Fundraising, the hungry 70’s, a new school and Callans first and last lord mayor

Frank Mc Kenna Addressing the gathering to celebrate the launch of Coláiste Éamann Rís. (photo Ignatius O’Neill)

The recently launched book ‘Coláiste Éamann Rís’ is 400 pages of the history and times of the CBS School in Callan, county Kilkenny. It celebrates 154 years and tells the story of the school from the early days and those who passed through the gates. One contributor to the book is Callan man Barrie Henriques. In this, the second week , we reproduce Barrie’s memories of the school.

With thanks to Ignatius O’Neill for main pic at launch

Part two

Last week I spoke of my memories of growing up in a challenging Ireland, my arrival in Callan and attempts by the local GAA to purchase a new grounds. Welcome back.

Collections were taken at any amenable, and available location. There were hurling and football matches. Some were fun others like the football challenge between students and Staff plus a few willing outsiders were an opportunity for a modicum of payback. Raffle tickets came out of every orifice of one’s body. Friends scarpered into some hole or mineshaft whenever or wherever we appeared in the cross hairs. The ladies made every conceivable garment and household gadget, in addition enough sandwiches and cups of tea that would have tested the capabilities of a decent cargo ship to haul. Whist and Bridge were common place as well as big poker Tournaments. There were Greyhound Race nights at the Kilkenny Track, duck races on the Kings River. To harvest the required financing of both enterprises, it was necessary to raise the game-you would spend a lot of time selling the raffle tickets to make £120,000.

As I said, anywhere there was a “bob” to be made, we were not too far removed. The whole fundraising collective-pardon the pun- stretched over a few years.

Two ideas readily come to mind for reasons I will expand upon. It was decided to do a 100- mile sponsored cycle, and the other was the election of a Lord Mayor of Callan. The GAA had their candidate, while the Brothers had a local Garda. There were other representatives from other local organisations in the race.

Bear in mind we are talking about the hungry 70s. The regular fundraising incorporated a dance, or a raffle where you got three tickets for a “bob” (one shilling. There were 20 of them in £1). The sub committees behind all Candidates really embraced the concept for the common good. All of them worked tirelessly to get their Candidate over the line in front. They ran separate fundraisers in support of their man. Some of the ideas were mind-blowing off the wall events. But they were widely supported if for nothing else but their ingenuity. One such was a “cowshy” competition organised by the late Jack Lyons from Bauntha -what an iconic Callan man was he?

The playing area of John Locke Park was divided into hundreds of squares. The squares were purchased for 2 shillings a square. They were all numbered in numerical order. Jack brought “a scuttery cow” (his words) into the middle of the field in his cow box. He released the poor cow, and wherever the cow deposited a “package”, the number of the square was checked and the lucky winner was announced. People surrounded the field, encouraging/discouraging the hapless cow towards their square. For hours we waited, and waited for the cow to ablute. Unfortunately, the hours crept towards darkness and still no performance. Jack was distraught with his animal. Looking into his parked cow box, Jack noticed that the cow had defecated to World record dimensions in the cow box on the way in from Bauntha, and just as it was being contemplated the misfortunate cow obliged before nightfall. The craic on the afternoon/night will go down in the annals of fundraising for Posterity.

That via doloroso that was the sponsored cycle of over 100 miles!

As some other scribe is writing about it I cannot let the occasion pass without my personal reference. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I left the CBS in Portarlington in 1958. I volunteered for the sponsored ride with every intention of doing some familiarisation with a saddle. I procured a decent lump of foam rubber to appease the anticipated posterior aggravation. When I arrived home in Callan late evening after setting off from Westcourt at around the 8.30 am start, not one flitter of that foam rubber was on the saddle of the bike, and it didn’t fall off on the journey. I leave the rest to your imagination dear reader!

Another bicycle little ditty from a long list of bicycle ditties! A female rider was part of the endeavour that left Westcourt. In truth, when I looked at the bike, I had a premonition that neither bike nor lady would complete the course. The Lady was of a rotund -very rotund- disposition, and it would have been debated as to the capabilities of either bike or Lady to complete the demands of a 100-mile cycle. Our fears were realised when as the group arrived on the Square of Callan heading out for Clonmel, at the butt of Green Street hill, the bike gave up the ghost, and the Lady retired to her bed.

Many of the fundraising enterprises furnished ancillary rewards other than the anticipated financial returns – the £120,000 needed to kick-start a new school and a new GAA centre. A great sense of achievement was abounding when same event exceeded expectation. Of course, there were some into which a copious amount of energy was invested with a poor end-product. There was great fun too as the effort progressed; there was one or two fractious events where demarcation lines of propriety were breached.

The Lord Mayor of Callan was one such event. All interested parties ran with a prospective candidate for the “Mayoral Chain”. Historically, there had never been a Mayor of Callan, and while the Candidates and their followers careered through two months of canvassing, there was great fun. Every vote cost two shillings (24 pence). There were three main Candidates in the running. The Local Press were captivated with the idea, and their copy carried copious reports of the progress every week. Different factions were vying with each other to grab the Headlines. Stories excelled with outrageous diatribe. But as the run-in to the final days of the count, much of the healthy competitiveness turned to less than amicable banter. With respect “Trumpism” became an issue, before the former US President’s ancestors left Germany.

Eventually at a reception in the packed Parish Hall, it was announced that a local Garda had won the election, representing the CBS. While many were thrilled others were more than miffed. Some even called for a re-count, others couldn’t care less. It was not called Callainn an Clamper for nothing. There never was another Mayor of Callan.

After it all, both projects were sufficiently funded thankfully. It was an astonishing achievement by the people of Callan, and both projects, the envy of many, stand proudly for all to feel good about, a testament to a job well done by a proud people.

As a Journo for years with both local and National papers, I had on numerous occasions to interview personalities who would be visiting Westcourt, the birthplace of Edmund Rice. Brothers like Curators Br. Phil O’Reilly -the big Monaghan man -Br. Liam Burke, and Br. Damien Brennan (alas, all of whom have gone to meet their maker) would have invited me to interview the notable visitors for “Radio Kilkenny”, and the Kilkenny People. Two such made a lasting impression. The iconic Donnacha O Doulainn enthralled all as he recorded his “The Highways and By-ways” in the house where Edmund Rice first saw the light of day.

Another intriguing man I interviewed was Dr. Roberto Canessa, who came to Westcourt to see where Edmund Rice was born. He was one of 16 survivors who survived after the plane carrying the Christians Rugby team to Chile from Uruguay crashed in the Andes mountains, a result of a horrendous Pilot error. Roberto and his friend Nando Parado walked for 16 days across the snow- covered Andes to get help. The Rugby team were from an Irish Christian Brothers school in Montevideo, a College revered by every pupil that ever came through its gates. Dr. Roberto wrote an account of the tragedy “Alive”. I watched him weep as he looked on the bed in which Edmund Rice was born.

‘Coláiste Éamann Rís –Celebrating 154 years in Callan’ is available in outlets in Callan

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