Old time fun and games

Callan teachers and business folk versus CBS lads in 1980 match Pictured are: Back Row: Br. S. Dunne, Pat Brennan, Tom Walsh, Tim Shea, Joe Dwyer, Hugh Ward, Br. Jacob, Alan Garvey, Chris Doocey, Fr. Liam Dunne/ Front Row: G. Duggan, Harry Bryan, Eddie Guinan, Liam Bergin, Christy Vaughan, D. Duggan, Eddie Nolan, Tim Kennedy



1925 proved to be a vast improvement on the previous round of Callan sporting competitions. This time, the High Jump was added to the list of fixtures.

And a race laden with what Martin Kelly called “special handicaps” complemented the action in style: this ingenious event encompassed a number of races, involving several categories of entrants, who had to overcome many mind-boggling obstacles in addition to outrunning their rival competitors.

The contestants in each race (aged from twelve to sixty five) had first to scramble under a pegged down canvass spread across West Street from one of the Creamery Gates.

On the other side of the canvass they were tossed with rotten eggs and tomatoes. Having recovered their wits, they had to tie their boot or shoelaces, all of which had been opened by the Race Handicapper before “starter’s orders.”

Once he had his footwear laced, a competitor could continue, but not before being handed a roasting hot potato which he had to devour, skins and all, before reaching the finishing line. The spuds were boiled on Martin Kelly’s hob and conveyed quickly by volunteers to the runners, who, incidentally, had trained for two months prior to the event.

The dancing, though, would dominate the fun, and boost the attendances fifty-fold.

But where would a platform be found? The worried enthusiasts had asked, just a week before the 1925 sports day. Martin Kelly revealed he had his eye on a County Council notice board that was “just lying idle” against Hugh Ronan’s wall.

It normally carried important public notices from the Council. Using it for any purpose other than that was deemed unthinkable, but Martin knew that Stephen Cass, the Council Overseer, was an uncle of Committee member, Jimmie Robinson.

Jimmie met his uncle in a pub and bRocheed the subject. He praised the quality of Stephen’s hurling activities with a team in Tullaroan and buttered him up in any other way he could think of. Though hesitant at first, Stephen cautiously gave in and nodded his assent: Jimmie shook his hand vigorously, and almost ran from the pub to relay the good news to Martin Kelly.

“We have it! We have it!” he shouted, out of breath and almost beside himself with relief. So the platform for the dancing was put in place. It was tastefully laid on top of a heap of stones at Hugh Ronan’s gate.

The sports day was followed by a long night of dancing in West Street. Couples from a radius of forty or more miles around Callan danced lancers. Two of the town’s best melodeon players, Ben Durney and Sam Funchion had the crowd in high spirits, aided by Jimmie Robinson on the fiddle.

According to Peter Roughan, it was Christy Ryan of Carabine Bridge (he later emigrated to Ellesmere Port), and Jimmy Gethings who set the ball rolling that night.

They were sitting on the sill of Healy’s front window, Christy playing a fife and Jim a fiddle, joining in the melody that kicked off the session. People were looking at each other, wondering which couple would be first to mount the platform and dance to the music.

Impatient to get the dancing started, Martin Kelly found partners for Jimmy and Christy: Peter Roughan’s mother and a Mrs. Bergin. The two dancing couples held the crowd in thrall as they danced a flamenco, a two-step, a dozen half-lancers, five Highland reels, a Dance of the Seven Veils, and a tarantella.

More than seventy percent of the population of Callan, excluding babies and young children, crammed into West Street for the occasion.

The Committeemen eyed the County Council notice board-cum-platform nervously. It rattled and vibrated with the staccato hammering it got from the feet of the four dancers, who seemed to draw upon hidden reservoirs of kinetic energy to fuel their seemingly breathless exhibition of folksy shuffling.

The street had never seen anything like it, at least not in the memories of those who witnessed or participated in the revelry.

Other couples, emboldened by the example of Jimmy, Christy, Mrs. Roughan and Mrs. Bergin, ascended the platform and flaunted their own dancing prowess. As the night wore on, hundreds of happy pairings increased the pressure on the County Council notice board and the Creamery cement underneath the stones that supported it.

But the platform held up to the pounding of so many exuberant feet, even the ones enclosed by hobnailed boots that were unsuitable for the purpose. And of all the dances, the Lancer emerged as a clear favourite.

To be continued…

(More stories of those bygone times can be read in my book Callan in Words and Pictures, which is available from Amazon)


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