9 August 2008

Collooney, Co. Sligo

Collooney,Co. Sligo
Photograph provided by Neil Mc Dermott

The following information has been provided by Colooney Hanndball Club

History of the Club
The town of Coloney has been synonymous with the playing of handball long before official records begin. The game has been played in the Collooney area in several locations- wherever a flat wall could be located. Various records show the game being played at least from the 1850s onwards.

The existing 60x30 court is situated at the "Fair Green" under the watchful eye of the spire of the Church of the Assumption. The handball court is both a landmark and a legacy handed down from generation to generation with each playing a major role in its maintenance and survival.

Up to 1928 there was no actual handball alley in Colooney. The Colooney Dramatics' Club was formed in order to raise funds to build an alley. A local committee was formed and it was decided to approach the local landowners, the Cooper Family of Markree Castle in order to try and acquire a plot in the Fairgreen in which to build a handball court. Bryan R. Cooper kindly agreed to grant a lease to the Club, of the site at the Fairgreen with the entrance at the lower Fairgreen Gate on the Old Barrack Road.

Messrs Maloney, Gilhawley & Taylor from Enniscrone were employed to do the main contract work. A price was agreed of £100.00. It was also agreed that labour would be supplied by the locals. The first official legal records with regard to the existing handball court relate to a lease which was granted on the 17th of July, 1928 from the landlord Bryan R. Cooper in favour of the local Trustees. Work commenced on the erection of the ball alley immediately. At that stage the court just conisted of the front wall and two side walls. The first offical game was played in 1928 with a number of guest matches. Joe and Paddy Bergin who had local connections and who were then residing in Tipperary played Jim Hunt and Eddie Perry from Sligo. Others in action included John Joe Lane, Howley and Daly from Swinford and McManus from Gurteen. The games were played in the traditional softball manner.

Many of the great players associated with the Club, then and now, were prominent GAA figures. Names asociated with that great 1928 team include Mick Jennings, Georgie Higgins, Jack Brennan and Sonny Weir. The great Mickey Noone of Tubbercurry who was part of the 1928 team also played on and off in Collooney. Further names that come to mind include Paddy, Francie and Vincent Clifford who played in the 40s and 50s. Paddy Clifford was the Chairman of Sligo Football Board when the Nestor Cup came back to Sligo in 1975 and one of his proudest moments was to bring that cup back to the town.

Other stars of both handball and football include Sonny Hennessy, Owen Kelly, Fintan Quigley, Kevin Darcy, Padraig Lang, Michael McTiernan and of course the Walsh brothers Dessie, Paddy and Raphael. Other names that would be well known in GAA circles would include the great late Mick Flynn, Mick Flynn's sons both Michael and Aidan, Tony Grey, Johnny Brown of Ballisodare, the O'Rourkes of Ballisodare, the Nairns of Ballisodare, the great John Joe Lane, Tom Collery, Freddy Iwn, Sonny Weir, Jim Bonner, Gerry Connollu, John Kehoe, John and Micael Mannion.

In the mid-seventies a number of people got together and decided to put a galvanised roof on the alley. This meant that play could continue despite the elements. The installation of the lights in the alley in the 1980s meant that games could be played after dark.

In 1996/1997 major consturction work was undertaken to extend the height of all the walls to 27ft and install a new floor. Dresing rooms for both males and femals were installed in 1999. The old galvanised roof was replaced in 2001 with a modern roof which meant that the ball-alley was as good as any in the country at that time. These enhanced facilities and its excellent geographical location meant that Collooney was regularly choosen to host Connaught Championship games and indeed a number of All-Ireland semi-finals and All-Ireland finals.

The money used to complete the work to date, which is estimated to be €160,000.00, was mostly raised by community based fund raising ventures, including bed-pushes, sponsored cycles, Queen of Tirerrill Beauty Competitions, weekly draws and "Give us a Clue" competitions etc. A grant was also received from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism for €12,697.00.

Given the massive interest shown in the game from both young and old and the terrific support that the club has received from the wider community, the present day committee feel that it is now time to bring the handball court on another step in the future. These plans include the complete modernisation of the existing 60x30 court with the installation of a glass back wall; a new gallery and changing room facilities; the construction of a completely new 40x20 handball court which caters for the American international game; and the building of two one wall courts to cater for the one-wall game hich has now got a new international dimension.


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