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KILFANE BALL ALLEY
Jim Power

In the early years of the present century, football was very popular in the Kilfane area, and the local team gained considerable prominence in the County Championships. Interest faded and many of the older players turned to cricket which was fostered by the local big houses. The rising generation needed something more suited to their interests and energies. A number of them travelled outside the parish to play hurling and thereby achieved county and All-Ireland status. However, there was not sufficient support for a local hurling team and towards the end of the second decade of this century some of the young men of the area began to travel to Closgregg to play handball in the local ball-alley there, which was situated opposite where Flynn's house now stands.

Interest in the game increased, and a makeshift pitch was soon established at Boheranuisge Cross, with the gable-end of the Kennels as a front-wall and the roadway as a floor. It soon became evident that handball could count on local support and thoughts began to turn towards the idea of building a ball-alley. Matters of national importance delayed plans, but finally a small group was set up to examine sites and report on their suitability. Because of building difficulties, and more especially costs, old ruins were of considerable interest and the site deemed most suitable was one such ruin adjacent to Kilfane Cross, known as Jude Dwyer's house, which was then owned by the Fitzgerald family of Waterford, who had sometime earlier acquired the adjoining lands from the Power Estate. Some of the committee had reservations about the site due to its proximity to the public house but of more immediate importance was the fact that the Fitzqeralds refused to sell. They suggested instead a location in Kilfane Quarry, part of which they also owned. It transpired however, that they did not own that part of the quarry considered most suitable but that Miss Power of Kilfane House had a claim to it.

When approached by some members of the founding group Miss Power was most enthusiastic and gave her consent and every encouragement. Her interest was threefold -her friend Lady Desart had sometime previously built a ball-alley at Talbots Inch and she was anxious to do something similar. There was also the problem of trespassing at the Kennels which was increasing as interest in the game brought large numbers of young men to the area. And finally, in the difficult political climate that existed about this time she was anxious to be seen to be co-operative and helpful in the local community.

The original committee which was established in 1922 had the following five members:

Chairman - Pakie O'Brien, Castlegarden.
Secretary and Treasurer - John Holohan, Stoneen.
Members - Martin Doyle, Kilfane; Pat Dunne, Castlegarden; Jack Hennessy, Kilmurry.

Once the location was agreed, no time was lost in getting work underway. The long bank leading to the top of the Kiln in the Quarry had to be hacked away, and the chairman, Pakie O'Brien, marked the commencement of the work by digging the first sod. There was a tremendous response from all the local families; horses and carts were readily available to shift stones, sand etc. and all the young men of the area gave freely of their labour to excavate, level and develop the site. Plans were prepared to build a 60'x30' alley and by the end of the first year (1923) a front wall 30' wide and 20' high, with a floor area 30' long were completed.

All the members of the committee were present at the laying of the foundation and a proposal by Martin Doyle to place a silver coin under a corner stone was not accepted as the others felt it could have 'serious consequences.'

The first 6' over the foundation was built against the bank with voluntary help and consisted of a face wall with filling at the back. At this stage Dick Power, a local tradesman, was called in to finish the front wall and lay the floor. A stone showing the year 1923 was built into the top of the wall.

In the following year (1924) a small portion of a left-hand side wall measuring approximately 10' x15' was built in mass concrete by Pat Kealy and Matty O'Keeffe, with local help. In 1926 a dancing platform which had been used for a couple of years at the Cross of Killarney became available and John Holohan, realising its potential as makeshift sidewalls, lost no time in doing a deal. The panels of the platform were transported from Killarney by Johnny Farrell on a cart belonging to the Fitzgeralds and were erected by voluntary labour.

Miss Power continued her interest and in this regard John Holohan played a vital role in keeping her informed about progress and development. So impressed was she by his enthusiasm and initiative that when a new drive for funds was launched in 1928, for the purpose of replacing the by now partly rotted wooden panels, she generously offered to pay for the whole project. This was then set out on contract to T. Brennan and was completed in 1929. It was officially opened on May 18th 1930 by Canon Drennan, P.P. Tullaherin, in the presence of Miss Power and Michael Davin (Chairman Kilkenny Handball Board). Kilfane had now one of the finest 'open' handball courts in the country.

After the opening an exhibition match was played between Kilfane and Talbots Inch which was won by the latter. Larry Walsh and Tommy Dormer combined to give the home club their only win after Jim Farrell and John Savage and J. Lanigan and Tom Walsh had been beaten in the first two games.

It is interesting to note that at this time there could be an 'over'ball as well as a 'short' ball, the 'over' line being at the end of the side wall 60' from the front wall. A skilled tosser could require his opponent to hit the ball from 70 - 75' in order to reach the front wall.

Money was scarce generally and funds for building were hard to come by. Raffles, house-to-house collections, appeals to the gentry, dances, card games and handball tournaments all formed part of the work of the committee. Meetings tended to be irregular but nevertheless the work was done. When the weather was fine they were generally held in the open or under the Kiln adjacent to the ball-alley and during the Winter and on wet evenings they were held in the Kennels, access to which was gained by jumping the high surrounding wall. These meetings were held without any lighting for fear of attracting the owner's attention.

Club members participated in tournaments all over the County and visits to or from the following clubs were a feature in the earlier years: The Slate Quarries, Ballyane, Ullard, Goresbridge, Kells and Talbots Inch. The Slate Quarries and Ballyane were particularly friendly with Kilfane and Socials always followed these matches. Travel was generally by bicycle except to the more distant venues where an open lorry with loose seats was provided.

As handball became more popular nationally four-walled courts increased in numbers and in order to keep pace with developments the local club started to consider the provision of a back-wall which would in turn require a gallery or spectator area. Once more Miss Power came to the rescue and by her generosity it was possible to have the work completed by contract in the Spring of 1932 at a total cost of 300. The completed court was opened and blessed by Canon Drennan on June 5th 1932. The day's proceedings were reported in The Kilkenny Journal as follows:

On Sunday last V. Rev. Canon Drennan P.P. presided at the opening of Kilfane Handball Court in the presence of upwards of 200 spectators. Miss May Power, Kilfane; Mr. Eamonn Purcell (Chairman of Kilkenny County Handball Board); Mr. C. Scully (Hon. Sec. do.) were also present. Kilfane Court is today one of the finest in the country due to the generosity of Miss Power who has done so much to keep the game alive in the district. During the past 12 months she has been the means of having a splendid new floor, a back wall and a spacious gallery provided.

A special word of thanks is also due to Mr. Sean Holohan for his great efforts in furthering the interests of handball in Kilfane. It is over 9 years since Sean and some other handball enthusiasts first contemplated the building of a handball court.

During the afternoon some fine games were witnessed between players from Talbot's Inch and The City and Goresbridge which resulted in a 2 games to 1 win for the Kilkenny men. The Powerstown Pipe Band discoursed some very fine selections of music at intervals. The Court was nicely festooned with appropriate mottoes in Gaelic and streamers all around the walls. The Kilkenny contingent arrived just at the right moment to fall in behind the band and make up a long procession to the ball-court. Canon Drennan declared the court open and threw in the ball for the first game.

The period immediately after the opening was a great time in the annals of the Club, not because of games won and lost, but because of the general activity that developed as a result of the back-wall. In October 1933 Paddy Perry who was all-Ireland champion for the three previous years played Paddy Reid who was Tailteann Champion and all-Ireland finalist in 1932. An additional platform had to be erected that day, but so great was the crowd that many still did not see the game. The Army Champions, Finnegan and Gallagher, played the same day and much to the delight of the crowd were beaten by the local pair Paddy Power and Frank Minogue, who the previous month had won the county junior doubles title.

To coincide with the new development a Gaelic League class was started in Kilfane which was attended by most of the members of the handball club. This helped to provide a meeting place and a place where plans for the ball-alley could be discussed and developed. The letters for the plaque on the side of the alley were designed by Eoghan O’Kelly, the teacher, and were cut by members of the class.

During the first twelve years or so there were very few changes on the committee and in addition to those already mentioned the following also acted at different times: Jim Farrell, Matty O'Keeffe, Paddy Doyle, Larry Walsh, Mickey Kealy, Bobbie Dormer, Jim Power, Mick Walsh and Willie O'Keeffe.

The outstanding player of the twenties was Jim Farrell who in partnership with John Holohan formed one of the outstanding pairs in the county. Other players of the twenties and thirties included Mickey Kealy, Jack and Dan Savage, The Dormer Brothers - Bobbie, Tonmy and Johnny, Paddy Dunphy, Frank Minogue, Larry and Mick Walsh, Tommy Reddy, Martin Doyle, Willie O'Keeffe and Jimmy O'Shea. Team-of-six championships were the principal attraction in these years because they generated greater interest in the club than the higher standard singles and doubles. It was difficult to get an evenly balanced six and very often teams had a weak tail. The team that brought the first win to Kilfane had no such weakness as each of the three pairs could tackle the best -Jim Farrell and John Holohan; Paddy Power and Mickey Kealy; Jack Savage and Jimmy O'Shea; were as good a six as could be found in any club. Their only drawback was lack of experience at back-wall play, but they quickly overcame this and a win was well merited in 1933. This was followed by further wins in 1934 and 1935; junior doubles wins in 1933-34-35, junior singles in 1935 and two lost finals in between. In 1934 also Paddy Power brought all-Ireland glory to Kilfane when, in partnership with Alfie Cullen of Talbot's Inch and representing Kilkenny, he won the all Ireland Junior Doubles title of that year.

The depression of the thirties, however, took its toll of the membership. Many emigrated seeking employment and those left at home suffered from lack of funds and encouraging companionship. From 1936-1939 there was absolutely no money in the club, and it took the private money of members to keep the flag flying. Nevertheless the club continued to be represented at tournament and championship games. Successes were few but the game survived. There were some young players coming up who were showing great promise and in the very last year of the decade Kilfane were again in the County Final of the team-of-six only to be beaten by Ullard.

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Engineer's Specifications for Back-Wall of the Ball Alley - J. O'Carroll, C.E.

GENERAL: All the work to be done to the entire satisfaction of three Members, to be appointed by the Committee and in strict accordance with this Specification. The Contractor to be responsible for any claims for accidents, arising out of or during progress of the Works, under any or all of the various "Workmens' Compensation Acts".

CEMENT: Cement to be best Portland of any approved brand, preferably "Blue Circle".

SAND & GRAVEL: To be of best quality from an approved Pit and equal to that to be found in Skehan's Pit, Kilarney.

STONES: Long narrow stones - not touching one another will be allowed in Back Wall to an amount not exceeding 20%.

BACK WALL: Sink Foundation to a depth of 2' 0" unless solid rock is found at a lesser depth. Foundation to be 2' 0" wide to floor level. Wall to be 12" wide from this point to a height of 9' 0". Concrete to be 5 to 1. Inside of this wall to be nicely plastered with concrete 1" thick. House side-walls at end 9' 0", also graduating.

DOOR & FRAME: A Doorway 6' 6" x 3' 0" to be formed in exact centre of Back Wall. Fix and supply one Framed and Ledged Door formed of 5/8" T&G boards with three ledges. Hang same with 3’9" T Hinges, and one Stock Lock and Bolt to be fitted on same. Door to be set exactly flush with inside of wall.

FLOOR: Hack out existing floor to a depth of 9" under existing floor level. Put in 4" of limestone broken to pass through a 3" ring. Thoroughly ram same. 3" of 5 to 1 concrete to be then placed in position and well rammed. Finish with 1" coat of 3 to 1 concrete. A fall of 3" to be allowed for from back to front wall and a small gradient from all points to Front Wall at East Corner, where a small hole is to be made to allow free flow of water. Floor to be in 3 sections with a slating lath between each section to allow for contraction and expansion.

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