Towards the end of the seventies a courageous band of men, aided by a more courageous parish priest, decided that they should purchase a home for their own needs to the exclusion of the traditional grace and favour arrangement which applied to enable them to use a traditional piece of real estate willed for, and to, the people of Callan to play their games.
The word recession is certainly not a new phenomenon to those men today, because 30 years ago or more, Ireland, and the town of Callan was also gripped in a back-breaking recession. Times were very difficult, and money was very scarce, or at least leisure money was as rare as hen’s teeth.
But the men of those times knew that if the population of Callan continued to increase, the demands for hurling, football and camogie space was certainly going to grow.
The committee of the John Lockes GAA club at the time were amazed when at an annual dinner dance they heard Fr Liam Dunne CC announce that the club was about to buy its own ground.
I remember well (I was chairman) asking secretary, Barry Hickey, where the ground was being purchased. I even castigated him slightly for not keeping the committee updated with the news, because like all clubs at the time, we had barely enough finance to keep the ’Lockes solvent. There was a continuous battle with treasurers, Paddy and E.J. Ryan about money.
We enquired from the great priest, Fr Dunne, what field was being purchased, where it was and how much would it cost.
“Fr Kennedy told me that he had agreed in principal to buy Billy Fennelly’s field, and that he would help us along the way,” he told us.
Thirty three years later many of the same men were in the Callan parish hall recently to witness the signing of a new contract with Ormonde Construction to re-develop the once iconic John Lockes Park to the tune of €1-million.
A number of the original men of vision have departed this land, but it was absolutely marvellous to meet and share the historic occasion with the likes of Johnny Wall, Paddy Ryan, Mick Corcoran, Fr Liam Cassin, Joe O’Dwyer, Harry Bryan, E.J. Ryan, Tom Ryan, Pat Power, John Stapleton, and Barry Hickey.
There was a great crowd of Callan people gathered, some to renew acquaintances and friendships, others to take stock of what might be happening in the town. Some others were gathered to glow in the reflected acclaim of their sibling’s contributions to an art competition organised in the schools by committee member, Martin Fahy. And what a superb effort on that front was presented by the children of the local schools.
The Organising Committee were delighted with the impact the launch made. Local lad, Joe Kearney kicked off proceedings with an appropriate scéal about an incursion into bandit territory, Mullinahone, when still a gossun around Ballinashighe. His mam, Nancy was in the audience, and the joy, happiness and pride in her beaming face was worth the ‘entrance money’.
Brought house down
It screamed “my boy dun well, coming back home to meet his own”.
The three stellar John Lockes officials, John Walker, Declan Roche and Sean Hogan were eloquently impressive when speaking, without a fault, about the new development, its need, its composition and its servicing aspirations with well-placed funding.
The President of the club, Bishop Seamus Freeman, a very decent footballer in his time, spoke of football in famed Coolagh, the composition of teams, the legitimacy of teams, the geographical spread of selections and of course the age legalities of under-age teams.
He brought the house down when speaking of a minor player shouting “pass the ball daddy.”
Chairman of the County Board, Paul Kinsella spoke of the time when John Locke Park was the temporary main pitch in the county, hosting inter-county National League games and major club matches.
“My own club, St Martin’s were delighted to have first call on the place during their march to their one and only All-Ireland club title. What was innovative at the time was the construction of the famous tunnel, which was unique to most pitches. I’m delighted to be with you all, as I have always had a soft spot for your club, and I well remember the welcome afforded to us in Muckalee,” he said.
Parish priest, Fr Dalton spoke with tremendous encouragement, as did TD John McGuinness. The former Junior Minister was hugely instrumental in the club receiving generous Lotto grant aid.
He too was loud in his admiration for the courage of the club, and he wished them well in their endeavours. He complimented them on being a credit to their own place, and aligned himself with the industry and ambitious plans the club was undertaking.
The programme of speakers was such an excellently chosen one, that nobody in the well-filled hall left before the final word. Former club secretary and present County Board treasurer, Barry Hickey took the audience on a trip down memory lane with great gusto, and finally, in his usual inimitable, professional fashion, Nickey Brennan, the former GAA President, officially launched the new redevelopment.
It was an historic night for the John Lockes of Callan, a night that will book-end what should be a milestone in setting up the club for a very positive future.