4 May 2009

Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare

Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare
Top photograph and interior photographs by P. Doolin Fabruary 2022. All other photographs from E. Timoney, April 2009 and May 2024 (bottom two photographs) The handball players in the bottom photograph (May 2024) – M. Dowlung and G. McGrath – informed E. Timoney that a section of the roof was replayed about 10 years ago by one of the men. The father of M. Dowling was the last winner of the I.A.H.U. competition in the 1930s, mentioned in the history below.

Following text on Ballymore Eustace Handball by Matt Purcell
My first attempt at recording the history of the Ballymore-Eustace Handball Club was done at the request of Father Browne when he sought a piece on the Club for the 1972 Chronicle. In the 1953 Chronicle Tommy Lynch had covered the Club's history up to 1953 so I decided to cover the period from 1953 to 1972. When the Gaelic Football Club brought out a commemorative book to celebrate the GAA's Centenary Year I had my next opportunity to deal with the Club's achievements. This time I was more ambitious and tried to tell the story of the Club's history up to 1984.

The first thing I discovered when I became interested in the subject was the lack of firm information about the Club's early days. My original source of information was Bernard Purcell but Bernard was no longer with us having died in January 1962. I next spoke with Mickey and Margaret Dowling who suggested that I talk to Christy Byrne who had been Club Secretary during the Club's first period of success in the late twenties and early thirties.

Christy's sad story was that during a spring cleaning of his house all his handball papers and records ended up being dumped. So I was back to square one. Subsequent research of old newspapers in the National Library have yielded no new information. I had some luck when John Clarke of the Dublin Metropolitan Club kindly supplied me with information about the Official Opening ( or Re-Opening ) of our 60 by 30 alley. John was a brother of one of handball's " Greats ", Austin Clarke, and in partnership with Austin he won the 1942 All-Ireland senior hard doubles title. John was an avid handball historian and collector of handball memorabilia.

According to John a group of four players from his Club were involved in the Official Opening of the Ballymore 60 by 30 alley following the plastering of the walls and the laying of a new cement floor and he indicated that the Opening took place on Sunday October 27, 1912. The four players involved took part in exhibition games which resulted as follows :

James Clarke and Tom Redmond ( DMC ) beat Jordan and Devey ;
Peter O'Shea and Joe Kennedy ( DMC ) lost to Farrell and Hickey.

John Clarke thought that Jordan, Devey, Farrell and Hickey were also from Dublin. Jordan and Devey at least would appear to have been Ballymore men as Tommy Nugent of Ballybought ( Profiled in the Echo of November 1977 ) stated :

" He ( Tommy Nugent ) loved handball and he remembers Tom and Joe Morrissey building the BalI Alley in 1910 . They Iived beside the alIey where D r. PurcelI now has his stables. The very first HandbalI CIub was formed by Bernard PurcelI, Ned O' Rourke, Pat Conner, Blacksmith, Jimmy McGrath, Jim Byrne, Schoolmaster, Jack McGee, Myles McGee, Peter Nugent, and Myles Lawlor. He remembers paying his first I / = membership fee. The first singles match played there was between Kit Jordan and Patsy Devoy and the f i rst doubles match between Art Doran and Myles Lawlor versus Jimmy McGrath and himself. He and his partner won. Tommy Leahy was the top player of his time and "I remember playing him for a bet and winning" Tommy recalls gleefully."

Apparently a James Whelan of Ballymore was a member of the " Mets " Club Committee at that time. The source of John's information was his own Club's tradition and a weekly Dublin paper called " Sport ". The James Clarke who played in the exhibition games was John's father and he was also the " Mets " Club Secretary. Leading handball figure of those days, John Lawlor, apparently was in attendance.

If anyone in Ballymore has more information on the Club's early days I would welcome hearing from them. From stories I was told by such as Bernard Purcell I gather the present 60 by 30 alley replaced an earlier alley which had its front wall running parallel to the road that is to say the players would have been facing towards the road instead of facing towards the stables referred to in Tommy's Profile as at present. This would appear to be borne out by the remains of what was probably the old front wall and which is still in existence.

In writing this history I am conscious of the fact that I have very little solid information about handball matters prior to 1950 and also that my personal knowledge only extends back to1952. Likewise my personal knowledge is deficient in respect of the more recent period 1989 to 1999. For the foregoing reasons I am not in a position to do full justice to players who were playing handball at these times.

Tommy Leahy was one of a family of five children who lived with their parents in their farmhouse just above where the Golden Falls Dam was constructed and access to their home was by the Golden Falls Lane or Leahy's Lane as it was also known. In 1929 Tommy Leahy became the pride and joy of the local community when he became the first Ballymore man to win an All-Ireland title. Tommy won that title in a memorable home and away encounter with the reigning I.A.H.U. senior hard singles champion, J. J. Kelly, of Dublin. The first leg was played in the "Boot Inn" alley in Bally¬mun while the second leg was played in Bally¬more. Old-timers recall that the second leg was a great occasion with a capacity crowd present.

There is no doubt that Tommy Leahy captured the imagination of old time Ballymore fans in a way that no other player of his generation did. He was a powerful two¬ handed player, the best of a generation of good handballers, and he dominated the senoir hard singles scene under I.A.H.U. rules from 1929 - 1933. He also won the corresponding doubles titles in 1932 partnered by Jack Byrne and in 1933 partnered by Jimmy Dolan. Tommy also played doubles partnered by Peter O'Rourke.

In addition to J.J.Kelly other well known players he defeated were Paddy Coyne of Carlow and Morgan Pembroke of Dublin. Tommy's sister Bridie was married to Mick McDonald who helped with the running of the Club and provided Tommy with transport for his away from home games. Happily Bridie is still with us and was featured in an article in the February 1998 Edition of the Ballymore Bugle. After his successful handball career Tommy emigrated to England where he died in 1940.

Two generations of the Byrne family contributed to the Ballymore handball scene and experienced All-Ireland successes under both sets of rules. Christy was the first to come to prominance in his role as Secretary of the Club during the Club's first period of success ( 1929 - 1937 ). Christy was a top class hardball maker and supplied the hardball needs of the local players. By all accounts he was a very useful player with whom Tommy Leahy had many a tough work out in preparation for his big games.

Christy's brother Jack made his breakthrough in 1932 when he partnered Tommy Leahy in his hard doubles success. Jack succeeded Tommy Leahy as senior hard singles champion in 1933 and held that title until 1935. I saw Jack in action in the early fifties and his talents were obvious even though he was then well past his best . Jack was the most successful handball player in the family and was a great all round sportsman who played in goal in 1953 on Ballymore's only team to win the Kildare senior championship.

Jack's third son Jackie won an All-Ireland Minor Hardball Doubles medal in 1960 and thus the Byrnes became the first Ballymore family to supply champions from two generations. During a short career Jackie won two Minor Hardball Doubles medals. He was a very fast two handed player who could play hardball and softball equally well. Like his father Jackie was a good all round sportsman.

Jack's youngest son Justin became the third member of his family to win All-Ireland honours when he won the 1973 Junior Hardball Doubles title. Like all the Byrnes he was a stylish, two-handed player who was fast around the alley and a good all round sportsman.

Jack's other sons Myles, Tommy and Declan all were useful handballers while Tommy was a good hardball maker who kept the game alive in the sixties when there was no one else who could master the skill of making the hardball.

Like the Byrnes two generations of Dowlings made their mark at All-Ireland level.
I never saw Michael ( Mickey ) Dowling, Senior, in action but according to Bobbie Grattan Mickey was the best man he ever saw to "kill" a ball off the back wall with either hand. Mickey was one of only two Ballymore players profiled by Tom McElligott in his comprehensive book on handball published in conjunction with the 1984 World championships - Tommy Leahy was the other player profiled. Tom McElligott endorsed Bobbie's view about Mickey ability to " kill " a ball and also obviously held Mickey, who he knew well, in the highest esteem as an exponent of hardball. Mickey succeeded Jack Byrne as senior hard singles champion and was the last holder of that title under I.A.H.U. rules.

Mickey formed a good partnership with Jimmy Dolan and the pair of them won the 1937 senior hard doubles title under I.A.H.U. rules. After the I.A.H.U. ceased operation in 1938 Mickey continued his successful career under I.A.H.A. rules the body supported by the GAA. Under those rules he won a junior hard singles title in 1941 and the corresponding senior title in 1943 and thereby became the only player to win senior titles under both rules. Mickey Dowling was the mainstay of the club for many years. But for the fact that Mickey was a contemporary of the great J. J. Gilmartin he would probably have enjoyed greater success in the alley.

Michael Dowling, like his father before him, took All-Ireland honours when he figured in two team successes in 40 by 20. He was a nice, stylish player who won the All-Ireland junior hard singles title in 1985 and partnered Tom O'Rourke in 1990 to win the senior hard doubles title This success earned the Dowling family the distinction being the first Ballymore family to supply All-Ireland senior champions from two generations. Michael distinguished himself as a great all round sportsman.

Mickey's wife Margaret was a staunch handball supporter and attended all of her son's matches. Margaret also helped with the catering for those who took part in our annual open hardball doubles tournament from 1972 to 1980. On June 10, 1978 Mickey and Margaret attended matches in Croke Park in which Michael was playing. In the course of Michael's game Mickey took ill and died suddenly.

Jimmy Dolan and his brothers Tom and Joe lived in Weaver's Row. Jimmy was for many years a postman while Tom worked with Tom Carroll. Joe when I knew him did not enjoy the best of health. Both Tom and Jimmy played handball with Jimmy achieving a considerably higher measure of success than I gave him credit for when I made my contribution to the Centenary Book. Jimmy was by all accounts a lovely stylish player who as we have seen won senior hard doubles titles with both Tommy Leahy and Mickey Dowling and he won an All-Army senior hard singles championship in 1944.

In the fifties Tom figured in a big challenge match between himself and his younger rival Willie Mahon who also worked for Tom Carroll at the time. The contest attracted a sizeable attendance with the bulk of the support being given to Tom. The first match was followed by a return and while I cannot recall the result of either I can still recall the heartiness of Tom's laughter in the discussions before and after the match.

Peter O'Rourke was a powerful server who was the ideal partner for Tommy Leahy. While Jim Dolan was by all accounts a lovely stylish player who won an All-Army championship in 1944.

Our first junior hardball doubles winners were Willie Grace and Dan Murphy who were sub¬sequently lost to handball through emigration. Bobbie Grattan won his first title in 1947 and later added two senior titles. In what had become a Ballymore hallmark Bobbie was a powerful server who had a flair for the dramatic. I recall Bobbie getting the deadest straight "kill" I ever saw.

Jim Bolger had a short but successful hand¬ball career. Jim had an economical left hand serve which was very effective especially in doubles matches. His career came to an early end when he emigrated. The second grouping of our players which included Willie Grace, Dan Murphy, Bobbie Grattan, Jim Bolger, was completed by Bill Lawlor and Paddy Monaghan. Bill was a left handed player who gave his all in every game he played. At the height of his powers he suffered a broken leg, which put an end to his playing days.

Paddy Monaghan occupies a unique position in the club. His playing career extends way beyond that of any other player of my acquaintance. Originally, Paddy was over shadowed by such as Bobbie Grattan, Jim Bolger, Bill Lawlor, and Liam Evans. In 1953 Paddy partnered Bill Lawlor to success in the All-Ireland Junior Hardball Doubles championship. Due to an objection Paddy and Bill had to win that particular title twice over. In his early days, Paddy was not involved on the official side of things. Paddy became a club official in 1964 and since then he has occupied various posi¬tions both at club and county level. He has the distinction of being the only Kildare man to hold a position on the Leinster Handball Council when he held the position of chairman of that body. Over the years Paddy has travelled the length and breadth of Ireland with our players and also accompanied Tom O'Rourke to San Francisco in 1978 when Tom won the Atlas Travel under 22 trials. There is no doubt that much of the credit for the very successful run the club has enjoyed over the years must go to Paddy. Paddy's special interest has been in juvenile hardball and for his efforts in this area he has received special recognition from Central Handball Council. To prove he was not a spent force on the playing front Paddy made history in 1981 by becoming the first Kildare man to win the Leinster 40 by 20 G.M.S. title.

Billy Doran was a stylish, two handed player who while awaiting employment in the middle fifties got lots of handball practice. It all came good for him in 1957 when he reached three All-Ireland finals winning two of them. Unfortunately handball successes are no substitute for steady employment and shortly after his successes Billy went to England in search of work. Some nine years later he returned home to eventually win a senior title.

Seamie Curran was Billy's partner in both softball and hardball and together they were a formidable duo. Like his partner, Billy Doran, he was equally good at hardball and softball. Like Billy too Seamie also emigrated after his successes. Unlike Billy, Seamie has remained in England where he has settled down.

Robin Winder was the first of four Winder brothers to win an All-Ireland medal when he won a Minor Hardball Double medal in 1958. Since then the Winder brothers have collected a total of nineteen All-Ireland medals. Pius has won ten, Cecil six. Robin two and the late Paddy one. To add to this impressive record Pious' son Trevor has won six. The family has thus accumulated a grand total of 25 All-Ireland medals. Robin was a sound, reliable doubles player who had a great straight "kill".

The late Paddy Winder won his only All¬ Ireland in 1959 when in partnership with Tony Daly he won the Junior Hardball Doubles title in a great match against the Cleere brothers of Tipperary. Paddy had the misfortune of contesting four Senior Hardball Doubles finals unsuccessfully. He was a fine two handed player with a powerful service.

Tony Daly shared Paddy's Junior Hard¬ball Doubles success and two of his unsuccessful Senior Hardball Doubles finals. Tony had two good hands and was very nimble on his feet. All in all he was a very stylish player with great determination. Tony's career was also cut short when he emigrated. In recent times Tony paid a vist to Ballymore and looked up a number of his old handball friends.

When Jackie Byrne won an All-Ireland Minor Hardball Doubles medal in 1960 the Byrnes became the first Ballymore family to supply champions from two generations. During a short career Jackie won two Minor Hardball Doubles medals. He was a very fast two handed player who could play hardball and softball equally well.

John Browne who won a Minor Hardball Double medal in 1961 added a Junior Hard¬ ball Double medal in 1969. All the matches involved in these successes were nail-biting affairs with dramatic turnabouts in the course of two of them. Like good wine John appears to have improved with age as he won no less than four All-Irelands singles titles in the years 1990,1991 and 1992 thereby bringing his total of All-Ireland medals to six.

Greg Lawlor won his first All-Ireland in 1963 at the age of fourteen. Subsequently he added a further six medals, the last of which was a Senior Hardball Double medal in 1977. For a time Greg held the distinction of being our top medal winner. When in form, Greg had a devastating left hand service which made short work of the opposition. He was certainly in the mould of the old style hard¬baller relying on the big service and dead "kill".

Tom Geoghegan was a character who added colour to the handball scene. He first made his mark in the Minor Hardball Double championship in 1963 and enjoyed a consider¬able degree of success over the next nine years culminating in a Junior Hardball Double success in 1972. On top of his successes in the provincial and All-Ireland championships Tom won two All-Army hardball titles and in fact he was the reigning champion when these championships were discontinued in 1966.

Anthony Campbell has All-Ireland medals to his credit in hard¬ball, 40 by 20 handball and softball. Anthony is a very strong server who is fond of the "kill" shot. He has contributed to the administration of the club over a long number of years serving also on the Management Committee. He is a hard worker who con¬tributed to a number of worthwhile improve¬ments to the ball alley including the recent putting in of a new floor in the 60 by 30 alley. In total Anthony has eight All-Ireland medals to his credit.

Ceci1 Winder was the third member of his family to win All-Ireland honours and was adept at the three forms of Handball. While not possessing the same style as Paddy and Pius he surpassed both of them in cunning and tenacity. Supporting Cecil was not good for the heart as he always seemed to be on his last legs yet more often than not he pulled out a little but extra to win. During his career he has had many fine games one which springs readily to mind was a five game match against Joey Maher of Louth in Senior Hardball Singles. While he had another great game in the local Senior Softball Singles trials against Tom O'Rourke when Cecil lost narrowly to Tom.

Eamonn Deegan in partnership with John Browne won the 1969 All-Ireland Junior Hardball Doubles title following a number of very close games. Over the years Eamonn has con¬tributed his fair share on the administrative side both at club and County Board levels.

Next to be considered is our most renowned handballer, Tom O'Rourke. Since first coming to prominence in 1972 Tom has accumulated an extraordinary list of
"firsts". Tom's first love was softball but as his many titles go to show he was more than capable at hardball and 40 by 20 handball as well. If there was any doubt about Tom's standing in 1984 that doubt has been dramatically dispelled by his achievements in 1984 and in subsequent years upto and including 1990. Tom without question is our greatest all round player with All-Ireland successes at senior level in all three forms of handball and a World Title in 60 by 30 Softball. What were his main strong points? Tom was very, very competitive. He had superb foot work and was very fast around the alley. He was also very good at anti¬cipating his opponents next move and was not afraid to experiment during the course of a game if a particular aspect of his game was not working out to his satisfaction. There have been so many outstanding achievements by Torri that it is difficult to pinpoint any par¬ticular one.

One suspects that his success in winning the Centenary Open 60 by 30 championship may well rate as his most satisfying success. In winning Tom comprehensively defeated the reigning All¬ Ireland Coca-Cola and 40 by 20 singles champion Tony Ryan, by 21-10, 21-11. The score would suggest an easy victory for Tom but such was not in fact the case. Having played brilliantly throughout the first game Tom won without ever being in danger. In the second, Ryan made a determined bid to break Tom's stranglehold on the game and for a long time it looked like he might succeed; with the players locked together at 8 all and later at 11 all neither player could make any pro¬ gress. Eventually it wasTom who got the break and his supporters could at last breathe a sigh of relief. After a succession of mis¬fortunes this success meant that Tom had re¬ established himself as the top player in Ireland. Tom won a total of fourteen All-Ireland medals nine of which were at senior level.

On Saturday the 5th of May 1984 Tom proved himself the best in the world when he won the Open 60 by 30 singles title. Tom won all his four matches comfortably. In winning, Tom displayed again the confidence which was a feature of his game when he swept the decks in 1979. While Tom's successes were easy they were not easily gained for Tom had put in many long hours of training and travelled many miles in his quest for the World title. The beautiful Waterford Glass trophy which now adorns his sideboard was well merited.

Pius Winder was the fourth Winder brother to achieve All-Ireland success. Pius was our first player to win All-Ireland medals in two forms of handball when he won the Senior Hardball Doubles title in 1981 and he improved on that in 1982 when he became our first player to win All-Ireland medals in all three forms of handball by playing on the team which won that year's 40 by 20 Inter- Club Open Team championship. All together Pius won ten All-Ireland medals six of which were at senior level. Pius was the first Kildare player to win two senior titles in the same year and in addition he is the only Kildare player to win three senior All-Ireland Hardball Doubles medals in a row. He was a fine stylish two handed player who showed great dedication to training. His finest performance was perhaps his game against the Ryan brothers of Tipperary in the Senior Hardball Doubles All-Ireland final of 1981. He played brilliantly throughout the match to win his first All-Ireland senior medal. He had another great game in the 1983 All¬ Ireland Senior Hardball Singles semi-final against one of hardball's "greats" Peadar Magee (Mayo), in which Pius conceding home venue was narrowly beaten. On the adminis-trative side Pius organised a number of hand¬ball and racquetball tournaments and served on the Committee for a number of years and in addition he held the key of the lights and collected the money.

Justin Byrne became the third member of his family to win All-Ireland honours when he won the Junior Hardball Doubles title. Like all the Byrnes he was a stylish, two-handed player who was fast around the alley.

Michael Dowling, like his father before him, took All-Ireland honours when he figured in two team successes in 40 by 20. He was a nice, stylish player who won the All-Ireland junior hard singles title in 1985 and partnered Tom O'Rourke in 1990 to win the senior hard doubles title

Under I.A.H.U. rules our players held the Senior Hardball title from 1929 to 1936: Tommy Leahy, 1929 to 1933; Jack Byrne, 1934 to 1935 and Mickey Dowling 1935 to 1936. At that time the top handballers were playing under I.A.H.U. rules.
Under I.H.C. rules twenty-six of our players have shared forty-one All-Ireland titles. Thirty-three were in hardball, six were in softball and two were in 40 by 20.

Our top hardballers over the years have been: Tommy Leahy, 1929 to 1933; Jack Byrne 1934-35; Mickey Dowling 1935 to 1948; Bobbie Grattan 1948 to 1960; Paddy Winder 1960 to 1968; from 1968 to 1980 the honour has been shared by Billy Doran, Greg Lawlor, John Browne, Cecil Winder and Tom O'Rourke and Pius Winder 1980 to 1984.

Our top softballers have been: Myles Lawlor; Billy Doran; Ned Deegan; Anthony Campbell; Cecil Winder and Tom O'Rourke.

On top of our All-Ireland successes our players have won many provincial and county titles. But for the scourge of emigration our successes could have been greater. Lost to handball in this way were : Tommy Leahy; Willie Grace; Dan Murphy; Jim Bolger; Liam and Joe Evans; Eddie Whelan and Tom Doran, Michael and Jack Winters, Seamie Curran; Tony Daly; Pat Clarke; Peter and George McGuire; Mick Tackaberry; the Daly brothers, Ray, Dessie and Jerome Lynch; John and Gerry Kelly; Jack Boylan and Joe Nugent. Apart from our All-Ireland winners in the above list, Michael and Jacl Winters had displayed considerable promise while Peter McGuire and Pat Clarke were especially use¬ful players. Peter, I recall giving Billy Doran many a good game at a time when Billy was playing good handball. Pat Clarke was a very useful softball player who had a high degree of ball control.

Who was our best player? I can accept the claims of an older generation that Tommy Leahy was our greatest hardballer but I feel that the Winder brothers, Pius and Cecil, can¬not be too far behind him.The Honour of being our greatest all round handballer I would bestow on Tom O'Rourke. Tom has had major successes in all three forms of handball.

Successes such as our club has enjoyed are not achieved without a lot of hard work. Much of the credit for these successes must go to the following : Add earlier names Christy Byrne, Bernard Purcell, Mick McDonald, Mickey Dowling, Bobbie Grattan, Jim Doyle, Mel Sullivan, Billy Doran, Seamie Curran, Tony Evans, Paddy Monaghan, James Purcell, Eamonn Deegan, Ned Deegan, John Deegan, Martin Deegan, Anthony Campbell, Larry Glancy and Barry Slattery.Add later names ,.

Christy Byrne was a good handballer who frequently gave Tommy Leahy workouts in preparation for his successes. On the official side he kept things ticking over smoothly during one of the club's most successful periods.

Mickey Dowling was the mainstay of the club for many years. But for the fact that Mickey was a contemporary of the great J. J. Gilmartin he would probably have enjoyed greater success in the alley. During the fifties Bobbie Grattan was the club's strongman. Bobbie was an official both at club and County level.

Behind every successful player there is usually to be found either an understanding and encouraging mother or wife. Sufferers in this category that readily spring to mind are the late Mrs. Monaghan, Mrs. Billy Winder, the late Judy Lawlor, Maisie Deegan, Brigid Purcell, Margaret Dowling, Geraldine Winder, Rita O'Rourke and now Jacinta O'Rourke (the latest sufferer!) and many, many more too numerous to mention. The club's thanks are due to all these ladies.

The alley had the gallery and roof added in the mid¬ twenties. In 1953 the walls were raised as softball was beginning to gain a footing. Lights were installed in 1962 and replaced by a new system in 1978. Since then many much needed smaller repair jobs have been carried out.

Hardball which was originally the premier form of handball and which up to the early sixties, was accorded equal standing with softball has had a precarious existence since then. Bally¬more has supplied most of the recent hard¬ball makers. These were Tommy Byrne, Joe McDonald, Paddy Nolan, and Anthony and Mary Campbell. In addi¬tion to the above people who have made hard¬balls over the last 35 years the club's thanks are due to Eddie and Martin Deegan, Markie Doyle, Paddy Monaghan and John Browne all of whom have done their bit to keep the game alive. Despite all the efforts over a long number of years made by Ballymore people to foster hardball sadly there were no All-Ireland championships in hardball at senior level in 1999.

Like many another I played my first hand¬ ball against a gable end. In the summer of 1951 I graduated to the ball alley proper, playing short-ways at first but later on play¬ ing long-ways. Casting my mind back to those far off days I can see again the stately, dignified figure of Pat Kelly coming down the Commons on his bicycle. There again is the small friendly figure of "Granny" O'Rourke or the kindly figure of Maggie Hyland laden down with her shopping bags trudging up Mountcashel hill. The "rabbit men" notably John Madden and Mick Shannon are out lay¬ ing their snares and traps once more. Once again Dick Hayes' uncomplaining ass (and cart) is tied to Mount¬cashel gate.

Initially, I played mainly with my brothers Dan, Billy and Paddy under the protective eye of the Doctor whose presence ensured that "the big lads" did not interrupt our game. In those days our father constantly reminded his sons to use both hands. As a result, we all developed good left hands. My first experience of competitive handball came in 1953 when I played in an under 14 doubles tournament in Tramore. My first taste of handball success came in a singles tournament which I won twice and thereafter the competition was dis¬continued.

With Pat Clarke, Paddy Winder, Tony Daly and my brother Dan, graduating from the minor ranks in 1958 the way was left clear for me to represent Kildare in a11 four minor championships. In the minor soft doubles Robin Winder and myself had the ego shatter¬ing experience of being beaten 21-0 by Joe Cleary and Paddy Reilly of Wicklow, in Donard. If memory serves me correctly things improved considerably in the second game and we got four aces.

The story was different in the minor hard doubles in which Robin and myself actually got to the All-Ireland final. Thereafter things got complicated and we ended up playing the final a week before we were supposed to, and in a different alley to what was originally fixed. All of which was done without the approval of our local oflicials. The game was a ding dong affair although in fairness to my¬ self I don't suppose the five hard games I had the evening before with Mick Higgins was much help to me. The end result was a one ace win for Limerick in the third and final game. Thereafter our officials got to work and about six months later the final was fixed to be replayed. Limerick did not turn up for the re¬ fixture and so I won my first All-Ireland medal outside the alley.

For extra competition, I took part in the 1959 junior softball trials. At an early stage I played Tony Daly and this turned out to be the hardest game of my career. For most of the match Tony was toying with me but with the benefit of an extra break which was not in accordance with the rules I ended up winning after five gruelling games lasting a full two hours. The following morning Ned Deegan put an end to my junior ambitions for 1959. For a long time thereafter I did not want to know about handball. For good measure Joe Cleary put manners on me in the first round of all four minors.

Looking back on the fifties it was a time when the main pastimes in Ballymore were the Brass and Reed Band, Gaelic football and Handball. Entertainment was provided by the Radio and twice weekly, films were shown in the Band Hall together with the occasional play put on by the local Drama Group. Tele¬vision was unknown and cars were few and far between. In the handball circle Bobbie Grattan was the only one with a car of his own. Frequently it was necessary to hire a car to bring players to matches. Those interested in dancing had to travel to neighbouring towns. But during Lent when dancing was not permitted in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin it was usual to run dances in the Parish Hall as the "ban" did not apply to the Dublin Diocese.

Ballymore played host to all the top players of the day including John Ryan, John Doyle, Austin Clarke, Paddy Downey, Joe and Christy Delaney, Fintan Confrey, Joe Maher, Joe Cleary and our own Bobbie Grattan. Many important matches including All¬ Ireland finals were played here and not sur-prisingly there were many outstanding matches. In hardball these involved John Ryan and Bobbie Grattan while in softball the most memorable games involved John Ryan and Joe Delaney, John Ryan was a particular favourite with the fans as he was a stylish player with two good hands and was equally good at hardball and softball. His nonchalant approach to the game was deceptive as he rarely came out of a game loosing.

Other memories of the fifties include: the pitch and toss school which formed each week-end while players waited their turn to play Handball ; the games of "scotch" which were played by the youngsters, big and small, when there were too many to play handball ; the invasion which took place daily when the children from the nearby old school were released for lunch ; Bernard Purcell holding forth on his favourite subject handball in Judy Lawlor's kitchen ; and, the "sponge men" such as Barney McKnight, Ned Deegan, Tony Daly and Pat Clarke who were all experts with the sponge ball.
According to Bernard there was one and only one and there would never be another Tommy Leahy. To an aspiring handballer such as myself this was a bit off putting but nevertheless I stuck to the game. Bernard used to remember with amusement the antics and tactical jibes used in the games played among the foursome of "The Liner" Winder, his brother Paddy, Micky Dwyer and Sergeant Dempsey. Judy Lawlor took an active part in these discussions and used to recall the expertise of Fanny Nugent and boasted of her own handballing prowess as a young girl.

Before leaving the fifties I must recall the big challenge between old-timer, Tom Dolan and his younger rival Willie Mahon both of whom worked for Tom Carroll at the time. The first match was followed by a return and while I cannot recall the result of either I can still hear the "cackle" of Tom's laughter in the discussions before and after the match.

The say you cannot keep a good man down and so it was that by 1960 I had recovered my appetite for handball. This became my most successful season when I qualified for four Leinster finals winning three and went on to qualify for three All-Ireland finals winning two. My last year as a minor turned out to be a disaster as despite the presence of a doctor in the house I managed to get sick at the wrong time.

In 1962 I became a junior and I took part in the hardball trials only. It was confidently expected (by me at least) that I would come through without too much difficulty. There was however one or two who had reserva¬tions about this. One of these was Mick Higgins. Mick and I met early on and from the beginning it was clear that Mick was not going to lie down and take his beating as he was supposed to do. In fact after a consider¬able amount of time we were two games all and Mick had a slight lead in the final game when the Angelus bell rang. That turned out to be the longest Angelus in my experience and judging by the subsequent course of the game Mick must have been better in with the man above than I was. Thereafter my hand¬ ball career operated on a low profile for the rest of the sixties with the occasional pro¬vincial medal to relieve the gloom.

In softball the bane of my existence was Ned Deegan who insisted on beating me con¬ sistently. Sometimes by a small margin other times by a large margin but always the result was the same - Ned won. Another who made life diffcult for me was Seamie Clarke. I mean he should have known I was better than him and yet whenever we met and the dust had settled in the alley somehow on another Seamie had won again.
From the beginning I had always beaten John Browne and Eamonn Deegan I could not help it. As fate would have it they teamed up in 1969 and as already related, they graduated to the senior ranks when they won the All-Ireland Junior Hardball Doubles title. Thereafter, they drew a very sharp distinction between a senior player and a mere junior ( such as myself ) especially in my company.

In partnership with John Browne my brother Paddy was narrowly beaten in the 1962 All-Ireland Minor Hardball Doubles final. Four and a half months later Paddy died at the tender age of 18 after a prolonged illness R.I.P.

The sixties was a time when we all became rich (or appeared to) and modern day living began. Thereafter non-essentials became necessities. Televisions, cars, foreign holidays - you name it we had to have it or else we felt deprived. The simple way of life of earlier times became much more complicated and demands on our time were much greater.

Since I came into handball the sixties was the decade that saw the greatest level of activity in the club. We had the greatest strength in depth during that decade than at anytime before or since. Mind you the early sixties saw hardball suffer its first major crisis following the death of hardball maker, Bill Aldridge. Shortly, thereafter I became involved in a compaign on its behalf with which I am still associated and I regret to say that my efforts are more necessary today than ever before.

The seventies saw the introduction of the successful pub tournament under organiser-
-in¬-chief, John Browne. Others who played a key role in this promotion were Eddie Gordan and Liam Burke. This competition brought the spectators back to the alley in numbers which reminded you of the old days. More recently its popularity has dwindled.

Over the years I'm afraid we have neglected our girls. For a time during the seventies they proved themselves to be quite useful. Names which spring to mind are : Tess Reilly now Sammon ; Bridget Sammon ; Anne and Rena Murphy; Anne and Kathleen Mahon ; Mary Cullen ; Angela Miley ; Geraldine and Caroline O'Reilly ; Siobhain Bolger; Eileen Gordon and Margaret O'Rourke.

Belatedly, I graduated to the senior ranks in 1973. In the same year, Paddy Monaghan, Eamon Deegan and myself joined the Na Fianna Handball club in their history making tour of the East Coast of America. The most notable places visited were the New York Athletic Club and the West Point Military Academy.

So far the eighties have seen the introduc¬tion of racquetball to Ballymore. This has proved particularly popular with the girls. Another innovation has been the introduction of turkey tournaments which have proved enjoyable. A less welcome feature of the eighties has been the large scale unemploy¬ ment which has affected many of our hand¬ballers. In 1981 I achieved my life's handball¬ing ambition when I partnered Pius Winder in his All-Ireland Senior Hardball Doubles success. Apologies! I thought I was finished talking about myself when I recorded my success in the 1981 Senior Hardball Doubles champion¬ship. I was not to know that the legendary Pat Kirby of Clare (now Tucson, Arizona) would ask me to play with him in the World Masters 40 by 20 doubles championships and better still that we would win it albeit by the narrowest of margins in the tie-breaker. Dick Lyng (Wexford) and Mick Hogan (Clare) pro¬vided the opposition in the final.

Others who have added to the Ballymore handball scene include : Ned O'Rourke (senior); Myles Lawlor (senior); Ned and Tom Whelan; Tommy Nugent; Master Byrne; Willie and Eddie Grace; Jim Browne; Paddy Hennessey; Tommy McCourt; Mick Devoy; Tommy and Albert Evans.

Coming to more recent times the following are players who have shown ability: "Ned's Brigade" which includes Ned Deegan, Gerry Kelly, George McGuire, Myles Byrne and sometimes Seamie O'Brien ; Joe Nugent ; Bren and Will Hennessey ; Joe Marshall ; John Deegan ; Martin Deegan ; Tim Gorman ; Vinny McDonald ; and last but by no means least the Saudi Arabian himself, Ollie Deegan.

What of the future? Several of our younger players have shown potential. These include John Browne (junior), Garry Bolger, Neil Morrison, Damien Garvey, Shay Mahon, P. J. McGrath, Trevor Winder and Simon McDonald.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Football Club for providing me with this opportunity of recalling our clubs achieve¬ ments and to compliment them for their enter¬prise in producing this book. On a personal note I would also like to thank Maisie Deegan, Margaret Dowling and their assistants for catering for those who took part in our annual open hardball doubles tournament from 1972 to 1980.


1. Tommy Leahy : 1929 - 1933 Senior Hard Singles ( I.A.H.U.)*
1932 Senior Hard Doubles ( I.A.H.U. )*
1933 Senior Hard Doubles ( I.A.H.U. )

2. Jack Byrne : 1932 Senior Hard Doubles ( I.A.H.U. )*
1933 - 1935 Senior Hard Singles (I.A.H.U.)

3. Jimmy Dolan : 1933 Senior Hard Doubles ( I.A.H.U. )
1937 Senior Hard Doubles ( I.A.H.U. )

4. Mickey Dowling : 1935 - 1936 Senior Hard Singles (I.A.H:U.)
1937 Senior Hard Doubles ( I.A.H.U. )

1941 Junior Hard Singles *
1943 Senior Hard Singles *

5. Willie Grace : 1945 Junior Hard Doubles*

6. Dan Murphy : 1945 Junior Hard Doubles*

7. Bobbie Grattan : 1947 Junior Hard Singles
1949 Senior Hard Doubles *
1950 Senior Hard Singles

8. Jim Bolger : 1948 Junior Hard Singles
1949 Senior Hard Doubles*

9. Bill Lawlor : 1953 Junior Hard Singles
Junior Hard Doubles

10. Paddy Monaghan : 1953 Junior Hard Doubles

11. Billy Doran : 1957 Junior Hard Singles
Junior Hard Doubles
1969 Senior Hard Doubles

12. Seamie Curran : 1957 Junior Hard Doubles

13. Matt Purcell : 1958 Minor Hard Doubles*
1960 Minor Hard Singles*
Minor Hard Doubles
1973 Junior Hard Singles
Junior Hard Doubles;
1981 Senior Hard Doubles
40 by 20 Inter-Club Novice Team. *
1984 World Masters 40 by 20 Doubles.*

14. Robin Winder : 1958 Minor Hard Doubles*
1967 Junior Hard Doubles

15. Paddy Winder : 1959 Junior Hard Doubles

16. Tony Daly : 1959 Junior Hard Doubles

17. Jackie Byrne : 1960 Minor Hard Doubles
1961 Minor Hard Doubles

18. John Browne : 1961 Minor Hard Doubles
1969 Junior Hard Doubles
1990 Silver Masters " A" Soft Singles *
1991 Silver Masters " A" Soft Singles
Silver Masters " A" 40 by 20 Singles *
1992 Silver Masters " A" 40 by 20 Singles.
2000 Emerald Masters “A” 40 by 20 Doubles

19. Greg Lawlor : 1963 Minor Hard Doubles
1965 Minor Hard Doubles
1967 Minor Hard Singles
Minor Hard Doubles
Junior Hard Singles
1969 Senior Hard Doubles
1977 Senior Hard Doubles

20. Tom Geoghegan : 1963 Minor Hard Doubles
1965 Minor Hard Singles
1972 Junior Hard Doubles

21. Anthony Campbell : 1966 Minor Hard Doubles
1981 40 by 20 Inter-Club Novice Team.*
1982 40 by 20 Inter Club Open Team.*
1995 Junior Hard Singles
Junior Hard Doubles
1998 Golden Masters "B" Soft Singles *
Golden Masters "B" Soft Doubles *
Golden Masters "B" 40 by 20 Doubles *

22. Cecil Winder : 1967 Minor Hard Doubles
1972 Junior Hard Doubles
1977 Senior Hard Doubles
1978 Senior Hard Singles
1982 Senior Hard Doubles
1983 Senior Hard Doubles

23. Eamonn Deegan : 1969 Junior Hard Doubles
2000 Emerald Masters “A” 40 by 20 Doubles

24. Tom O'Rourke : 1972 Under 16 Soft Doubles *
1973 Minor Soft Singles*
1976 Under 21 Soft Doubles*
1977 Under 21 Soft Doubles
Junior Soft Doubles*
1979 Senior Soft Singles*
1982 40 by 20 Inter Club Open Team. *
1984 Senior Soft Singles
World Open 60 by 30 Singles.*
1985 Senior Hard Singles
1988 Senior Hard Singles
Senior Hard Doubles
1989 Senior Hard Singles
1990 Senior Hard Singles
Senior Hard Doubles

25. Pius Winder : 1972 Under 16 Soft Doubles*
1976 Under 21 Soft Doubles*
1977 Under 21 Soft Doubles
Junior Soft Doubles *
1981 Senior Hard Singles
Senior Hard Doubles
1982 Senior Hard Doubles
40 by 20 Inter-Club Open Team.*
1983 Senior Hard Doubles
1984 Senior Hard Singles

26. Justin Byrne : 1973 Junior Hard Doubles

27. Michael Dowling : 1981 40 by 20 Inter Club Novice Team*
1982 40 by 20 Inter Club Open Team. *
1985 Junior Hard Singles
1990 Senior Hard Doubles

28. George McGuire : 1981 40 by 20 Inter Club Novice Team. *

29. Trevor Winder : 1988 Under 13 Soft Singles *
1990 Under 15 Soft Singles *
1992 Minor Hard Singles
1995 Junior Hard Doubles
1996 Under 21 Soft Singles *
Under 21 Soft Doubles

30. P.J. McGrath : 1989 Under 16 Soft Singles *

31. Darragh Ward : 1994 Minor Hard Singles
1996 Under 21 Soft Doubles

32. Frank Dooley : 1996 Emerald Masters "B" Soft Singles *
1998 Diamond Masters "B" 40 by 20 Singles *

33. Dermot Howard : 1998 Golden Masters "B" Soft Doubles *
Golden Masters "B" 40 by 20 Doubles *


1. Tom O'Rourke : 1984 Open 60 by 30 Singles.*

2. Matt Purcell : 1984 Masters 40 by 20 Doubles.*

* Denotes first Ballymore success in particular championship.
Note : Records shown relate to All-Ireland titles except where otherwise stated.


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