Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rheban and Churchtown (Rheban Football)

Last weeks article prompted the editor (assuming it is he who composes the headlines to accompany the Eye on the Past) to headline my piece on Samuel Henry Graham as “Waxing Lyrical in Castledermot”.  Well this week, if I am to follow his lead, the lyric making trundles across country westward to reach the rural outpost of Rheban.  Looking up Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837 I find under the heading “Rheban, County of Kildare - See Churchtown”.  Now I have always regarded Rheban as quite a distinct area in its own right and certainly as separated as one could hope for from neighbouring Churchtown.  But no, when I turn to the entry for Churchtown I found it described thus - “Churchtown or Rheban, a parish in the Barony of West Narragh and Rheban containing with part of the post town of Athy 2009 inhabitants of which number 706 are in the town.  This parish is situated on the River Barrow and contains 7245 statute acres”.

So now you have it, Rheban and Churchtown are interchangeable names for the parish of - well what is it to be – Rheban or Churchtown?  If we look to the past for something by which to rate the claims of either Churchtown or Rheban to primacy insofar as the parish name is concerned, then the evidence weighs heavily in favour of Rheban.  After all Rheban was believed to be a site of the ancient town of Raiba noticed on Ptolemys map as one of the principal inland towns of second century Ireland.  It was also of course the site of Rheban Castle built by the St. Michael family, the original Lords of the Manor or landlords of these parts. 

Churchtown on the other hand does not appear to have any great claim in history, except that it's name is obviously an indication of an ancient ecclesiastical settlement in the area.  Then there was the musical tradition of Churchtown which gave us the Churchtown Pipe Band.  But nearer to our own time the sporting prowess of Rheban, exemplified in the Rheban G.A.A. Club started back in 1929, guarantees for the Parish of Rheban an unqualified acceptance of it's right to be known as such rather than the Parish of Churchtown. 

I was put in mind of all of this when following the recent death of Dan Foley, his widow Bernadette passed on to me a copy of a ballad called simply “The Rheban Victory Song”.  What, I wondered, gave rise to the ballad, the answer to which was readily to be seen in its lines.

It was apparently composed in 1940 by Pat McEvoy of Rheban whom I am told was one of the famous McEvoy brothers and whose brother Mick was one of the stars of the Rheban football team which brought the first silver cup to the club in the form of the 1940 Junior Championship.  The club had been formed eleven years previously in the wake of County Kildare's victories in the All Irelands of 1927 and 1928.  Imagine, not just one senior All Ireland but two in succession for the shortgrass county which has suffered a dreadful drought ever since.

The Moore brothers, John and Tom, were the prime movers in setting up the Rheban club and older brother John was the first club chairman, while Tom was elected secretary and treasurer, positions he would hold for over 50 years.  The club played junior football and suffered defeat in the Junior Championship Finals of 1937 and 1938.  Two years later the club contested the Junior Final for the  third time and their opponents, Ardclough, proved so difficult to defeat that the first match ended all square.  The replay took place three weeks later when Rheban came out winners by scoring 8 points to Ardclough's 1 goal and 1 point.

The Rheban football panel included Alf Kane, Mick Hickey, Owney Pender, Tony Keogh, Mick McEvoy, Billy Marum, Tom Hickey, Arthur Lynch, Hugh Owens, Pat Fitzpatrick, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Moore, Jim Kane, Pat Connolly, John Cardiff, Billy Tierney, Joe Barry and Pat McEvoy.  Pat McEvoy composed the Rheban victory song to mark what was a famous occasion in the history of Rheban club.


The fame of old Rheban has spread round Kildare
Of games they have played in towns here and there
In Narraghmore, Ballytore, Newbridge and Naas
But, to tell of the final, I must leave some space
Ardclough are the victors away in the north
They are hopeful of winning the final - but trath
The're forgetting that Rheban have won out the South
But bedad they'll remember, before 'tis played out
The big day is here, it has come to decide
The team that will conquer, the team that must bide,
Our gallant supporters are here in their throngs,
To cheer us to victory and right all our wrongs.
The whistle is sounded, the ball is thrown in
Ardclough, they are up, and, for a win
With a goal and a point up in five minutes play,
Sure they're yelling already that we've lost the day.
But alas for their hopes sure their cheers are in vain,
For our captain has rallied us all to the game,
And now we settle down to good football and fast
For ours is a team that strikes to the last.
From that bad beginning we show them some style
With point after point we wipe out their smile
Too late they discover when we take the lead
That nothing can break down our spirit or speed
The men of the moment are Myles Fitz and Lynch,
With the backs and the goalie not giving an inch
Our forwards are playing like All Ireland men
Sure the likes of that game we will ne're see again.
There goes the whistle, the game it is done
Hurrah for old Rheban, Good men one and all
Undaunted, they've kept on tho' many a fall
Now to conclude with three cheers for the names
of the men who helped us and brought us to fame
Ber Kane ever faithful, Tom Moore for his brains
And Tom Mack for his field where we always could train.”

Following last weeks article I was delighted to get a phone message on the morning the paper reached the local shops giving me the name of the writer of the ballad, “My Home Town in Kildare”.  Later in the week I discovered that sadly the Castledermot man who wrote the ballad died last year but his widow gave me the background to the ballad's composition which if you remember from last week found its way to New Zealand from where an enquiry had come as to its origin and composer.  Now the story can be told and I hope to do so in the near future.

In the meantime ballads, songs and poems feature large on the horizon for Colm Walsh whom I am told is putting together a CD of the many such works relating to Athy and South Kildare.  It promises to be an interesting bringing together of the musical and poetical effusions, ancient and modern, relating to this area and it's people.  Keep an eye out for the CD which I am sure will be in the shops in time for the Christmas period.

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