A gift received recently from Mary Donohue of programmes sold in connection with the 1937 and 1939 Carnivals held in Ballylinan prompts this article. I have previously written of the local businesses which advertised in the 1937 Carnival Programme but today I want to deal with the background to the Carnivals and those who participated in them.
The condemnation of the old school building in Ballylinan in the early 1930’s necessitated the building of a new school for the 240 or so youngsters who each day attended classes in the village. That earlier school building had been erected in 1842 to replace a small thatched one room school building which in its time catered for 100 youngsters. The Parish Priest in the early 1930’s was Reverend J. Killian whose brother was the Archbishop of Adelaide. With the willing help of the local Parishioners Fr. Killian set about the task of raising over £2,000.00 which with the Department of Education Grant of £3,600.00 was required to fund the building cost of the new school. But first a suitable site had to be got and John Hovenden’s field on the Athy side of the village was secured. It required a considerable amount of preliminary work including leveling and many of the local men with either horses and carts or lorries gave freely of their time to draw material to the site. Building work started in the Autumn of 1933 with Carbery Building Contractors of Athy, a firm involved with many, if not, most of the major building contracts in South Kildare during the 20th Century. Work continued apace and in July 1934 the foundation stone of the new St. Patrick’s School was laid by the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. M. Cullen.
Raising the local contribution of £2,000.00 which was the shortfall in the school building costs was a daunting task, but one to which the Parishioners of Arles, wherein lies the village of Ballylinan, committed themselves. I have been able to confirm that the Carnivals started in 1935 and were held every second year up to and including 1939. Looking through the programme for the 1937 programme, one is struck by the variety and quality of the artists hired for the two weeks of the event. The Carnival ran from the 15th to the 29th August and assigned to itself the claim of being “Ireland’s Greatest Inland Carnival”.
The Adelaide Melody Band, reputed to be the “largest resident dance band in Ireland”, played at the opening Carnival Dance in the new school under the baton of its leader Vincent Rogers. The Ballylinan Ceile Band played in what was referred to as the “Ballylinan Club” and like the Adelaide Melody Band had a six hour stint until three o’clock each morning. I wonder who were the members of the Ceile Band on that occasion? Earlier on the opening Sunday, the Number 3 Army Band played a selection of music before leading a parade to the Carnival grounds where McDonald’s Amusements were in full swing. A fireworks display was held on Sunday night and throughout the entire period of the Carnival, “the wonderful and weird exploits of Yuga” were demonstrated to an audience who obviously knew more than I do about his power of necromrancy. A visit to the Oxford Dictionary was necessary to confirm that his exploits were in the Art of Prediction by supposed communication with the dead.
Ballroom and Ceile dancing took place every night and must have brought an enormous number of revellers to Ballylinan by hackney car, bike and foot during that Summer fortnight of 65 years ago. The musical tastes of all and sundry were well catered for by the many bands which performed during the Carnival. These included Castlecomers Brass and Reed Band, Doonanes Pipers Band, Churchtowns Pipers Band and the Arles Brass and Reed Band. Add to all that activity, a gymnastics display, a whist drive, a boxing tournament, a tug of war competition and a mini golf competition and you have a fortnight of fun which must be given huge enjoyment during those gloomy days of the Economic War.
The third and last Ballylinan Carnival was held from the 4th to the 18th June 1939, just a short time before the outbreak of World War Two. The 1939 Carnival Programme was priced at three pence whereas one paid four times that sum for the programme produced two years earlier. That earlier programme had one hundred and twelve pages while the pre-war edition was a slim volume of forty eight pages. The events organised for the two weeks of June 1939 consisted of Ballroom dancing each night in what the programme called “The Ballroom” where Mantovani and his London sextet provided the music. Was the Ballroom again in St. Patrick’s School? The Ceiles were held on Sunday and Thursday evenings only, unlike the previous Carrnival when the Ballylinan Ceile Band was on call every night of the two weeks. The Carnival Amusements were again the main stay of the Carnival grounds with the added attraction of “The Great Morell” who entertained the crowd from atop his one hundred and twenty foot high perch. If you did not have a head for heights, you could always make an appointment to see Princess Owonga of the Cherokee Tribe who would tell your fortune or if you preferred your horoscope for the rather princely sum of two and six. During the second week of the Carnival, “Risko the greatest and most daring trapeze artist of the age” was engaged to entertain the Carnival revellers as were an Indian troop from the Pleasure Beach of Blackpool, England.
A Boxing Tournament and what was billed as “The Match of the Year” between Leix and Offaly was the highlight of the last Sunday’s activities. I was intrigued to find amongst the list of boxers at featherweight “J. O’Neill of the C.B.S. Boxing Club”. Assuming this was our local Christain Brothers School who was J. O’Neill?
Organising a Carnival of such magnitude every second year was a particularly difficult task for a village committee but looking through the list of Steward and Committee Members for 1937 and 1939, I am struck by the consistency of the commitment given over those years. With few exceptions, the same names are found in both programmes working under the chairmanship of John Murphy and Treasurers, Thomas Roche and Mary Bambrick. The secretary in 1937 was Laurence Dunne whom I believe was a teacher in the local school and two years later the local curate, Reverend W. Dowling had the job.
The Ballylinan Carnivals of the 1930’s are still recalled by a generation of Athy elders who as young men and women travelled by Hackney car, bicycle or indeed on foot to the village three miles away to enjoy themselves. On many occasions, Mantovani’s name has been mentioned to me as a highlight of those Carnivals, which became part of the folklore of our time as the memories of those enjoyable days and nights in Ballylinan were again and again revisited.