Old Time Fun and Games

A Callan football team of the early 1920s

Part One


In the opening decades of the twentieth century, Callan people, young and old, had to make their own sports and amusements. In an age devoid of TV, radio, computers, and all the other mod cons we now take for granted, open-air fun was all the rage.

That was in the hours of daylight. Once night fell, people gathered in homely circles around the firesides to share memories, stories, and tall tales.

Through clouds of pipe-smoke, wise men spoke shrewd and judicious words that held their listeners spellbound. Wise women were in circulation too, but “the times that were in it” militated against them being over-assertive.

Youngsters filled the four traffic-free streets of the town on a typical day in 1912 without a care in the world. Automobiles were a new phenomenon in the early years. Once the horse-drawn mail car had departed for Kilkenny at 8 AM, you had the streets to yourself.

The only distraction involving modern means of transportation was provided when Hawe’s gigantic Steam Engine and Thrashing Mill rolled through town, or when one of the Fitzgeralds of Bauntha passed along the street on a County Council roller.

Peter Roughan, whp penned the weekly Callan Looks Back column for a local paper, remembered how a jovial Mattie Fitzgerald rubbed an oily rag on the faces of young fellows who came too close to the machine.

All over town handball was played: At the big gate in the company yard in Mill Street, and against the gable end of Sgt. Casey’s house down at the pump. In Mill Lane, the handballers played against Lynch’s wall. The carpenter Paddy Holden, Ned Downey, Tommy Holden, and Jimmie Dalton spent much of their childhoods and early teens in Mill Lane.

Fennelly’s forge on the Kilkenny road served as another alley, as did the gable end of Townsend’s house at the Commons, where Jimmy Doheny of Maxtown refereed hundreds- if not thousands- of matches.

In Green Street, Walsh’s mill gate by the Market House (Town Hall), the Workhouse gate, and the Academy building were the sporting venues.

In West Street, the Creamery wall, and Pollard’s timber stores attracted players.

Skipping ropes abounded too…Girls laughed, sang, or recited little rhymes as they skipped in the streets and pathways. And children invented their own games. A favourite one was “Boers and English”. Large groups of boys divided into rival gangs of Boers and English warriors to engage in pitched battles on the Moat.

Lower Bridge Street in early 1900s

When tactical retreats turned into routs, the lads on the losing side would make a run for it through people’s back gardens in Bridge Street, or into the shadowy heart of the Dark Walk, where the sudden flurry of activity and excitable yelling raised hundreds of shrieking jackdaws from the trees.

Snowball fights dominated the winter fun and games in the street. The safest place to be when the missiles started flying was directly in front of the plate-glass window of the Hotel in Green Street. No one dared incur Mrs. Callanan’s wrath.

The occasional circus in town brought great joy, and the Hurdy Gurdies on the Green fired the imagination of every child.

For older folk, there was always the “Parliament”- as it was called- on Pollard’s Corner at the Cross, where people gathered to exchange gossip and deliberate on all the issues of the day…such as hurling, saving hay, “how to get a woman”, how to satisfy the one you’d already “got”, the weather, the price of sheep, or what the priest meant by his peculiar sermon…

Pollard’s Corner was where you got everything off your chest, and the parliamentary sessions were held seven days a week: There was no break for holidays and no Summer Recess.

The chatter could be bright and breezy…or dark and foreboding. It depended on what the main topics and concerns happened to be on a given day.

While the men debated, with gravitas and authority, their womenfolk had to be kept at a safe distance, so as not to overhear, or…perish the thought…join the conversations. The ladies huddled into groups of their own to speculate on what the men might be talking about, and to discuss all the town’s comings and goings… real or imagined.

It must be remembered that this was an age in which women were denied the right to vote, among other unfair restrictions they had to put up with. It was a commonly held belief among men at the time that women, as “empty-headed, irrational, chatter-boxes to whom logic is anathema”, to quote one British M.P.- would do immense harm to the country if they “meddled” in politics or achieved any degree of influence in society.

Today, we know this to be untrue, though it’s easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight.

To be continued…


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