A century and still going strong
by Liam D. Bergin
The Nationalist December 18, 1981
"PLAY the Game", was an expression often
heard on the sidelines of the football field when I was young. It
usually meant a call to play the ball and not the man.
In this age when sport has become highly
professional and often infested with a strong mention of national
politics, the amateur tends to get swamped. Sport has become infected by
show business, but then, so has the news and a great many other pursuits.
Such thoughts cross my mind as I took up the
200 page hard-backed book, which tells the rugby history of Co. Carlow
Football Club between 1873 and 1977.
In his introduction, Editor Tom O'Brien, says
it represents the work of many members. But it would be less than fair
to say that only for Tom O'Brien himself, the book might never have got
into print. For he was the compiler, the co-ordinator, and the moving
spirit behind this magnificent production.
Rugby may not hold a candle to the universal
predominance of soccer, but unlike soccer, it has remained a players
game and, in parts of the world like Wales, the subject of tradition and
folklore. The Rugby Union code has developed since its origination in
1823 at Rugby School in England, and though it has spread through many
lands, the game was originally found only in England, Wales, Scotland
and Ireland. It could well be said to have become almost the national
game of Wales. But it has developed and improved, and that development
owes much to the sheer virtuosity skill of the French, the All-Blacks of
New Zealand and the Australians.
When the Co. Carlow F.C. was founded, 10
years before this newspaper set up shop, in 1883, rugby was surely a
minority sport. Today it has truly come of age as a team game of great
One begins to feel old when looking at the
picture of the Co. Carlow F.C. founder, Col. Horace Rochford. He died in
1891. I can still remember his son, on the touch line urging Carlow
teams to victory in the 1920s.
As I scan the list of captains I see that the
late Paddy Lawlor, led the Carlow team the year I was born — 1913.
Familiar names who played the game and cherished its spirit I also
remember names like Johnny Melrose, Tom Lawler, Jack Julian, Ray
McDonnell, the Slococks, Robin McConkey, Jim Oliver and Willie Duggan,
happily still with us and Willie Fenelon, with whom I played myself and
rowed, and who was one of the most stylish out-half's in the game during
I remember the Club House Hotel where the
first meetings of the Co. Carlow F.C. were held from 1873. I also
remember the two Miss McAleeses who looked after the place when it
became the County Club. One of them used to play from her vast
repertoire, the piano for the old silent films in the picture house in
Burren St. where the Post Office now stands. It was one of the jobs of
Pavy Mulhall, the bill poster to see that the cinema was well displayed.
And, of course, the late Joe Carter worked the projector. I can remember
being at parties in the old club house.
Tom O'Brien's article on the beginning of
rural rugby mentions the connection between the Cricket Club and the Co.
Carlow F.C. They both met in the same building in Dublin St., now
occupied by St. Bridgets Hospital.
Tom also mentions the Carlow Polo club
founded in 1873 and its venue at Tinypark House vacated by the rugby
players when they moved to the Rectory field.
Of course, the Polo Club also moved
eventually from Tinypark to the polo field which was on the right hand
side of the Tullow Road between what is today the last roundabout and
what use to be Wall's Forge. Carlow had some well known polo players
including Dr. Matt Colgan who lived in the house now occupied by the
Crotty family on Athy Rd. There were also, the famous Rourke family who
afterwards won fame in the polo fields of the world and emigrated to
California. Also the British garrison in Carlow and elsewhere played on
the Tullow Rd. in my young days. A memory of the game was to follow me
when I went to Knockbeg College, for the Rector had purchased the old
polo pavilion which is erected on the side Knockbeg's main football
I also remember the Langran's of the old
"Carlow Sentinel", which ceased publication in the 1920s. They were all
very active in the rugby club.
In the 1920s and early 30s, one of the most
remarkable features of the game in these parts was the emergence of a
senior team in the relatively small town of Enniscorthy. The formidable
members of this team were the Lett brothers. And Carlow, still in junior
status, did not hesitate to take Enniscorthy seniors on once a year.
I remember participating in one St. Stephen's
Day game against Lansdowne in Dublin. We were subsequently entertained
at the Old Jury's Hotel. I can remember the late Paddy Ryan
After the dinner at Jury's we were taken to a
variety show in the old Theatre Royal by none other than the famous
Ernie Crawford, Ireland's many capped full-back in the days when it
would have been heresy for a full back to come into the line a la Andy
Irvine and many others.
Until it was demolished, Tynan's Hotel in
Tullow St., succeeded as the venue for rugby club committee meetings.
There, Mrs. Deasy, the lady known as Aunty Pat, and Michael Deasy,
reigned. And Brooks was the general factotum. Eventually, of course,
Tynans Hotel was demolished. It was transformed into the Ritz Cinema and
the Buttery Bar. During the reconstruction, which produced the cinema
and the Ritz Ballroom, an indescribable temporary haunt of
the bridge players and drinkers came to life,
to keep the Tynan licence alive. It became locally known as "Dirty
A purely temporary structure, it developed a
certain atmosphere which died when the Ritz cinema, the Buttery and
Tynans and the Ritz Ballroom arose Phoenix-like out of the old hotel's
ruins. And many a committee meeting of the rugby club was held there and
many a team was picked, until ballroom and cinema were finished and M.
J. Deasy became the first manager. He was followed by Paddy Tynan, a
native of the town, whose family had been connected with the old hotel.
For years it had been the water-hole of many well-known characters.
In the club history, Tony Craughan recalls
some of the knocks and the laughs he encountered while playing for
Carlow. Surely this worthy history of the Co. Carlow F.C. should succeed
in stimulating some of the older members, still with us, I can think of
two, like James J. Oliver (Senior) and Bill Duggan, who, in the oral
tradition can produce at the drop of a hat, stories of unusual and
sometimes hilarious happenings that took place on and off the rugby
field when they themselves and many others, now gone to their reward,
were in full flight in pursuit of the oval ball.
Most of the stories told about my late
father, P. C. Bergin, are known to others. He often told me how they
used to smuggle priests like the late Fr. Jim Prendergast out of St.
Patrick's College for Senior Cup matches, totally against diocesian
congratulate Tom O'Brien, the editor, and all those who contributed in
making this marvellous record of the Co. Carlow F.C. possible, a hundred
years or more in two hundred engaging pages. A record of the Black and
Amber and of the first provincial rugby club in Ireland has set down
there by posterity for posterity.
Source: Carlow Nationalist
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