Charlestown and Handball are synonymous. Any discussion of 'the Town' will, sooner or later, evoke the observation that Charlestown always had a reputation of producing handballers and good ones. This observation is true, and in our boyhood years of the 'Twenties' , a handball and a wall to strike it against was our constant pastime. At that time there was not any regular Ball Alley, but the big fellows played at Howleys corner, where I now live, the old Chapel in Bellaghy, Henry's hotel corner and we 'younger fry' played at the Station at the various openings off the main streets on the backways.
Handball was also the popular pastime in the area around Charlestown, with three-wall-alleys in the villages od Bushfield, Hagfield, Kilgarriff, Egool, Fauleens, Rooskey, Tonroe, Cully, Banada, Cloonfinish and other areas. On Sundays these focal points teemed with players, and in the 'Forties' I remember organising a series of tournaments, and players from these villages competed.
The obvious question is: Why this proliferation of ball-alleys in the Charlestown area? The answer is, to me, equally obvious. The congested district board area of east Mayo was notable for the density of its population and its poverty. Some sensitive bristles are now raised by the mention of the word poverty, but I reiterate that there was not only poverty, but dire poverty. The people, however, wore their poverty with dignity and in such a setting, a pastime and a relaxation that cost nothing except a sponge ball, was indulged into the full by the boys and men of the town and country.
With this plethora of players, the need for a regulation Ballcourt was a crying necessity and in 1927 a Handball Club was formed. The following are the first Officers elected: Chairman: Rev Denis Gildea, Secretaries: Tony Henry and Bernie Cassidy, Treasurer: Willie Moffitt. A committee organised the building of a full standard Ballcourt. Mike Regan of Barrack St, father of the great Mayo footballer of the thirties, Tommy Regan, was the main contractor. The site was donated from Parochial property, the ruins of which can be seen today behind our new Library, ie: the old Town Hall.
The Ballcourt backwall, as distinct from the open three-wall-alleys, necessitated the erection of a gallery and amid scenes of great enthusiasm and pride of achievement, a packed gathering witnessed the official opening of the Ballcourt in 1931, by the Most Rev Dr Morrisroe (a Charlestown man). Bishop of Achonry, Dr Morrisroe also bought and presented to the town the football pitch, known then as the Park in Lavey, this is unsung history. The opening exhibition games were played between the all-Ireland champions Tom Soye and Peter Berry and the O'Rourke brothers, Ballisodare, played Tommy Marren and Val Harrison. During the thirties and fortie,s Charlestown was full of first-class handballers who competed in some tournaments, but through not having a club affiliated to the County board, were denied county and All-Ireland honours.
In 1947 a new handball club was formed and I was appointed Chairman, with Pa Jo Honan as Vice-Chairman. We held reverse positions in the football club, and the ensuing years were ones of great success and enthusiasm for Charlestown handball and football. To our newly affiliated club All-Ireland honours came quickly, when Junior Mulhern and PJ Doherty won the 1947 All-Ireland minor Doubles title and served as a precedent for a steady flow of County, Provincial and All-Ireland titles. In the twenties the great Charlestown exponent of handballers was Dr Jack Henry, uncle of John and Cathal Henry. He won the UCD and Dublin championships in 1927.
Minor Softball doubles
1947: Junior Mulhern and PJ Doherty
1949: Kevin Swords and P Bollinbrook
1950: John O'Brien and Tom Hughes
Junior Softball doubles
1956: Seamus Fleming and E Connolly
1962: Mickey Walsh and Peter McGee
Senior Softball Doubles
1968: M Walsh and J Walsh
1972: M Walsh and M Groarke
Golden Masters Doubles
Novice singles M Hennigan
Junior Softball Singles
Golden Masters Singles
Senior Hardball Doubles B Colleran and P McGee
PS. Some of the Doubles champions listed were not from Charlestown.
Senior Colleges Champion: 1963 & '64: Billy FitzMaurice
Gael Linn Senior Singles competition: 1968: Mickey Walsh.
Brian Colleran has won many Garda/Army titles and Tailteann games titles.
National Community Games, U13 Championships: 1979: Clement Reilly, Seamus Beirne, Martin Kilroy, David Maloney, Stephen Maloney and Martin Gavaghan.
It is invidious to name individuals in the Charlestown handball scenario, but I will be excused if I name the great perfectionists: Mickey Doherty and Mickey Walsh, who as they synchronised eye, stroke and ball, to produce the perfect shot, exemplified the art and skill of Handball at it's optimum.
As I write, the shadows of Pat Conboy, Danno Regan, Brian Taylor, Harry Frain, Paddy Gavaghan and Kevin Swords, flit across my memory and the legions of good, bad and indifferent handballers who graced the ball alley with their efforts and their laughter. There are many ommissions to these jottings and I pray to be excused.
I was Chairman of the Handball club for about twenty-five years, and Chairman of the Mayo Handball Board for twenty-one years. Over these years I - and the Club - enjoyed the constant support of Junior Mulhern, Mike O'Donnell, Fr Sean Casey. PJ Brennan, Mickey Walsh, Ernie Salmon, Patsy Dunne and a host of handballers.
My association with handball and the players who played from Juvenile to Seniors, remain among my fondest memories.
© Jack O'Donnell 1988, Cathal Henry 2005