their prize for emerging winners over twenty-six other county representatives was a cheque for £1,000. There was great jubilation following the announcement that Ballon had taken the title ahead of Monaghan Town and Clara, County Kilkenny. Ballon’s entry was a bound copy of the years activities and included many press cuttings from this newspaper. Included in the presentation was an account of the guilds major project of the year -the Social Employment Scheme which the guild organised to restore the old cemetery in Ballon. Mrs Mary O’Rourke TD presented the award to Marian Nolan, President of the Ballon Guild. Also in attendance were members Kathleen Fitzgerald, Gaye O’Toole and Mary Jordan.
Pictured at a function in AIB Bank Centre when Mrs Mary O’Rourke TD, Minister of Education presented Ballon Guild with their winning certificate in the AIB/ICA Guild of the Year awards 1986/87 were (l-r) – Kathleen Fitzgerald; Mr T McElroy, General Manager AIB; Mary Jordan; Marian Nolan, president of Ballon Guild; Mary O’Rourke TD; Ina Broughall, president of ICA; Gaye O’Toole; Rosemary Richardson, president Carlow Federation and Phyllis Brennan , chairperson of the Guild of the Year awards committee.
The Bull-Tree which had adorned the centre of Ballon village for over 200 years was felled on a sunny June evening. Over 150 people gathered in the village to watch as local butcher, Michael McAssey, brought the 40ft high tree down, branch by branch finally felling the trunk after about two hours work. Most of those who turned up to watch claimed souvenirs bringing home pieces of the tree. A committee of Messrs Michael Kavanagh, Pat Abbey and Patsy Nolan had been elected to plan the removal of the tree which had died from Dutch Elm disease and to provide a replacement.
Mikie Maher and Paddy Barry sitting underneath Ballon’s famous old Bull-tree which was felled in 1988
BALLYKEALEY HOUSE OPENS AS A HOTEL
Ballykealey House, Ballon was officially opened as a luxury hotel by the (then) Tourism Minister, John Wilson in September. The owners were John and Evelyn McCabe who had renovated the historic house at a cost of £500,000. Ballykealey House was the seat of the Lecky Family until 1953 and a Patrician Brothers Novitiate from 1958 until 1978. The present house was built c1830.
BALLON’S TRIBUTE TO NOTED SON
The political career of the late Ned Doyle of Ballon who served as Labour TD during the 1920s and early ‘30s was recalled in a 72-page booklet written by John O’Donovan. Kilnock and published in December. Present at the launch, which was held in Kavanagh’s Lounge, was Mr Doyle’s son, Eamon and Seamus Pattison TD.
John O’Donovan, then a teacher in Tullow Community School, went on to write Members and Messengers – Carlow’s Twentieth Century Parliamentarians in 2003.
LOCAL QUARTET WON TOP TV QUIZ
The Ballon quiz team was the toast of the area in October following their successful appearance on the popular TV quiz show Where in the World. The local team of Willie Byrne, Castlegrace, Brendan Donohoe, Carrigslaney, Shay McEvoy, Ballykealey and Michael Dawson, Ballon defeated a team from Foxrock, Co Dublin by 225 marks to 155 to win a total of £325 plus a week’s holiday for four in in The Connemara Coast Hotel in Spiddal. They were the only County Carlow team to win on the programme.
BALLON SCHOOL REUNION
The Ballon National School past pupils reunion held in Ballykealey House Hotel in September attracted 400 past pupils, partners and guests packing the hotel for the occasion where there was a great buzz of excitement as people met former school colleagues not seen for, in some cases, as long as 50 years. Former pupils returned from places as diverse as Canada, California, Australia and the UK and some families were reunited for the first time in years. The cake was cut by Benjamin George (96) Drisogue and Mrs Bridie Kealy (93), Castlegrace – the oldest couple present. Other nonagenarians there were Mrs Annie Jordan, Milltown and Mrs Margaret McCarthy, Boggan. The only surviving teacher from the old school, which closed in 1969, Mrs Eileen Kelly, Rathcrogue was also present.
BURRIN CELTIC REACH DIZZY HEIGHTS
Burrin Celtic enjoyed a golden era in the nineties, but it is widely acknowledged that their finest hour on the field of play occurred on 12 December 1997. This date is etched in the history of the club as, on that night they played League of Ireland side, Monaghan United, for a place in the semi-final of the Leinster Senior Cup. Defeated 4-0 Burrin punched way above their weight and were applauded, both locally and on the national stage for a fabulous effort.
In July the people of Ballon and Rathoe made their own special contribution towards the commemorations of the events of 1798 by holding an Ecumenical Service for Peace at Ballyvale, Ballon, where Fr John Murphy took refuge shortly before his execution in Tullow on 2 July of that year. The Ballyvale service was unique in that it was not a commemoration of conflict or massacre but instead a celebration of the Kepple Family who put themselves in mortal danger by harbouring rebels on the run.
About 500 people, including 100 pikemen assembled in Robert and Irene Malone’s farmyard having marched from Ballon. The Malone family are descendants of George and Anne Kepple who owned the farm when Fr Murphy and his companion James Gallagher took refuge there.
MICHAEL IS TOP CARLOVIAN
Michael O’Toole, Boggan was named the top Carlovian at the inaugural person of the Year Awards in November. He was described as a man with tireless commitment to community life development. The then 48-year-old father of five who was earlier selected as the winner of the Enterprise category won the coveted award from six other category winners.
2001 saw the publication of the Chronical for the first time. The glossy magazine was an instant hit selling around 1,000 copies each year. The initial issue was a 28-page publication, but it hit 76 pages before the final publication in 2012. The magazine came out each Christmas and was posted to emigrants all over the world.
The village website, www.ballonvillage.com. was created by the newly formed Ballon Improvement Group as part of its fundraising activities. It was the major source of income for about 12 years until Siopa Glas took this role over. Due to its popularity it was continued as a social contribution to village life gathering on average 80 visitors a day from Ireland and many other parts of the world. The number of visitors to date is approaching 600,000 and it has received visitors from 94 countries over the last 12 months. The webmaster is Michael Martin, Ballykealey.
POPULAR GARDA RETIRES
There were celebrations and presentations mixed with a tinge of sadness at Liam Shanahan’s retirement party held in Ballykealey House Hotel in September. Over 270 people from the Ballon Garda District packed the hotel to pay tribute to the popular Garda who had served in Ballon for 21 years before ill health had forced him to retire in July. Many tributes were paid both by members of the Gardai and the local community particularly regarding Liam’s common-sense approach to the job where he was seen as a preventer of crime rather than a law enforcer and had his own unique way of handling matters particularly in relation to the young. At the end of the night the gathering afforded the popular ex-Garda a standing ovation. The function was co-hosted by the Gardai and the local community.
ROUNDERS CLUB WIN THEIR FIRST ALL-IRELAND
Ballon’s Cuchulainn Rounders Club were in jubilant mood in August following their victory in the All-Ireland minor championship beating Braafy from Castlebar 18-15 to win the title. This was to be the first of eleven national titles won by the club between 2005 and 2015.
HISTORIAN PUBLISHED BOOK
In October Maurice O’Neill (86), Laragh joined a small but exclusive group of authors from Ballon to have a book published. ‘A Social History – Reflections on Changing Times’ ran to 120 pages and through 35 chapters spanning several generations, carefully and mystically taking the reader on a nostalgic trip back in time. Loaded with anecdotes, laced with tales and yarns, it chronicled many of the legends and heroes of a long-forgotten past in Ballon. It was an instant best seller and can be found in almost every home in the parish.
PRESIDENT McALEESE VISITS
President Mary McAleese became the second President of our country to visit Ballon when she made a fleeting stop-over on 1 February. Her warmth and radiant smile won the hearts of all and sundry who turned up to greet her on her 50-minute visit. The President was in the village to officially open the new Childcare Centre and was greeted by a guard of honour provided by the local schoolchildren. Following her unveiling of the plaque and declaring the Centre open the President delivered an address in the Community Centre where she was presented with a St Bridget’s Cross by Niamh Sheil, Ballykeenan on behalf of the children of the Playschool. She met the members of the Ballon School Kenya Helper’s Association and although limited for time, she took some time out to meet and greet some of the large gathering.
Fr Edward Whelan PP pictured with President Mary McAleese during her stopover in Ballon
FR WHELAN’S GOLDEN JUBILEE AND RETIREMENT
Very Rev Edward Whelan PP retired as Parish Priest on the last Sunday in August having served since 1987. During his 21 years as Parish Priest, Fr Whelan had major renovations and redecorations carried out to both Ballon and Rathoe Churches and built a new Parochial House in Ballon. It was a big year in Fr Whelan’s life as he had celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in June, which by his own request was kept a low-key affair.
RATHOE NS CELEBRATED 40
Rathoe NS celebrated its 40th year of education in September and marked the occasion with a community day. Following a commemorative Mass there was a ‘Walk Down Memory Lane’ open day in the school grounds where parents and past pupils reminisced over old photographs and later that day a special dinner was held in the Ramada Hotel, Killerig.
ANOTHER LONG WAIT IS OVER
Another long wait came to an end in October when The Fighting Cocks finally won their first Intermediate Football championship. Coming into the year there was no indication that the club would be there or thereabouts at the business end of the season but they topped their group and went on to defeat Ballinabranna in the semi-final. Now only Eire Óg stood between them and a historic first and they rose to the occasion winning by 1-10 to 1-6 to finally end years of heartache (they lost the 1976 final to Bagenalstown). Matty Dowling captained the victorious side.
MONICA DID US PROUD ON OPERATION TRANSFORMATION
Monica Percy, Forge Meadow, Ballon took part n RTEs Operation Transformation and she did herself, her family and her village proud throughout the eight weeks that the programme was transmitted. She met her weight target each week and in the end lost a whopping twenty-four pounds. Monica’s enthusiasm was such that a local walking group was formed in Ballon to support her with some 50 people taking to the bye-ways and laneways each night, wet or fine, and a total of 30 stones was collectively lost.
MIRIAM TAKES TO THE STAGE IN TRALEE
The summer of 2014 belonged to Miriam Smyth Connaberry who was selected as the Carlow entry for the Rose of Tralee in May and then in June there was a lot of excitement when she was amongst the 23 nominations for the big stage from the regional finals in Portlaoise. Twenty-four old medical student Miriam had ticked all the boxes with her easy charm, elegant poise and boundless energy and enthusiasm. And so all eyes in this area were glued to RTE on Monday and Tuesday 18-19 August and although Miriam did not receive the sash she was a winner in every way, both in the build up and on stage where she gave an exceptional interview and did her party piece of a ballet dance. Miriam gave us a summer to remember.
PADDY DANCES TO WORD SILVER
Ten -year-old Paddy O’Reilly, Rathrush hit the big time in March when he won the silver medal in the Boys U11 slip-jig competition at the World Irish Dancing championships which were held in Killarney. With no competition in his own age group Paddy moved up a year and to the great joy and pride of his entire family and friends took the runners-up medal. Paddy is son of Myles and Bridget O’Reilly and is a pupil of the Kirwan Dance Academy.
BEST CAFÉ IN LEINSTER AWARD
Ballon’s Café de Mode scooped the title of Leinster’s best café at the regional final held in Kilkenny in March. The café was only opened in December 2016 and owner Dave Lloyd said, “that he was happy to be nominated so to win is unbelievable.”
There are far more exclusions in this list than there are inclusions. Already a sequel is called for!