Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Co. Carlow Football Club

A century and still going strong
by Liam D. Bergin
The Nationalist December 18, 1981

 "PLAY the Game", was an expression often heard on the sidelines of the football field when I was young. It usually meant a call to play the ball and not the man.

In this age when sport has become highly professional and often infested with a strong mention of national politics, the amateur tends to get swamped. Sport has become infected by show business, but then, so has the news and a great many other pursuits.

Such thoughts cross my mind as I took up the 200 page hard-backed book, which tells the rugby history of Co. Carlow Football Club between 1873 and 1977.

In his introduction, Editor Tom O'Brien, says it represents the work of many members. But it would be less than fair to say that only for Tom O'Brien himself, the book might never have got into print. For he was the compiler, the co-ordinator, and the moving spirit behind this magnificent production.

Players' game

Rugby may not hold a candle to the universal predominance of soccer, but unlike soccer, it has remained a players game and, in parts of the world like Wales, the subject of tradition and folklore. The Rugby Union code has developed since its origination in 1823 at Rugby School in England, and though it has spread through many lands, the game was originally found only in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It could well be said to have become almost the national game of Wales. But it has developed and improved, and that development owes much to the sheer virtuosity skill of the French, the All-Blacks of New Zealand and the Australians.

When the Co. Carlow F.C. was founded, 10 years before this newspaper set up shop, in 1883, rugby was surely a minority sport. Today it has truly come of age as a team game of great popularity.

One begins to feel old when looking at the picture of the Co. Carlow F.C. founder, Col. Horace Rochford. He died in 1891. I can still remember his son, on the touch line urging Carlow teams to victory in the 1920s.

As I scan the list of captains I see that the late Paddy Lawlor, led the Carlow team the year I was born 1913. Familiar names who played the game and cherished its spirit I also remember names like Johnny Melrose, Tom Lawler, Jack Julian, Ray McDonnell, the Slococks, Robin McConkey, Jim Oliver and Willie Duggan, happily still with us and Willie Fenelon, with whom I played myself and rowed, and who was one of the most stylish out-half's in the game during the 1930s.

First meetings

I remember the Club House Hotel where the first meetings of the Co. Carlow F.C. were held from 1873. I also remember the two Miss McAleeses who looked after the place when it became the County Club. One of them used to play from her vast repertoire, the piano for the old silent films in the picture house in Burren St. where the Post Office now stands. It was one of the jobs of Pavy Mulhall, the bill poster to see that the cinema was well displayed. And, of course, the late Joe Carter worked the projector. I can remember being at parties in the old club house.

Tom O'Brien's article on the beginning of rural rugby mentions the connection between the Cricket Club and the Co. Carlow F.C. They both met in the same building in Dublin St., now occupied by St. Bridgets Hospital.

Tom also mentions the Carlow Polo club founded in 1873 and its venue at Tinypark House vacated by the rugby players when they moved to the Rectory field.

Won fame

Of course, the Polo Club also moved eventually from Tinypark to the polo field which was on the right hand side of the Tullow Road between what is today the last roundabout and what use to be Wall's Forge. Carlow had some well known polo players including Dr. Matt Colgan who lived in the house now occupied by the Crotty family on Athy Rd. There were also, the famous Rourke family who afterwards won fame in the polo fields of the world and emigrated to California. Also the British garrison in Carlow and elsewhere played on the Tullow Rd. in my young days. A memory of the game was to follow me when I went to Knockbeg College, for the Rector had purchased the old polo pavilion which is erected on the side Knockbeg's main football pitch.

I also remember the Langran's of the old "Carlow Sentinel", which ceased publication in the 1920s. They were all very active in the rugby club.

In the 1920s and early 30s, one of the most remarkable features of the game in these parts was the emergence of a senior team in the relatively small town of Enniscorthy. The formidable members of this team were the Lett brothers. And Carlow, still in junior status, did not hesitate to take Enniscorthy seniors on once a year.

I remember participating in one St. Stephen's Day game against Lansdowne in Dublin. We were subsequently entertained at the Old Jury's Hotel. I can remember the late Paddy Ryan participating.

Variety show

After the dinner at Jury's we were taken to a variety show in the old Theatre Royal by none other than the famous Ernie Crawford, Ireland's many capped full-back in the days when it would have been heresy for a full back to come into the line a la Andy Irvine and many others.

Until it was demolished, Tynan's Hotel in Tullow St., succeeded as the venue for rugby club committee meetings. There, Mrs. Deasy, the lady known as Aunty Pat, and Michael Deasy, reigned. And Brooks was the general factotum. Eventually, of course, Tynans Hotel was demolished. It was transformed into the Ritz Cinema and the Buttery Bar. During the reconstruction, which produced the cinema and the Ritz Ballroom, an indescribable temporary haunt of the bridge players and drinkers came to life, to keep the Tynan licence alive. It became locally known as "Dirty Dicks".

A purely temporary structure, it developed a certain atmosphere which died when the Ritz cinema, the Buttery and Tynans and the Ritz Ballroom arose Phoenix-like out of the old hotel's ruins. And many a committee meeting of the rugby club was held there and many a team was picked, until ballroom and cinema were finished and M. J. Deasy became the first manager. He was followed by Paddy Tynan, a native of the town, whose family had been connected with the old hotel. For years it had been the water-hole of many well-known characters.

Tony recalls

In the club history, Tony Craughan recalls some of the knocks and the laughs he encountered while playing for Carlow. Surely this worthy history of the Co. Carlow F.C. should succeed in stimulating some of the older members, still with us, I can think of two, like James J. Oliver (Senior) and Bill Duggan, who, in the oral tradition can produce at the drop of a hat, stories of unusual and sometimes hilarious happenings that took place on and off the rugby field when they themselves and many others, now gone to their reward, were in full flight in pursuit of the oval ball.

Most of the stories told about my late father, P. C. Bergin, are known to others. He often told me how they used to smuggle priests like the late Fr. Jim Prendergast out of St. Patrick's College for Senior Cup matches, totally against diocesian rules.

I congratulate Tom O'Brien, the editor, and all those who contributed in making this marvellous record of the Co. Carlow F.C. possible, a hundred years or more in two hundred engaging pages. A record of the Black and Amber and of the first provincial rugby club in Ireland has set down there by posterity for posterity.

Source: Carlow Nationalist


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