Whilst thumbing through that wonderful Gerry O’Neill compiled Kilkenny GAA Bible, I became aware - again - of a team called Thomastown Rangers.
My inquisitive mind prompted further investigation. Contacting my long-time former Radio Kilkenny side-kick, Pat Treacy, he arranged for me to meet with some of the former warriors of the aforementioned ’Rangers.
Mike Treacy (Brendan’s dad) set up the interview. Normal procedures would involve meeting with aspiring interviewees in a public house, or maybe in the local GAA club.
On this occasion, however, Mike Treacy arranged the meeting in his home in Ballinamona (Ballyhale/Thomastown road). The opulence of the location was five star.
The welcome from Mike, his lovely wife, Sheila, and daughter, Michelle was heart-warming and genuine. We were directed to the sun room in which sat Eamon Dempsey, Pat and Mikey Bookle, Fr Leonard Forristal, Ray McEntee, Mike Treacy and Paddy O’Keeffe. A lovely crew!
Unwittingly we had succeeded in creating a reunion scenario for the former ’Rangers, who had not been together collectively probably since their last reunion in 1996. There was no shortage of hyperbole, exaggeration and maybe an odd, small lie.
Tongues and memories were lubricated by the finest the hospitable Treacy family could provide. After a decent time slot had been allocated to the conviviality of the occasion, and the renewal of former friendships, the story began to unravel.
The creation of the Thomastown Rangers club was instigated by an 8-10 to 0-2 trimming suffered by the Thomastown team against the famed Bennettsbridge side in the championship of 1955. The fortunes of the club had diminished drastically.
There was a sense of doom around the place. Different viewpoints were expressed as to how the fortunes of the club could be uplifted. Many felt the club should revert to the junior ranks.
Others objected with obdurate defiance to the concept of voluntary relegation. The original meeting decided that members should take time out to consider all of the possibilities, and choices.
It was decided to take two weeks grace from making any decision, and then return to the meeting to make a decision. A vote was taken, but the schism had already taken hold.
All in the ’People
The Kilkenny People of January 21, 1956 read: “A new GAA team was formed in Thomastown last week known as Thomastown Rangers. The officers elected to run the club are chairman Jim O’Neill; vice-chairman Jim Challoner; secretary Richard Forristal; treasurer Tommy Geoghegan. Committee - Tony Walsh, Mickey Cody, Johnny Kelly, Jimmy Leary, Luke Donnelly, Tom Cody, J.P. Monahan, Jim Power.”
We are talking of a time well in advance of the one Parish Rule coming into vogue.
Now that you had a new club to fashion, the first pre-requisite, Eamon Dempsey, was to find a new home. Was Grennan now out of bounds or what was the situation pertaining?
“At that time Grennan was available to Thomastown only on a term lease basis, so it would not have been feasible for us to move in on Thomastown’s territory. We originally trained in Kehoe’s field, and then we were afforded the use of Cronin’s field out in Jerpoint,” Eamonn explained.
The suggestion that state-of-the-art dressing and showering facilities were installed were met with incredulous merriment.
The ebullient Paddy O’Keeffe - I felt he was the joker in the pack - offered: “I’ll tell you now Barrie, the dressing facilities were of such a high standard that we were all in danger of being summoned for indecent exposure at any given time.” All roared with laughter.
“Even the Reverend priest?”
“I was still in the Seminary at the time,” enlightened Fr Leonard, “but I could have been a victim of circumstance at any time.” More jolliment!
I lobbed in a grenade. Given that you were dissatisfied with the Thomastown situation at the time, why didn’t you play with Mong, or the Grennan Rovers, or other like teams around the place?
“We wanted our own Thomastown team, with the Thomastown name,” shot back Mikey Bookle.
Like all embryonic clubs, the dreaded expenses problem reared its ugly head. However, the progressive Thomastown Rangers lads hit on a tried and trusted dance for their first fund-raiser.
Strange how history has a habit of repeating itself.
Now the Come Dancing idea has subsumed what the likes of Thomastown Rangers lads thought was a terrific idea all of 58 years ago.
The ’Rangers won their first challenge match which was played seven days after the first AGM. They didn’t know it at the time, but that win procedure set a precedent that was never to change for the duration of their 16 years existence.
They never lost a first round game in their history. They won their first round championship game against Mullinavat in 1956, played in Ballyhale. They won their second game too before failing narrowly to Kilmacow in the South semi-final.
Not a bad end game for the first season in championship fare. But their status had been noted by a number of clubs who were in the habit of organising parish fetes or tournaments. It did not escape notice that the crowds following these new kids - well, not exactly kids, more mature battle-hardened operatives - were pulling the crowds.
At that time, tournaments were of a greater significance than championships for some. The system at the time lent itself to the establishment of worthwhile tournaments. The new lads found themselves more and more in demand.
The championship at the time was one strike and you are dust, whereas the plentiness of tournament competitions had players hurling right through the Summer. As time passed, the ’Rangers forces were augmented with more players.
Their goalkeeper Ray McEntee was the best there was around. It took the excellence of his own townie, the legendary Ollie Walsh to keep him out of the Kilkenny No. 1 jersey. Pat Forristal was considered one of the best full-backs at junior level on the circuit, while his brother, clerical student, Leonard, was posting great performances on the occasions his studies allowed him to play.
He was assigned to the Kiltegan Fathers Mission field in Nigeria after his Ordination. His first stint away lasted three years. He was then allowed home on a two-year cycle. His visits home lasted for most of the hurling season, so it was only good housekeeping by the ’Rangers club who pencilled in their fixture list around the time Fr Leonard was in Thomastown.
Secretary James O’Neill was an excellent half back. In the early sixties, the ’Rangers had two teams in the South junior championship. They also had a minor team. The qualities of both junior teams were rather varied, although it served a purpose.
You see, there was a culture where if you had two teams, one of which was somewhat short in abilities, one would be assigned the sacrificial lamb role to tackle the better of the opposing teams pitted against the ’Rangers.
You just couldn’t “bate” the GAA for unmitigated subversion in those times.
Chomping at bit
My companions were obviously chomping at the bit to get to the famous South junior final when both Thomastown teams went head-to-head. This surely was the quintessential match-up between the tribes. We were back in the Stone Age where the supremacy of family was paramount.
Neutrality was not on the menu. People were forced to choose.
What was the pre-match atmosphere like in the parish?
“Well,” said a careful Mikey Bookle, “people were very considerate of the opinions they passed in conversation. I suppose in truth, that day was always a probability from the first day of the split. Of course there would be a couple of big-mouthed fools, but generally, while people didn’t publicly pin their colours to the mast, deep down everyone favoured one side or the other, but wouldn’t say.”
The game was played in Grennan. Were there many at it?
“Some would say it was like the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick,” smiled the quiet Pat Bookle.
He was enjoying every relived moment. Sheila called that the hospitality was ready, but she was respectfully informed that there was more important business unfolding and she thought the best consolation available was to join the gathering.
And sure why not; wasn’t she always a vibrant follower of the Rangers all her life.
Before that final there was an arduous road to be challenged. In the South semi-final against Dunnamaggin, the County Board ordered that the game be played in an enclosed pitch. Nowlan Park was the stipulated venue.
There was “a little history” between the sides, hence the decision on Nowlan Park. On the Dunnamaggin team were Tom Walsh and his brother ‘Link’, Tom Ryan, Olly Harrington, Podge Butler and plenty more creditable hurlers.
Sadly the ‘Link’, Tom and Tom Ryan have passed to their Eternal Reward, and it was not surprising that as their names were mentioned all expressed the usual commemorative prayer at the mention. The ’Rangers won a tight game, with Denis Treacy scoring nine points.
And so to the final in Grennan.
Crowd not cheated
The numbers in attendance, who expected high jinks, were not to be cheated. They got value for their bucks!
Was it tough, we wondered? Most roared laughing.
Paddy O’Keeffe’s caught the mood: “You remember those films where the Christians were thrown to the lions? Well that was tough. What went on in Grennan that day was well above that.”
“There were three from the ’Rangers sent to the line, and two from Thomastown,” recalled Eamonn Dempsey.
Had I permission to name the early leavers?
On a unanimous vote I was given the blessing to go ahead (they all agreed that my court expenses would be taken care of).
So who went first?
“First off was this lad,” said Mike Treacy, pointing to Paddy O’Keeffe.
Did he make the walk unaccompanied?
“Begor he didn’t. Tommy Hayes (you mean the real TH) went with him,” said Mike.
And the charge?
“Let us put it this way,” said Mike; “conduct unbecoming.” (I’m not going to court for anyone).
The laugh of the evening.
“Olly McEntee and Johnny Delaney,” said Ray McEntee. “Fightin’ - guilty as charged.”
Who made the lonely walk alone, and for what?
“Joe Devoy,” said Pat Bookle, “for giving guff to the ref.”
I nearly forgot. Thomastown won the game by 1-8 to 2-1. They went on to win the county final against Coon.
It is worth recording the ’Rangers team - Ray McEntee, Olly McEntee (RIP), Pa Forristal, Jimmy Bookle (RIP), Tommy Madigan (RIP), Mick Bohane (RIP), Paddy Cullen, Paddy O’Keeffe, Larry O’Neill (RIP), Mick ‘Mugga’ O’Neill, Denis Treacy (RIP), Joe Devoy, Pa Bookle, John Walsh, Tony Stapleton. Subs used - Willie O’Keeffe, Eamonn Dempsey, J.P. Monahan.
Lost to Rower
In 1963 the Rower Inistioge took out the ’Rangers in the South fnal. The losers were in front by five points, but one Eddie Keher exploded, bagged 1-2, and with further goals by Pudsy Murphy and Danny ‘Cracker’ White, the Rower ran out five point winners.
Seamie Cleere was the referee, and the final was played in 1964.
The club formed a basketball team to carry them through the Winter months. The ’Rangers again went to the South final in 1964. They took care of Mooncoin in the semi-final, and then accounted for Windgap in the South final.
It was tough, hard and close. Paddy Buggy was the feferee, and Mikey Bookle kicked (some in Windgap will say that he threw it whilst lying on the ground) the winning goal. The ‘Fightin’ Rangers’ were on the way to their first county final.
Exciting times were the order of the day, but what memories did you have lads?
“I can assure you that they were not good memories, as we were hammered by Gowran,” said Fr Leonard. “The weather was atrocious, with howling wind and driving rain.”
“Maybe we were over worked, or whatever, but Galmoy wiped the floor with us,” said Ray.
“We made too many mistakes and paid the price,” said Pat Bookle.
“We played against the ferocious elements in the first half, and that did us,” said Paddy O’Keeffe. “They got a lot of early goals, and at half time they were out of sight. It was a bad day for us all.”
Those were the halcyon days of the Thomastown Rangers 16 year existence.
They continued to participate, on and off the field. Paddy O’Keeffe started the bingo in the town. The crowds attending were huge, so much so that buses outside of the hall were wired for sound to keep the attendees happy, as there was no room left in the hall.
Names like Forristal, O’Neill, Donnelly, Bookle, O’Keeffe, McEntee, Cullen, Treacy, Dempsey, Madigan, Kelly, Minogue, Walsh (Dangan and Cappagh) and others continued to serve. Eventually the sides were drawn back together when the legendary Ollie Walsh and Richard Forristal led the mediation process.
In 1972 the parish was united again.
The new name for the “new” club was and still is officially, Thomastown United. The ’Rangers had made an enormous contribution to the game in the county, and in their town. Many wore the black and amber, including Ray McEntee, Denis Treacy, Pat Forristal, John Doyle, Larry and Mick O’Neill, John Walsh, Jimmy ‘Clohessy’ Walsh, Eamonn Dempsey and others.
During the conversation we learned about characters, not necessarily players who made a contribution.
I heard of ‘Butty’ Whelan, P.J. White and others. Some may be gone but they are fondly remembered by the mighty ’Rangers, who made a mark.
Sheila Treacy made the occasion so memorable by treating all to a magnificent meal, topped with apple tart and cream. We left early (around midnight) as the ’Rangers sat down again to imbibe, eat again and relive every last memory that flashed before them.
It was a privilege to be among such lovely company.