Tuesday, January 14, 2020

John W. Kehoe

At an Athy Urban District Council meeting in November 1969 the local Councillors discussed a press report of the Councillors’ previous criticism of the failure of the County Kildare GAA Board to secure more intercounty games for Geraldine Park, Athy. During the discussion in which Enda Kinsella, Frank English and Tom Carbery participated Michael Rowan, better known to all as ‘Rexie Rowan’, suggested that the GAA grounds should be called ‘the John W. Kehoe grounds in honour of the man who brought the grounds up to their present excellent condition.’ John W. Kehoe owned a pub in Offaly Street which he purchased with his brother Harry from Tom Dowling in 1947. John W. was elected chairman of the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee in 1954 following the retirement of the previous long serving chairman, Fintan Brennan. It is claimed that Geraldine Park was the first GAA grounds in the country to be fully enclosed, in its case by a wooden paling. The local GAA club’s efforts in that regard were rewarded when Geraldine Park was chosen as the venue for the 1907 All Ireland Football Final between Dublin and Cork. It was later chosen for the All Ireland Hurling Final between Tipperary and Dublin played on 27th June 1909. Geraldine Park and Athy Gaelic Football Club went through difficult times during the following decades but yet the club members managed to carry out various improvements to the park to ensure its suitability for intercounty games. One major project was the levelling of the playing pitch and the installation of a drainage system all enclosed by retaining walls built to pitch level. That work commenced in December 1949 undertaken by Tom Fleming and was completed in time for the grounds to be reopened on 10th June 1951. When John W. Kehoe took over chairmanship of the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee there was an urgent need for dressing rooms, while the roadside fencing was unsightly and defective. John W. set about the task of improving Geraldine Park with energy and imagination. I think it was in the summer of 1957 that John W. first organised a nationwide draw. He toured the country during the summer months with helpers selling tickets for what was then a unique prize of a Hillman car and a caravan. While being toured around the country the car clocked up many miles, while the caravan provided living accommodation for John W. and the ticket sellers who were generally away from Athy for three weeks at a time. I was one of those ticket sellers for three years (if I remember correctly) between 1958 and 1960 spending my summer school holidays travelling the highways and byways of the 26 counties. I do however remember that I developed a lifelong hatred of beans after a daily diet of same during our travels. The singing of Bridie Gallagher announced our arrival in every town and village as John W. slowly drove the car and caravan with loudspeakers aloft, while the ticket sellers knocked on every door and visited every shop on both sides of the streets. Athy Gaelic Football Club became in those years the best known GAA Club in the country as a result of John W.’s countrywide draw promotion. As a result of my journeys over the years with John W. I got to know every town and village south of a line between Westport and Dundalk and to view parts of Ireland seldom seen by many others. John W. Kehoe devoted at least six months of every year to the Athy GAA draw, thereby providing badly needed funds for the Athy Club’s grounds. The funds collected as a result of his energy and dedication were utilised to build new dressing rooms and to construct a new boundary wall fronting on to the Dublin Road. Eddie Tubridy, who was then a teacher in the local Vocational School, was responsible for the design of the boundary wall which drew very favourable comments from the Tidy Towns inspectors in the year following its erection. John W. Kehoe retired from business in 1966 and he later moved to Ballaghmore between Borris-in-Ossory and Roscrea where he opened a bar and restaurant business called ‘The Highway Inn’. He died on 11th December 1974 and is buried with his wife Mary in the local cemetery in Ballaghmore. John W. was but one of many individuals who over the years since the founding of Athy’s GAA club contributed hugely to the development of Geraldine Park. The publican from Offaly Street made a huge personal commitment, assisted by many others on the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee, including my own father who was for several years the Grounds Committee treasurer. Every time I pass what I still call Kehoe’s pub in Offaly Street I remember with fondness the man who during his years in Athy did so much for Athy Gaelic Football Club and Athy’s Geraldine Park.

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