The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
The rugby grounds at Spollanstown have been used for sporting activity in Tullamore for over 140 years. The establishing of the Spollanstown sports field is rooted in the difficult situation in the 1880s when the land war was at its height, the home rule movement was advancing steadily and, increasingly, sporting activities reflected the deep political and religious divide in the country.
Kilbeggan team in 1927-28. Birr was able to affiliate to IRFU in 1887 and Tullamore in 1937
The tradition of annual athletic sports in Tullamore was probably associated with the holding of a ‘rural sports’ for the tenants on the Charleville estate. Such sports were certainly held in the 1830s and appear to have been revived not later than 1880. However, the Land War and the development of local branches of the Land League was gaining momentum and in 1882 posters were put up in Tullamore asking the people not to allow the Charleville landlords to patronise the town sports, at that time usually held in Charleville demesne. Two years later a committee was formed to negotiate the purchase of a plot nearer to the town of Tullamore for a sports ground. It appears that two Tullamore men, James Lyle Sterling and John Brown, purchased the tenant’s leasehold interest in five Irish plantation acres at Spollanstown for £102 and handed over the ground to the trustees of the local athletic club for the purpose of holding athletic events. In July of 1884 a sports was held at the new grounds by the Tullamore Amateur Athletic Club. For more about Stirling and about soccer in Tullamore in the late 1870s and 1880s we have two articles in the new Offaly Heritage 12 (in October 2023) in articles by Noel Guerin and Martin Moore.
Cricket at Spollanstown about 1914
The annual sports was held at Spollanstown for most of the later part of the 1880s and again in the mid-1890s, but politics soon entered into it as the sports was organised under the rules of the Irish Amateur Athletic Association in the town and that ‘If the Protestant young men of Tullamore wished to have sports under certain rules, the National League had nothing to say to them, but let the Catholic young men by all means have their sports under the G.A.A.’ In April 1888 a G.A.A. club was founded in Tullamore as a result of which Gaelic supporters withdrew from the A.A.A. grounds at Spollanstown. When a hurling and football tournament was held in Tullamore in September 1888 it was stated that the A.A.A were too churlish to lend their grounds and the tournament was held at Cloncollog. From the beginning then, Spollanstown reflected the divisions in Irish sports and came to be associated with ‘foreign’ games.
Tennis at Spollanstown in 1902
The demise of the Tullamore Amateur Athletic Association came about in the 1890s and its passing was inevitable once it was unable to obtain any support from ‘Irish Ireland’. In the early 1900s the Spollanstown grounds passed to the Tullamore Cricket Club who had a pavilion erected there in 1902. The cricket club held the property for nearly twenty years, but with the great war of 1914–18 and the War of Independence of 1919–21 the game was seldom played at Spollanstown in the latter years. Between 1919 and December 1922 Spollanstown was used for sports purposes by the British military.
An interesting episode in the history of the grounds came about in March 1922 immediately after the withdrawal of British soldiers from Tullamore in the aftermath of the Treaty.
1922 3 11 OI FOOTBALL AND HURLING. Tullamore Football and Hurling Club took over the Sportsfield, at Spollinstown, on Sunday last. The field, it is stated, was acquired about 40 years ago from the late Mr McMahon, as a recreation ground, for the youth of the town, and was also used as a Gaelic football sportsground, several Gaelic matches having been brought off on it. It subsequently – many years after – was taken over by the Cricket Club., who have been in occupation of it ever since. During their occupation of it no Gaelic games were permitted on it, and the Gaels were obliged to rent a field from Mrs Keegan, of Ballyduff. The Gaelic Club have now asserted their right to the field which they contend was purchased in trust for the town by public subscription. When the members of the club, and two football teams arrived on Sunday at the field, which is adjacent to the railway station, and south of the prison, they found the gate fastened securely and the caretaker in possession. The gate was quietly forced and the Gaels then entered and took possession of the grounds and the pavilion, which had been allowed to get into a bad state of repair during the British military occupation of Tullamore. The soldiers played hockey, polo, and soccer football on the field, the playing pitch of which is in a very muddy and cut up condition.
19220309 KCC SPORTS FIELD SEIZED Members of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Tullamore, marched to what is known as the “Old Sports Field,” near the town, and “took over.” A notice about trespass was torn down. The field was used for football by the Royal Scots Fusiliers up to the time they left, and for a number of years previously for cricket, hockey and Rugby football.
Representatives of the Tullamore G.A.A. club led by Richard Forrestal of Henry Street, Patrick Hogan of Charleville Parade, Edward Holland of the Distillery, Ted O’Brien of Railway Cottage and James Fitzsimons of O’Moore Street marched at the head of a procession from O’Connor Square more specifically the Tullamore G.A.A. Club. They were met at the gates by the caretaker, probably Patrick Connell, who had the grazing of the grounds by agreement with the trustees of the cricket club. After a short interview the crowd gained admittance and Gaelic games were played in the field for the first time in a long number of years. A short time later a writ was issued at the behest of the sports field trustees and Patrick Connell. The matter appears to have been settled at the Tullamore Parish Court (which preceded the setting up of the District Courts) by the withdrawal of the G.A.A. and an agreement to rent the field if necessary. As the G.A.A. already had grounds at Ballyduff this option was not likely to gain much support. According to the late John Clarke the last GAA organised hurling tournament was played at Spollanstown in 1931 (1991 Programme for opening of Development of stadium).
Some attempts were made to reorganise an annual Tullamore sports under the auspices of the Maurice Davin Harrier Athletic Club in the late 1920s, but this did not come to anything. Soccer, rugby and hockey matches were all played at Spollanstown on an irregular basis during the 1920s and early 1930s, but at this time Spollanstown was best known for its association (in the mid-1920s) with the local agricultural show and hence became known as the show grounds. The first club of the mid to late 1920s reported an annual meeting in 1927 where Daniel Williams was elected president and Vincent Williams (a son or brother of Daniel) was elected captain. Mr E. Colton was elected vice-captain; M. Flanagan, hon. sec and J.F. Martin, hon. treasurer. It was hoped to start the playing season on 1 October (OC, 15 Sept. 1927). Like golf in Offaly (and history from 1938) there was generally an understanding that Protestants and Catholics would hold office in a club, or that offices such as president would rotate.
No doubt had Tullabeg school continued beyond 1886 (amalgamated with Clongowes) things might have been different. The big exponent of the game in the midlands in the post 1890s period was Mount St Joseph boarding school at Roscrea and Birr town. The Birr club held its first dinner dance in February 1927. Interest increased in rugby in the mid 1920s, but so also the opposition of the GAA to ‘foreign games’. The GAA congress upheld the ban in 1924 by 54 votes to 32. In 1927 Daingean GAA delegates associated dancing to jazz in the same category of foreign games and secured a ban at the Offaly GAA convention on jazz dancing at GAA social gatherings. At the same congress, held in Tullamore, Brother Wilfrid of Birr warned that in Birr ‘rugby had been creeping in (OC, 6 Jan. 1927).
If anything Tullamore was late in starting a club when contrasted with Birr, Kilbeggan, Edenderry and Banagher. This was noted in a short report about the first ‘scrap team’ fielded in Tullamore on 16 January 1927 (OI, 29 Jan. 1927). The following month the new Tullamore team defeated Mullingar and Birr in March. Hockey was also played at this time (OI, 12 March 1927); O’Leary, captain (OI 19/2/1927). The Tullamore club had progressed enough to hold its first dance in the new courthouse on Easter Monday 1928 – pipped by Fianna Fáil with its first constituency dance on Easter Sunday night in the same building (OC, 19/4/1928). Seventy couples attended the rugby dance with music from the Katja Band, Dublin while Fianna Fáil had the Midland Melody Band. Tullamore did not have exclusive use of the Spollanstown grounds in the late 1920s and played in the ‘new grounds in Tanyard Lane’ in November 1928 (OI, 3/11/1928). There is not much evidence of activity in the Tullamore cub in the late 1920s by contrast with Birr and Kilbeggan. Tullamore was badly defeated by Kilbeggan, 16 to 0, in a match in November 1928 – ‘the local team is new to the work, but they will have to develop greater skill and stronger movement’ (MT, 15/12/1928). The Kilbeggan team was strong at this time on the field and socially. The Tullamore GAA club applied at a county board meeting for the reinstatement of Tullamore man, Christopher Moriarty, after he had attended a rugby dance in Kilbeggan (OI, 9/11/1929).
‘The quality of mercy’
The Tullamore club was very much in action again by 1937 when it was able to field to teams at Spollanstown – the ‘Tigers’ captained by Oliver McGlinchey against the ‘Lions’ captained by Tinny Morris OI, 4/4/1937). As with golf it was often visiting bank staff or ‘officials’ who promoted and administered to the clubs. In Tullamore it was Kevin O’Leary of Munster & Leinster Bank who had made the effort to have the current club inaugurated and affiliated to the IRFU (OI, 24/4/1937). Unfortunately, O’Leary was transferred at the time to the M & L branch at Rathdowney and had the pleasure of a special send-off dinner (MT, 8/5/1937).
When the rugby club was more firmly established after 1937 it secured the grounds from the show committee trustees on a caretaker basis. After the formation of the Tullamore Association Football Club in 1943 the rugby club shared Spollanstown with its sister club. This was hardly surprising as the soccer club had in its membership many rugby players including Oliver McGlinchey and Joe Kilroy, a local schoolteacher.
Some attempts were made to re-organise an annual Tullamore sports under the auspices of the Maurice Davin Harrier Athletic Club in the late 1920s, but this did not come to anything. Soccer, rugby and hockey matches were all played at Spollanstown on an irregular basis during the 1920s and early 1930s, but at this time Spollanstown was best known for its association (in the mid-1920s) with the local agricultural show and hence became known as the show grounds. When the rugby club was finally established after 1937 it secured the grounds from the show committee trustees on a caretaker basis. After the formation of the Tullamore Association Football Club in 1943 the rugby club shared Spollanstown with its sister club. This was hardly surprising as the soccer club had in its membership many rugby players including Oliver McGlinchey and Joe Kilroy, a local schoolteacher.
Back row: P.A. Wrafter, Ray McCann, John Rock, Jack McCann, P.V. Egan, M. Eivers, Rory McCann. MIddle row: Con O’Neill, T. Roche, Joe Adams, Gerry Burke-Kennedy, G. Nevin, Oliver McGlinchey. Front row: Joe Quinn, Herbie Wedlock.
In 1950 a committee comprised of representatives of the soccer club and rugby club came together to form the Tullamore Sports Club Carnival Committee. The membership included W. T. Stephens, Oliver McGlinchey, Joe Kilroy, T. B. Adams, W. Champ, Dermot Kilroy, H. Egan, G. Smyth and T. Kelly. It was the work of this committee that put Spollanstown on a sound footing by raising an average of £800 each year in the 1950s through the running of an annual carnival including marquee dancing. Apart from roofing the grand stand in 1950 and the little money was spent on facilities at Spollanstown until 1956 when a new pavilion was erected at a cost of £2,700 by local contractor, John Heffernan. Before work started a new 66-year lease was obtained from the Charleville Estate Company at £40 per year. A new Tullamore Rugby and Soccer Sports Club was established in 1956 to take full advantage of the new facility.
In 1959 the leading members of the carnival committee indicated their intention of resigning on the basis that they had fulfilled their obligations for ten years. This led to the reforming of the carnival committee as ‘The Trustees of the Tullamore Rugby and Soccer Club’ comprised of representatives of both clubs. The trustees also took possession of the lease secured in 1955. As already noted the pavilion was completely destroyed in an accidental fire in May 1961, but was rebuilt the following year. Further improvements to the club continued in the 1960s, including the building of a house for the steward, Mr Toman, in 1961 at a cost of £1,520 and the opening of a pitch and putt course in 1963-64.
Marking the publication of fifty years of Tullamore rugby in 1987 were Jimmy Coughlan, Jack Wrafter, P.V. Egan, Frank Egan and Kevin Adams.
To be continued