Up to and including the year of 1968, generations of Charlestown people, young and old, usually went for their Summer swims to the Pool at the end of the old Fair Green. A prominent swimmer in those days was Church St man, Tom Brennan. Every year prior to that, some men, Tom included, would get together and re-inforce the "Corry" on the river and the water rose for over two hundred feet back, to give a depth of at least three feet in places. The Corry was usually constructed of stones and scraws. This was usually the Men’s Pool, and the Ladies Pool was constructed further up the river at Pat Anthony Mulligan’s land. Men and women were kept apart, at least while they swam at the Pools.
One of my first memories of the Fair Green Pool, was of the late Brian Taylor teaching his young son how to swim, on one occasion pulling him by the hair of the head from the river and then throwing him in again, in order to give him the courage to learn. I do not know how young Taylor progressed as a swimmer, but I went home to think the whole matter over.
By August 1968, the idea of a proper Pool was doing the rounds. The project was eventually taken on board by the late Patsy Dunne MCC, and from then on he devoted most of the 1970’s and 1980’s to the it’s construction and development. He was the leader and initiator from the word go.
He gathered a loyal band of people around him for the "Meitheal" and work began. The original helpers would be people like James Donoghue, Tommy Moffitt MRCVS, Tommy and Pat Phillips, Canon Cryan, who was an avid swimmer, Sean Grimes, Martin Murphy, Jim Keigher and Bridie (Carr) as secretary. They helped with the early organising of the work involved.
John Durcan and Tommy Fleming of Hagfield dug out the earth and placed it at the river bank, to be collected later by Frank Harrington. Peter Donnellan then laid out the measurements, levelling the ground and preparing the site for concreting and block laying. That work was carried out by Pake Duffy, Pat Brennan and Tom Durcan. Dominick Jordan helped with the construction of the Dressing Rooms. Filter beds were then placed and different grades of gravel were used.
At this point in time, fund-raising began, under the leadership of Tommy Moffitt. He organised the first Gymkhana on his lands at Lowpark on the 9th of June 1968, ably helped in the construction of the jumps by Martin Murphy, and in the painting of them by Seamus Bermingham and John Devine. Many more Gymkhanas were held in future years, collecting much needed funds, once organising a parachute jump, with the help of Tom Cunniffe, of the Flying Club in Castlebar.
Before we leave the eventful 1960’s and the opening of the Pool to the public in 1971, I would like to mention that the great initiator of the project Patsy Dunne, reached back into our past and held a mirror up to the present. In doing so, he helped shape Charlestown’s future.
Money was needed and an application was made to Mayo County Council in April 1969, for a grant of £3,000. The report of the Mayo County Council meeting appeared in The Western People and included the following: Mayo County Council is to give a grant of £3,000 towards a scheme to provide a £9,000 Swimming Pool at Charlestown. This was agreed at the meeting in Castlebar, when it was pointed out that the Local Development Association, which was backing the idea, had incurred a debt the estimates meeting, that the project would receive a grant of £3,000 towards the cost. Mr Tommy O’Hara TD, seconding the proposal that the money be provided, said he had seen the amount of work which had been carried out already on the scheme undertaken by voluntary labour. Mr Padraig Flynn MCC and Mr JT Barrett MCC, felt that a £1,500 grant from the Council would be sufficient. Mr John O’Donnell, County Secretary, pointed out that it was a condition laid down by the Department, that the Pool would be open to all members of the public. Senator Joseph Leneghan said: There is no need to worry about that, according to John Healy there is no one left to swim in it.
By May 1971 the Charlestown people were angry that the grant had not yet been paid. A spokesman for the Committee said they had equipped the Pool down to Dressing Rooms and Showers. It was a major amenity for the town and they had not received a penny from the Council, although a grant of £2,000 had been received from the Department of Local Government. In July 1971 over 200 children from Charlestown, Swinford, Curry and Tubbercurry areas, took part in the swimming and life-saving lessons at the Pool. The weather was excellent for the course which was given by Miss Terry Sherry, PE, Foxford. By February 1973 the Committee were still awaiting the payment of the grant, but the Pool was been used by more people every year.
The Pool was 3ft by 5ft deep and measured 66ft by 29ft - at the time a chlorinator and a filter, which would cost £1,300 was needed. They could not be purchased until the grant was paid. A meeting was held with the County Manager, Mr Gerry Ward, and he promised to look into the matter immediately. Patsy Dunne kept up the pressure and the organising continued, without the money.
Moving on to the years 1973 and 1974, events were organised by the hard working Committee. In August 1973, swimming instructions and life-saving lessons were given by Jim Ennis from Claremorris and continued for fourteen days. The Annual gala was organised by the Swimming club and it proved very successful. It is worth noting that filters were recently installed and work on the necessary appliances to have the Pool heated would be installed shortly. The results of the Gala were as follows: O’Hara Cup for children between the ages of 5 and 10 years, remaining under water for as long as possible were: 1st Paul O’Donoghue, 2nd Mairead Hegarty. Swimming without arm bands (any stroke) for children under 10 years were: 1st Emer Mulligan, and 2nd Mairead Hegarty. Breast stroke (under 12) 1st Kathy Finn, 2nd Pearse O’Donoghue, 3rd Jennifer Phillips, 3rd Caroline Butler. Butterfly Stroke (under 17) 1st Mary O’Brien, 2nd Maeve Duignan. Back Stroke (under 12) 1st Kathy Finn, 2nd Nuala O’Donnell. Back Stroke (under 14) 1st Caroline Butler, 2nd Gabriel Rooney. Back Stroke (under 17) 1st Mary O’Brien, 2nd Anne O’Donnell. Bus Drive: Mary O’Brien. Front Crawl (under 12) 1st Pearse O’Donoghue, 2nd Kathy Finn. Front Crawl (under 14) 1st Joseph O’Donoghue, 2nd Caroline Butler. Breast Stroke (under 17) 1st Mary O’Brien, 2nd Maeve Duignan. Adults Free Style: Daniel O’Connell Cup: 1st Daniel O’Connell, 2nd Eamonn O'Hara. Front Crawl (under 17) 1st Mary O’Brien, 2nd Carol O’Hara, 3rd Joseph O’Donoghue. Mushroom Float (open) Teresa Rooney. Lifesaving Competition. 1st Mary O’Brien, 2nd Carol O’Hara, 3rd Anne O’Donnell.
In 1974 Charlestown was well represented at the Swimming Gala held in Claremorris. Over forty swimmers from Charlestown took part in the month of July. Those taking part in various events were: Tommy Phillips, Mary O’Brien, Paul and Pearse O’Donoghue, and Nuala O’Donnell. Michael Phillips was awarded a special medal for being one of the most promising swimmers on view.
During the Summers of 1974 and 1975, Eilish Brady from Castlebar gave Lifesaving instructions and swimming lessons on a regular basis. All sessions were well attended by both the ladies and many more adults. So popular were the Lifesaving instructions that children came from all over the area to attend. The Summer of 1975 was described as a Summer of sweltering heat. People from Swinford and Tubbercurry made special trips to the Charlestown Pool to avail of the facilities. The provision of safety standards were well supervised by the local committee.
Members of the newly formed Ladies committee organised a Novelty swim in 1976. A large number of children and some ladies took part. The swimmers covered a total of 3,459 metres. The winners of the events and all who completed the course were complimented. A Concert was organised for the 8th of October and Certificates were presented to those successful in the elementary and intermediate water safety tests. Plaques were also given to those successful in the sponsored swimming competitions. The funds from the Concert were devoted towards making better facilities available at the Pool.
The Swimming Pool Committee were showing concern in 1977, about the damage being done to the Pool by carelessness on the part of some of it’s patrons. It appeared that rubbish, such as crisp bags, was finding it’s way into the Pool, with the result that pipes and valves were being dammed up. Considerable trouble was involved in having to clean out the fittings and the main worry was, that should this state of affairs continue, damage that might involve considerable expenditure could be caused. All visitors to the Pool were requested to avoid littering, so that everybody could enjoy the amenities without interruption.
In the Western Journal of August the 5th great news was announced for the hard working committee. The long awaited grant of £4,000 was paid. It was paid to the Charlestown Swimming Pool and Recreational Company. That grant was a great boost to funds and joy was expressed all round.
Interest was expressed by some members of the Swimming Club in an adjacent site to the Pool. They were interested in converting the site into a Pitch and Putt course for the younger members. They asked some members of the younger set to help clear the site, but the response was disappointing. Much work was done clearing stones etc, another request was made to the youth for help, but the response was limited. Patsy Dunne was adamant that the additional amenity would be of great benefit to the local people. On this occasion, the project failed and no further effort was made to provide a Pitch and Putt course.
The Gymkhanas organised by Tommy Moffitt, continued to raise badly needed funds, and so it proved to be for many years. In June 1977, a Gymkhana was held in Lowpark in ideal weather conditions. It attracted a very good entry of horses and an appreciative audience. Proceeds were in aid of the Charlestown Handball Club and the Swimming Pool. Entries came from all over Connacht to make it one of the biggest gymkhanas in years.
The Results were: Competition A: Zesto Stakes (sponsored by PJ Henry & Co) 1. Shared by four horses: Trendy Bobby, owned by Cormac Hanley, ridden by Charles Hanley. 2. Country Boy, owned by Seam McGuiness, Mohill, ridden by John McGuiness. 3. Ginger Dick, owned by Jackie Judge, ridden by Padraig Judge. 4. Cream Cracker, owned by Dan Gilmartin, Collooney, ridden by John Carty. 5. Competition B: Smithwicks Stakes, Sponsored by Arthur Guinness Son& Co. 6. 1. Bloomfield 11, owned by Teresa Burke, Hollymount, ridden by Paula Burke. 7. second,third and fourth prizes divided between the following: Trendy Star, owned by Cormac Hanley, ridden by Charles Hanley, Onedin, owned by D Campbell, Carrick-on-Shannon, 8. ridden by Dervilla Campbell and Bloomfield Bobby, owned by T Burke, ridden by Paula 9. Burke. 10. Competition C: Bank of Ireland Stakes: First, second and third prizes divided between the following three horses: Evil Knievel, owned by Martin Duffy, Cloghans PO, ridden by Vincent 11. Duffy. Foxtrot, owned by Eta Melvin, Beleek and ridden by Vincent Duffy. 12. Fourth prize was divided by Liam Devaney on Champagne, and Sean Flanagan Sligo. 13. Competition C: Holsum Stakes, sponsored by Holsum Ltd, Charlestown: 14. The first four prizes were divided between the following: Evil Knievel, Vincent Duffy up, 15. Foxtrot, L Devaney up, Sic an Aifrinn, owned by Tom Donohue, c/o Marty Kelly, 16. ridden by Marty Kelly. Ragtime, owned by Michael Devaney, Killala, ridden by G Cawley. 17.
As per usual, when June came in 1978, the Gymkhana was planned. Funds always had to be gathered and the 11th Annual Gymkhana was planned for Sunday June 11th. There would also be Pony competitions and the Prize money would be in excess of £200. A Children’s sports would be held under the auspices of the Charlestown National Schools building fund. The proceeds of the Gymkhana would be in aid of the Swimming Club.
Wanton Damage The Committee was in dire need of more funds, because of wanton damage done to the Pool by vandals. A considerable amount of money would have to be spent to repair same. In an effort to put the pool on a sound financial futting, the Committee organised a Sponsored Swimming Gala for Sunday the 16th of July. A special word of tribute was paid to Bridie Feehily (Carr) a teacher in the local Marist Convent School and her willing band of workers who voluntarily gave of their time to clean the dressing rooms and the precincts of the pool. They also removed unsightly grass and litter and left the whole place in a clean and tidy condition.
Life Saving instruction lessons were held on the 7th of August when two instructors were present. The course was held under the auspices of the Irish Water Safety Association. In the sponsored swimming gala held in July, senior swimmers were only allowed to swim 15 lengths of the pool, while juniors and youngsters were only allowed to swim 15 widths of the pool. A course for Intermediate swimmers was held and the course was conducted by Rev Fr Cawley, and continued for one week.
The Mayo Water Safety Association made arrangements for Safety Courses and Swimming lessons on the following dates for the Charlestown Pool. For Tourlestrane and Killasser on the 4th and 8th of August, and for Charlestown and Swinford on the 11th and 16th of August.
Members of the Charlestown Youth Club were busily engaged preparing the pool area for all the events to be held.
The Summer of 1980 began with good news. Mayo County Council had agreed to make a grant of £890 available to the running costs of Charlestown Swimming Pool. The grant was made payable to the Charlestown Swimming Pool and Recreational Company Ltd, and was an increase of ten per cent on the grant provided by the Council in 1978.
Around this time another Charlestown organisation "The Charlestown Festival Committee" was making great strides, under the Chairmanship of James Cafferty. They were making arrangements for The Western Rose Festival, which would be held from the 1st to the 10th of August. The very elaborate programe would include: an Air Display, Sky Diving, a darts competition (the proceeds of which would be devoted to the Mentally Handicapped Association), a GAA field day, an Agricultural and Horticutural Display, a Swimming Gala, and of course, the Eugene Lambert Puppet Theatre. During the first week of August, Mr James McLoughlin, Claremorris, was the instructor at the Pool, when Water Safety courses and Swimming Instruction was carried out for those resident in Killasser, Tourlestrane and Charlestown. On Monday the 4th of August, Mr McLoughlin gave similar courses for the Swinford district. The Charlestown Swimming Pool and Recreational Company Ltd were complimented on providing such a splendid amenity for the area. Members of the Company included: Very Rev Canon Gallagher, Rev Fr Farrell Cawley, Councillors Patsy Dunne and John M Flannery.
Members of the Charlestown and Castlebar Swimming Clubs completed a very successful Swimming Gala in connection with the "Western Rose" festival and the results were as follows: Girls (under 10). 1st Ann Phillips (Charlestown) 2nd C Flood, Castlebar. Under 12: 1st C Flood, 2nd N Walsh (Charlestown). Under 16:1st N Walsh. 2nd C Smyth, do. Relay race won by Charlestown team whose members were: A Walsh, J Phillips, Eileen Morrisroe and J Hannon. Boys Under 10: 1st S Cregg (Charlestown) 2nd C Horkan, do. Under 12: 1st D O’Connor (Castlebar) 2nd C Reilly (Charlestown). Under 14: 1st P Kenny (Charlestown) 2nd A Merriman, do. Under 16: 1st E Mongey (Castlebar) 2nd P Kenny (Charlestown). The Relay race was won by Castlebar whose members were : D O’Connor, T O’Connor, P Connor and E Mongey.
The Swimming instruction and Water safety classes continued in 1981 with Miss Karen Cosgrove of Claremorris. These classes were held in August and prior to the conclusion of the course, Certificates were awarded to those who became proficient in the different grades.
In 1982, at a meeting of Mayo Co. Council, a motion was passed granting the Charlestown Swimming Pool £1.096.00. The youth of Charlestown were very active in 1983 with the Foiroige organisation, in painting and decorating the pool, to prepare for the Summer season. It is worth noting here that Foiroige is still active and catering for the youth of to-day.
In 1984, the water safety and swimming classes were given by Nuala and Jacqueline O’Donnell and Gabriel Rooney. The Mayo Life saving championships were held that year in Charlestown.
In 1987, Mayo County Council provided showers for the pool.
In 1988, the Swimming Pool committee incurred a loss of £1,825.75, but this was offset somewhat by a grant from the Council of £1,050.00. The loss was incurred in 1987. Another grant was paid to the Pool committee of £1,050.00 in 1989, in respect of the upkeep of the pool for 1989.
The 1990’s arrived with a new organisation in charge, determined to continue the good work of previous years. A new committee was formed under the Chairmanship of Matt Finn, the Secretary was Margot Kenny and the long serving Treasurer was Teresa Gavaghan, who gave great support at all times to the Swimming Pool.
They continued right up to 2003 and during this very productive time for the Pool, the following people served as Lifeguards: Niamh O’Connell, Maureen Byrnes, Aishling Fleming, Gillian Lawrence, Roisin Grimes, Niamh Kilcoyne, David Mulligan, Dervela Cassidy, Aoife Gavaghan, Nicola Kenny, Elaine Finn, Marrana Cahill, and Caretakers included Michael Phillips and Joe McIntyre. Others to help out during this time were: Carra Brennan, Christina Maloney, Mandy Maloney and Aishling Maloney. Also very active in organising cycle trips to raise money for the Pool were Angie Casey and Helen Conroy. They worked relentlessly to help the Pool survive in difficult times.
Some usual events took place, like a Grant of £1,050.00 to help with the annual upkeep of the Pool. This Grant arrived in June 1991 and the opening hours were set for 3pm - 6pm and 7pm - 8pm each day. Any enquiries that were made during these years were directed to Margot Kenny and Maureen Byrnes. Water safety classes continued as they were always considered important to young and old. When Nuala O’Donnell retired in 1994 as Instructor, before she left she presented a set of Instructors Manuals to Aishling Molloy, who successfully passed her Instructors exams at the Charlestown Pool in July of that year.
In February of 1995 a very important event took place. The late Patsy Dunne MCC was awarded the World Life Saving Citation of Merit, for distinguished service in promoting Marine safety and supporting the humanitarian goal of World Life Saving. In view of Patsy’s untimely death, this award was presented by the Mayo Water Safety Branch of the National Safety Council, to his sister Mary. As I have stated earlier Patsy’s involvement with swimming began when he, the late Tommy Phillips and Fr. Michael Cryan, organised the building of the Pool in 1968. When the Youth organisation painted the Pool, Patsy gave the paint free of charge. Patsy served the Mayo Water Safety association, first as Treasurer and then as Chairman for ten years. He was a father figure to Charlestown swimmers, encouraging them to take the highest awards in water safety. Charlestown’s Lifeguards, Instructors, Swimming teachers and Examiners, took the time to offer their condolences to his sister Mary, who sadly, passed away some years later. Before we leave the 1980’s completely, it is worth noting the wonderful efforts of Foroige during the years 1984 and 1985. In October 1984 the youth organisation had completed a project in the Pool. The late Marcus Craig, was given special praise for his excellent Murals, that he painted all around the Pool. They were admired for many years afterwards. What a wonderful talent this young man had. The Mural depicted a carnival and swimming scene. According to Eileen Morrisroe, Foroige helped to bind the community together
In November 1985, Charlestown Foroige were presented with the premier prize, The National Citizenship Award, in the Sports Centre. That award was presented annually to the Foroige Club judged to have achieved most during the year, to help members understand and develop their communities. Another award was presented to the Club in Dublin in December 1985, it was the International Youth Year Trophy and a cheque for £100. Part of the local group were the "Busy Lizzies" who were formed to help clean the newly-built old folks' houses, organise The Youth Theatre and clean the pool.
In the 1990’s Margot Kenny applied to Mayo County Council for permission to erect dressing rooms, shower, toilet and administration facilities on the site. Season tickets were £30.00 and £3.00 per day. The rate in Euro remained the same.
In July 2005, The Pool committee netted E160,000 in Clar funding. Mayo Co. Council provided E50,000, in Leader funding. £30,000 was provided from the project’s own resources.
In 2007, two qualified Lifeguards, Nicholas Commons and Shane Finn were employed. Nicholas Commons was also Pool Manager. The Pool Committee paid tribute to the following volunteers and contractors who helped in any way: The Charlestown Fire Brigade, Emmet Gavaghan of Charlestown Tool Hire, Padraic Duffy for painting the pool and surrounding walls, Martin Doherty and Tommy Mulligan for works carried out, Crean Mosaics, Casey’s hardware, Noel Dunleavy and his team of sub-contractors, John Halligan and associates. Tributes were paid to Gerry Murray MCC for his ongoing involvement and his tremendous effort and pressure put on Government bodies for funds. Grant aid was received from The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Leader and Mayo Co. Council. Also thanked were volunteers Aidan Horkan, Michael Beirne, Anthony O’Reilly, and Martin Doherty. Noel Morrisroe was also thanked for his relentless efforts in ensuring everything was in place and the overall management of the project. Caroline Peyton for keeping a check on the finances, Helena and Geraldine Finn for their secretarial duties. The Committee in 2007 were: Eileen McGuiness, Noel Morrisroe, Val Lenehan, Nuala O’Donnell-Johnson, Eugene McGuinness, Joe and Helena Lowther. Paul Mulligan and Shane Finn also helped and gave swimming lessons most evenings.
He was one of the best informed persons of his time, and he had no trace of intellectual arrogance. He was very fond of asking questions and trying to find out other people’s views. He would then give his own opinion after much reflection and consideration.
He was always ready to listen to and be convinced by argument. When things were difficult, as they were on many an occasion, he was both resourceful and resolute.
To quote famous words written in the past:
All generous hearts lament the late Patsy,
The Chief with a smile, the radiant face,
The winning way that turned a tough race,
Into sublimer pathways, leading on,
Grant to us Life that though the man be gone,
The promise of his spirit will be fulfilled.
Well, the promise of his spirit is being fulfilled to-day by people like: Nuala O’Donnell-Johnson, Eileen McGuiness, Maureen McIntire, Val Lenehan, Aideen Murphy, Pearl Fitzgibbon and Clare Gibson.
They will carry on a great tradition, started in 1968 by Patsy Dunne and continued by wonderful volunteers in every generation since.
Grateful thanks to Margot Kenny, Sean Grimes, John Honan and Ivor Hamrock of Mayo County Library, Castlebar.
© Cathal Henry 2011