Club History

History of Collooney Handball Club by Michael McGee

The Town of Collooney has been synonymous with the playing of handball long before official records began. The game had been played in the Collooney area in several locations – wherever a flat wall could be located. Various records show the game being played at least from the 1850’s onwards.
The existing 60 x 30 court is situated on the “Fair Green” under the watchful eye of the spire of the Church of the Assumption. The handball court is both a landmark and a legacy handed down from generation to generation with each playing a major role in its maintenance and survival.
Up to 1928 there would have been no handball alley in Collooney. The market house in the village had been burned down on St. Patrick’s Day during the troubles in 1921/1922. The Collooney dramatic club was formed in order to raise funds to build and an alley. The first official records with regards to the alley was a meeting  which was actually held on the footpath outside Cullen’s Licenses Premises in the village in order to raise funds. The Chairman at the time was Alfie Higgins, a signal man on the Midland Railway with WP McElroy acting as Secretary. It was decided to approach the major land owners in the area. The Cooper Family of Markree Castle in order to try and acquire a plot on the Fairgreen in which to build a handball court. Bryan R. Cooper kindly agreed to grant a lease to the club of the site at the Fairgreen with the entrance at the lower Fairgreen gate on the Old Barrack Road.  The Engineer retained for the project was Mr. Fowley a Dublin man who worked with Cooper family at the time.
Messers Maloney, Gilhawley & Taylor from Enniscrone were employed to do the main contract work.  A price was agreed of  £100. It was also agreed that labour would be supplied by the locals. These Builders had recently completed the Convent School in the village. Dances and plays were run by the local dramatic society in the old Camphill School in order to raise funds for the project. The admittance price was 3,2 & 1 shilling and 2d for a book on the day.  The dances were held afterwards at a cost of half a crown. From the first play £50 was raised. All the actors came from the Collooney area. They included Pat Gilroy, J. Kilcoyne, John Charles Brennan, Mick Lily, Bridie Jennings, Tom Kelly, Pat Watters, Dan, Francie & Kathleen Clifford, Florrie, Connie & Madeline Coyne, Jimmy Corrigan, Kathleen Madden, Evelyn Quigley & Peggy McDonald. The backstage workers were Owen Kelly, Jimmy Kilcoyne & Charles Brennan.
The first official records with regard to the existing handball court relates to a lease which was granted on the 17th July 1928 from the Landlord Bryan R. Cooper in favour of the local Trustees who at that stage were Michael McElroy of Main Street Collooney, Patrick McGarry Old Street Collooney and Henry Rooney of  Rockhaven. Work commenced on the erection of the ball alley immediately. At that stage the Court consisted of front wall and two side walls. Money for the development was  raised by organised plays and dances. Most of these took place in the local Camphill School. Local involved were Michael John Waters, Denny Roooney, Jim McGarry & Mick Feeney.
The first official game was played in 1928 with a number of guest matches. Joe & Paddy Bergin who has local connections and were then residing in Tipperary played Jim Hunt & Eddie Perry from Sligo. Others in action included John Joe Lane, Guard Cunnion from Ballintogher, Jim & Mickey O’Rourke from Ballisodare, Howley & Daly from Swinford and McManus from Gurteen. The games were played in the traditional softball manner.

Throughout the years major changes consisted of extending the side wall and the erection of a low back wall. Many of the great players associated with the club then and now were also prominent GAA County Stars. Names first come to mind were the great Mickey Noone, who played top of the right in Sligo’s first ever Connacht Championships title in 1928. Other names associated with the 1928 team were Mick Jennings, Georgie Higgins, Jack Brennan & Sonny Weir, Further names that come to mind are Paddy, Francie & Vincent Clifford who played in the forty’s and fifty’s. Paddy Clifford was the Chairman of the Sligo G.A.A Board  when the Nestor Cup was brought back to Sligo in 1975 and one of his proudest moments was the bring the cup back to the town.
Players from surrounding areas like Ballisodare and Ballygawley came to play in Collooney. Competitions were organised in the 40’s in the senior and junior grades. It cost one shilling to enter. In 1944 Father Foye ran competitions for school boys with Mick Mannion taking charge of the teams. The prominent players who played in the 30’s were John & Michael Mannion, Sonny Hennessy, Tom McGodrick, Packie Brennan, Pat Gilroy, Freddie Irwin, Mick Jennings, Owen Kelly, Tom Flynn, John Walsh, John Armstrong, Michael Hargadon, JP Branigan, Tom Collery, John Joe Lane, Martin Conlon,  Brian McGarry, John Flynn, Liam Candon, John Tom McGoldrick and others.
Prominent players in the 40’s were Paddy &Vincent Brennan, Ansulum Doyle, Sonny Hennessy. Other stars of both football and handball were Fintan Quigley, Kevin Darcy, Padraig Lang, Michael McTiernan and of course the Walsh brothers Dessie, Paddy & Raphael. Other names associated with the club during those years include Michael & Aidan Flynn, Tony Grey, Johnny Brown of Ballisodare,  the O’Rourkes of  Ballisodare, the Nairns of  Ballisodare, the great John Joe Lane, Tom Collery, Freddie Irwin, Sonny Weir, Jim Bonner, Gerry Connolly, John Kehoe and John & Michael Mannnion. Players from the recent past include Paddy Callaghan, Jimmy Scanlon & Mick McDonagh.
Players from the past ten years include Shane Bruen, Vincent McKeon, Hugh McGarry, Connell Cannon, Peter Davey, Michael McGee, John McLoughlin, Ken Cunningham, Pat O’Sullivan, Seamus Duffy, Michael McMorrow, Peter Chambers and a crop of young players both male & female who have won numerous Connacht titles to date.
In the mid seventy’s a number of people got together and decided to put up a galvanised roof in the alley. This meant that could continue despite the elements. The installation of lights in the alley in the 1980’s meant that games could be played after dark.
In 1996/97 major construction work was undertaken to extend the height of all the walls to 27ft and installing a new floor. Dressing rooms for both male and females were installed in 1999. The old galvanised roof was replaced in 2001 with a modern roof which meant that the ball alley was as good as any in the country at that time. These enhanced facilities and its excellent geographical location meant that Collooney was regularly chosen to host Connacht Championships games and a number of All-Ireland semi-finals and finals took place.
The monies to complete the work to date was mostly raised by community based fundraising ventures of bed pushes, sponsored cycles, Queen of Tirerrill Beauty Competition, weekly draws and  “Give us a  clue” competition etc. Two grants were also received from the Department of Sports & Tourism, one for €2,000 and the second for €10,000.
An enormous amount of credit must go to the different committees over the years who worked tirelessly to accumulate enough funds to bring the alley to what it is today. Construction costs to date are approx €200,000. The present committee is always mindful of the great work that has been done by the various committees going back as far as the time that independence was obtained for this country.
At present a committee led by Development Chairman Hugh McGarry have started a major project to build a new 40 x 20 court adjacent to the 60 x 30 court.  The committee consist of Brendan Carey, Stanley Harte, Shane Bruen, Seamus Duffy, Michael McMorrow, Peter Davey, Peter Chambers, Connell Cannon, Mick Kelly & Paddy Walsh. This is costing in the region of €200,000 to build.  Andy Healy President of the Boston Sligo Association kindly donated $2,000 dollars to the club in August 2009. Members also put in €5 each week and the weekly Bingo in Collooney hall each Thursday evening is the club’s major fundraising asset. Planning permission was sought and in an historic occasion on May 18th 2012 the first sod was turned by Maureen Mullin & Micheal Flynn. TG4 sent down a camera crew to record the historic occasion. There was one wall exhibitions played by Ocean FM presenters Francis Boylan & David Murtagh and a celebrity one wall match between Tomas Healy & Johnny Banks.
A little over 12 months later on Monday August 12th  2013 the eagerly start to the 40 x 20 court finally took place. Shane Malone from Roscommon is the main contractor on the project which is costing €200,000 to build. The club received Sports lottery funding of €50,000 to aid the project.
The club is particularly lucky to have one of the best known names in handball Paddy Walsh. Paddy is the holder of twenty nine All-Ireland titles and last October 2013 he received the distinguished Civic Reception from Sligo Lord Mayo Marcella McGarry.  The club is also fortunate to have Paddy’s handball partner Mick Kelly who has just recently retired also committed to the management of the facility in conjunction with the committee.  It is also hoped to upgrade the 60 x 30 court in time and to replace the roof  together with a  glass back wall in the big court.

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