Since the early 1940's, the most loyal and dedicated servant of the Charlestown Sarsfields GAA Club has been Ernie Salmon. For any young player wishing to play football in the town, in any era, Ernie has been part of their lives, so that they could achieve that end. He has always been to the forefront of the Club's activities in every decade since, and is a human encyclopedia of all GAA facts in the locality. He served in every position for the Club, depending on what the demand was at the time.
Ernie was born in Charlestown in 1924, the only son of Alf and Catherine Salmon. He was born in the house in Lavey, now owned by Pat Caulfield, and then by Jane Henry. Alf Salmon was born in Oughterard, Co Galway in 1879. His father was a teacher and then the family moved to Clifden, from where Alf departed for Charlestown in 1916, to take up the position of postman. As a young man, Alf had joined the British Army and served in India for a few years.
Ernie's mother was Catherine McGowan from Montiagh, Curry, Co Sligo. Catherine and Alf purchased a premises in Barrack St from Bishop Morrisroe's family in 1926 and started a Sweet Shop, which stayed in business until 1974. The premises had previously been owned by the Thompson family. When the Eureka Cinema commenced showing the popular films of the day in the late 1930's, Salmon's shop thrived, as did Cassidy's across the street. Many cinema-goers in the 1940's and 1950's have very happy memories of buying their favourite sweets in both shops. Alf Salmon died in 1942, and his wife Catherine in 1964. They left a wonderful legacy of happy times, memories of which are still with the older generation to this day.
Growing up in Charlestown in those far off days was very difficult, but, life had to go on. Football was one of the outlets that took their minds off the poverty of the times, and Ernie started his involvement then, that lasted all his life. It started in the local National School, whose teachers were at that time; Mrs Coleman, nee Marren, John Cassidy, father of Fr Joe Cassidy, later Bishop of Clonfert, and James Joseph Campbell. Games were played around the schoolyard, teams like Main St versus Barrack St and Fianna Fail versus Fine Gael, were the order of the day. Many young boys started their involvement that was to last all their lives.
In St Nathy's College, Ballaghadereen, which Ernie attended from 1939 to 1942, were made some lasting friendships, namely: Eamonn O'Hara, Sean Dooney, Mickey Doherty, Cyril Bourke, and Tom Murphy. The President of the College then was Canon Curneen, from Aclare. The teachers were: Canon Eugene Foran, Fr Tony Foy, Fr Johnny Walsh, Fr Jack O'Neill, and Messrs O'Reilly, Collier and Walsh. There were no great football achievements in those days. Ernie left the College in 1942 after his father died. He came home to help his mother run the shop.
On his return home, he got involved straight away in organising the local Minor football team. They often cycled to Tubbercurry for challenge matches. That minor team won the East Mayo final, and went on to the County final, where they were beaten badly by Castlebar by 2-6 to 0-1. This panel of players stuck to their guns and were the foundation of many of the Junior teams in the 1940's. The panel of players consisted mostly of the following: Eddie Kilroy, Tom Murphy, Sean Dooney, Pa Joe Webb, Ernie Salmon, Mick Doherty, Gerry and Paddy Walsh, Tommy Fleming, Jim and John Gavighan, Jim and Frank Dillon, John Murphy, Jim Jennings, Cyril Bourke, Pat Barrett and Tommy Phillips, who was a shop-boy in Caseys. In 1947, two juvenile teams were formed, called the Wrens and the Robins, which were the brainchild of Jack O'Donnell. They played many of their games in the old Park in Lavey, and this era led to many outstanding Juvenile footballers. Players who played in those teams included : Seamus Fleming, Eugene and Eamonn Walsh, Colm and Aidan Swords, Seamus and Mickey Dunleavy, John Fitzpatrick, Sean Honan, Kevin Honan, Joe Cassidy, Tommy Duffy, Liam O'Shea, Paddy and Michael O'Donnell, Liam Gavaghan, Paddy Cassidy, and Gerry Healy.
The Minor team of 1949 was also an excellent team, and the members were as follows: Mickey Vesey, Seamus Beirne, Paddy Henry, Mickey Frain, Tom Peyton, John Healy, Liam Fleming, Bernie Kilroy, Pop Jordan, Kevin Swords, Michael Giblin, John O'Brien, John F. Doherty, Buddie Caffrey, Pake Madden and Tommy Joe Maloney. About this time Canon Eddy O'Hara came to Town, and led the way with Ernie, and others to build a new Football Park in Lowpark. A lot of work went into this project, and they created one of the finest and well laid out Football parks in Ireland. The opening of the O'Hara Memorial Park took place in June 1951. The land was purchased from Bernie Moffitt for £1000.00. A lot of fundraising was done in Ireland and in America - Martin Campbell led the way. The following people led the way for this great achievement: Eamonn O'Hara, Andrew Walsh, Tommy Phillips, T E Henry, Willie Moffitt, Joe Mulligan, Paddy Howley, Val Harrison, Jack Donoghue, Bill Gallagher, Joe Mahon, Jack O'Donnell, John McIntire and Pa Joe Honan.
From his earliest involvement with the Club, Ernie always regarded himself as an administrator. That he was a good administrator is without question, but he also had some excellent people to help him along the way. People like: Pa Joe Honan, Val Harrison, Mike and Sonny O'Donnell, Sean Walsh, Brian Moran, Eddy O'Donnell, Tom Blythe, and P J Brennan, who was a very efficient Treasurer for many years. These men laid a very solid foundation for the Club, that was to last well into the future. Later on people like: Tom Gavaghan, Michael Byrnes, Marty Horkan, Andrew Walsh Jnr, Bobby O'Connell, Hubert Flannery, Paddy Murray, Jim Halligan, Tom McLaughlin, Joe Doherty, Val Lenihan, John Casey, Tommy Colleran, Geraldine Finn, Brian Moran Jnr, Stephen Healy, Sean Higgins, and others, kept the Club to the forefront, as it is to-day
Ernie always has a special place in his heart for the Minor and Junior teams of 1953. They won the Minor and Junior Championship. He regards the Junior team of that year as probably the best team Charlestown ever had up to then. Prominent on that team were: Dr Padraic Carney, Seamie Fleming, Eamonn,Eugene and Nicko Walsh, Sean Walsh, Eamonn O'Hara, Buddie Caffrey, Colum, Aidan and Kevin Swords, Vinnie Blythe, Sean Honan, Mickey Vesey, Dominick and Seamus Beirne, Willie Regan, Eddy Kilroy, Joe Cassidy and Jack Foley.
As the years went on, emigration took it's toll but the Club survived, due to the hard and dedicated efforts of it's members. He enjoyed his trip to America in 1980, never sitting down once on the long trip to JFK Airport, and visiting New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. Charlestown now has a Senior team, and one of Ernie's proudest moments was witnessing our County Final win in 2001 and also the Provincial Title. Our team reached new heights that year under the astute guidance of Stephen Healy and his selectors.
To-day the Club affairs are managed efficiently with people like; Ciaran McBrien, Michael Horkan, Tommy Ward, Tommy Halligan, Ciaran Kilroy, Philly Finn, Margaret Lundy, Kevin James Durkin, and a host of honest workers. The CBD centre is well looked after by Tom Parsons and Rosena Conway.
Ernie Salmon is proud of them all and he has left a strong legacy, for all to follow. Fittingly his County peers have awarded him with the highest accolades, namely: The Green and Red Trust fund's, Personality of the year in 1990 and The Hall of Fame Award, by the Western People, in 1995. One of his Protégées, John Casey, also won the hall of Fame Award for Gaelic Football, the same year.
Ernie Salmon lived his long life in the present, knowing that in the future, he would most certainly have a place in the past.
© Cathal Henry 2008