8 July 2009

Bearna, Co. Galway

post-rennovation - 3 photographs from September 2022

Bearna, near Silver Strand, Co. Galway

Photographed Jul 09 and September 2022 by E.Timoney
Top two photographs showing rennovation of alley in June 2020 by local men Denis O’Dwyer and John McMyler. A detailed hitorical account supported by including newspaper clippings is available on the bearna beo website. The website team kindly allowed the photographs to be reproduced here. The following historical account is taken from the website: The facility, which sits opposite Bearna Church was built in the early 1900s by the local landlord, Marcus Lynch, who lived in Barna House. Legend tells that his son was captured and killed during the Boer War (1879-1915) and that a local chief sent his son, Osmond Tisani, to Galway as a kind of compensation. He lived with the family, spoke Irish fluently, and played hurling for Rahoon. He was also thought to have been a very good Irish dancer, and was reportedly popular among the student population in Galway around World War I.  The handball alley was built for his amusement by Marcus Lynch in c. 1905. The original cut stone walls can still be seen around parts of the outside shell. The additional concrete part was added about 30 years later. When Marcus Lynch died in 1916 his estate was sold, but the handball alley, along with the church and school (which was located on the site of the existing house beside the alley) were left to the community. The sport proved so popular that there were often queues of players lined up outside the walls waiting for their chance to play. At a tournament in 1929, the local parish priest, Fr Coyne, put up the prizes. Handball grew in popularity during the 1930s, with Galway City businessmen, including the jeweller, William Faller and draper, Mr Forken, along with Mr Francis from Spiddal, sponsoring prizes for tournaments. One article from the Connacht Tribune in September 1931 stated that 40 players had signed up in a bid to win gold medals! The games attracted huge crowds, who gathered at the end of the three-walled structure. The construction of a new road through Bearna, however, took away some of that space around the site in the 1960s, and a west-facing wall was subsequently added to contain the play. In 1933, Bearna hosted a series of matches which attracted teams from UCG (now NUIG) and the CYMS (Christian Young Men’s Society). Among the players were various Irish champions of the game.  Handball continued to be played during World War II, although there is little reporting of it. Coverage of the local game was revived in the 1960s, however, and an appeal was made in 1961 for a new site, as improvements to the main road would involve cutting across part of the court (most likely the viewing area behind it, rather than the court itself).   There was great newspaper coverage of the club in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thanks to Norah Anne Kavanagh and others who included the club news in the Barna Notes in the Connacht Tribune. The sport was so popular that there was talk of putting a roof on the handball alley so that it could be used all year round. Permission was sought, and granted, in October 1981.  Sadly, with Ireland heading into a major recession, the money could not be raised and the planning permission eventually lapsed. This coupled with emigration of the young men and a decline in the popularity of the game caused the facility to become a veritable canvas for graffiti artists.  Another attempt was made to roof it in 2008, but Galway County Council refused permission. This was appealed to the Planning Appeals Board, which concluded that a roof would have an “adverse impact on the amenities and character of the local landscape.”  The exterior today shows some signs of what the cut-stone structure may have originally looked like when built in 1905, but the inside became a far cry from what it was originally designed, with graffiti covering the markings and making it impossible to see the ball.  However, a long-held plan to transform the ball alley back to its original function has taken its first steps. It is envisioned that this will be the crown jewel in Bearna’s attempts to find success once again in the Tidy Towns competition – as it is the first thing that visitors to the village meet as the come west along the road from Galway City.   Denis O’Dwyer and John McMyler have taken on the task of reclaiming the handball alley for the community and returning it to full use once again. They have painted the four walls and floor/wall markings and plan to put up a net to keep handballs inside the structure. A metal door will be erected soon to keep graffiti artists and other ball players out.


Anonymous said...

Any chance of this alley getting a roof, like some of the other ones.. prob not the way money is now in the country.. good alley, except for the field the far side has a few slitors belong to me!!!!

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