The recent death of Seán Óg O Ceallacháin sent me searching amongst my sports books and in particular amongst the G.A.A. books on my shelves. Seán Óg’s name appears as the author or co-author of several books on our national games but it was ‘Seán Óg His Own Story’ published in 1988 which held most interest for me. His life story, which had another 25 years to run when the book first appeared in print, detailed his involvement in amateur dramatics and Gaelic sport before he became the world’s longest serving sports reporter.
He recalled the Dublin Drama Group ‘Walkinstown Players’, of which he was a member, visiting Athy on several occasions, the first time on 4th March, 1954 when Walter Mackens play ‘Home is the Hero’ was staged in the Town Hall. Seán Óg remembered that occasion which was marked by exceptionally bad weather and a good reaction from the local audience. ‘Despite a terrific gale, snow, hail and sleet, theatre lovers in the town turned out in force to see a play about which much had been written in the daily Press. The audience reaction to the play was fantastic, and indeed pleasing from our view point.’ Seán Óg and his colleagues had travelled to Athy to put on the performance in aid of the Churchtown and Kilberry School’s improvement fund.
The following year the Walkinstown Players again performed in Athy, this time in St. John’s Hall. T.C. Murray’s one act play ‘Spring’ was performed prior to being put on in the All Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone, together with a repeat performance of the three act play ‘Home is the Hero’. The Dublin group was being facilitated by Athy’s Social Club Players in their preparation for the All Ireland Drama Festival. Seán Óg in his memoirs referred to ‘our good friends in Athy’ and went on to explain how the ‘reaction of the audience helped immeasurably in polishing up the production.’
Athy was apparently a welcoming venue for the Walkinstown Players for Seán Óg recalls another performance in St. John’s Hall. This time ‘Bugle in the Blood’, a play by Listowel national teacher and author Bryan McMahon was performed on the Thursday and Sunday before Christmas to a packed hall.
Seán Óg, who won a Leinster Senior Hurling Championship with Dublin, also played Gaelic football. He joined the Clanna Gael Football Club in 1945 and played on the club’s senior team with Athy man Tommy Mulhall. Tommy, regarded as one of the best, if not the best footballer to have played with Athy, was a county and interprovincial Gaelic football player. He transferred from the Athy club to the Dublin based club Clanna Gael when he left his native town to work in the city.
Seán Óg is best remembered during the latter part of his career as the voice of the Sunday evening G.A.A. results programme. His past connections with Athy may not be so well known, but his book which he signed for me so many years ago makes an interesting addition to any Athy man’s library.
In recent years there has been a veritable avalanche of books published on G.A.A. matters, with players, managers and clubs all committing their stories to print. Last week I purchased what at first sight appears to be a wonderfully detailed book with an imaginative layout on the history of the St. Stephen’s G.A.A. club in Kilkenny. Written by Tommy Lanigan, it is possibly one of the most comprehensive club histories I have ever come across. Here in County Kildare a number of clubs including St. Lawrences, Castledermot, Clane, Naas, Carbery and Kilcock have all produced club histories, copies of which I have been lucky to acquire over the years. Apart from booklets produced for the Rheban and Castlemitchell clubs and the earlier mentioned books on St. Lawrences and Castledermot, nothing has yet been published on the first G.A.A. club established in South Kildare. The Athy Club was of course that club. Can we hope that someone will take on the task of committing to print the story of the club which gave us such great players as Tommy Mulhall, George Comerford, Danny Flood, Mick Carolan, Michael Foley and the young emerging stars of today. I would like to think that the Athy G.A.A. Club history is a book, which sometime in the future, I can add to my collection of G.A.A. club histories.