Old Time Fun and Games

Callan Street Team: 1946. Pictured are: Back Row: PJ Nolan, D. Lynch, J. Somers, Jim Holden, Jackie Nolan, P. Holden, D. Carey, L. Tynan. Middle Row: B. Barry, T. Kilroy, J. Walsh, M. Gardiner, T. Nolan. Front Row: Milo Carey, Milo Hackett.)

Part two


Miss Butler’s Team Spirit

A woman who certainly made her mark in Callan was Miss Butler, who started the Minauns hurling and football teams in 1906. She was a sister of Colonel William Butler, who was also a great benefactor to the town.

His granduncle, John Dunphy of Minauns, donated property to the Christian Brothers, which included houses in Bridge Street and West Street, and part of Westcourt demesne, thus enabling them to become established in Callan.

Butlers had a small creamery in the Minauns before Callan Co-op bought the buildings in West Street from James Cahill of Kilbricken.

Miss Butler recognised the value of sport in promoting healthy lives and a spirit of camaraderie. So, in the autumn of 1906, she set about recruiting would-be hurlers and footballers to represent their own little neck of the woods in matches against all-comers.

Young fellows eagerly responded to her entreaty. The lads trained and honed their skills on a long field in the Minauns. Several times a week they entered the “pitch” through double iron-gates to practise.

The teams won a fair few matches, but their lifespan was short. After a few years, Miss Butler married and settled in South Africa. Her departure was a setback for sport in the town, though the famed “Lockes” filled part of the vacuum.

Among those who played on Miss Butler’s teams were: Bill Russell and his brother Nicky; Jack Rice, John Fogerty, Willie Hackett, Mattie Durney, Nicky Halley, Jaksie Power of Haggardsgreen; Jack Ward, Ned and Josie Mahoney; Pierce, Johnny, and Joe Dowling of Bridge Street; Bill and Jack Ryan of the Minauns; Lin Kelly and Paddy Holden of Mill Lane.


The Barefoot Hurlers

While the history of the Lockes teams in Callan is well documented, the story of the town’s “unofficial” sportsmen and boys- the barefoot hurlers- is often overlooked by the more serious- minded aficionados of Gaelic Athletic prowess in days gone by.

In the economically sparse years that preceded World War One, the Fair Green bustled with sporting activity

When conventional pre-arranged games were not being played on the old pitch, fellows from the four streets would hold their own matches and abide by their own set of rules that could be amended, stretched, or occasionally forgotten about altogether as the situation (or loudest or most influential voice around) demanded.

Each team represented a street in the town and had seventeen players. There were no committees, team captains, jerseys, or trainers involved, and no medals or other prizes for the winning side. Most of the lads wore no boots or shoes either.

They played in their bare feet or stockings. There was, however, a referee, usually one of the experienced Lockes men.

To make the showdowns even more challenging-or frustrating-depending on how you saw it-many of the players had no hurleys either. They had to borrow them from the Lockes men or use improvised worn out hockey sticks, broken hurleys, sally half flats, or croomogues.

The irregular games were complicated further by the presence on the Green of Mahoney’s sheep and a temperamental donkey named Sylvester owned by local man Jack Walsh.

But the lads did their best to put on a good show for the fans, many of who couldn’t find sitting space on the iron seats under the trees inside the Coolagh Wall.

The hurlers in these matches were ill-supervised, as referees were open to any and all sorts of undue influence from the crowd, the players, or fellows who had appRocheed them in the pubs the night before and bought them unhealthy amounts of beer or spirits.

Matches between competing street teams were not advertised in the local newspaper, but by word of mouth. Peter Roughan recalled how “fixtures” were agreed upon:

“Davy Reilly might bring back a challenge from the Mill Street lads that Budgie Corcoran’s men would knock hell out of Green Street; or maybe Paddy Holden of Mill Lane would send word up West Street by some of the Kilbricken creamery boys to Paddy Kenny that Bridge Street would hurl the heads off ’em when they caught the West Street lads on the Green next time”.

To be continued…

My book Callan in Words and Pictures has more stories about those bygone days. It’s available on Amazon and on loan from Kilkenny County Library

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