The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
The growth of the soccer club and the rugby club from the mid-1960s led to increased pressure on the grounds such that from time-to-time fixture lists had to be substantially revised so that a pitch would be available. The soccer club enjoyed a tremendous burst of success right through the 1960s while the rugby club was fielding a 2nd XV from the mid-1960s. It was this pressure on the resources at Spollanstown that, more than anything else, led to the dissolution of the Sports Club in 1971. But a secondary factor was the collapse of the carnivals and marquee dancing as a profitable venture from 1966. Thereafter for some five years substantial revenue was earned from Saturday night dancing. These Saturday night hops were largely the responsibility of the rugby club and the profits generated made the argument for independence irresistible. In January 1968 the rugby committee noted that the Sports Club had had a disastrous year financially and would be down £300 but for the profit of £540 from the Saturday night dances. The view of the meeting was that the rugby club wanted a home of its own even if this meant leaving Spollanstown. Soon after the Sports Club met and agreed to dispose of the bungalow built for the caretaker adjacent to the grounds for the sum of £2,650 to pay off the liabilities of the trustees.
First trustees of the Tullamore Rugby and Soccer Club, 1956. Back row: T. Kelly, G. Smyth, H.L. Egan, W. Champ, D. Kilroy; front row: Terry Adams, W. Stephens, J. Kilroy, O. McGlinchey.
The rugby club was at the time availing of land lent by Michael Galvin of Ardan and the Tullamore Harriers Club for use by the 2nd XV and to resolve the accommodation problem negotiations opened with the soccer club in mid-1968 for the purchase of their interest. The soccer club countered with an offer of £2,000 for the grounds but this was rejected. An offer of £4,000 by the rugby club followed and in December 1968 the soccer club wrote offering £5,000 to the rugby club to vacate Spollanstown. This offer was accepted and the rugby club began to look around for new grounds. The agreement provided for the payment of the first instalment of £1,250 before August 1969 with the balance payable before the end of April 1970.
The current and former presidents of Tullamore Rugby Club gathered for the golden jubilee memoir in 1987:
The rugby club was now in search of new grounds and by May 1969 a suitable field was selected at Durrow and agreement in principle reached to buy it at £3,100. Tullamore-born architect, Fergal MacCabe, was requested to prepare plans for a clubhouse and these were ready in early 1970. The tenders received put the cost of the clubhouse at c. £17,000 which was beyond the club’s resources at the time. It was reckoned that the club would need a income of £3.000 per year to finance repayments and this at a time when the main source of income, Saturday night dancing, was beginning to falter as a result of the competition from two new ballrooms in Tullamore. The club would have to severely curtail its plans for the new pavilion at Durrow, because even allowing for a loan from the Rugby Union the cost would be too heavy. This unpleasant aspect of economic reality was sinking in when out when out of the blue came the news from the soccer club that they would have difficulty, not so much in raising the £5,000, as the additional finance necessary to improve the pavilion and the personnel to manage it on a day-to-day basis. At the a.g.m. of the rugby club held in May 1970 it was announced that the soccer club had accepted a final offer of £6,500 for its interest in Spollanstown together with playing rights for three seasons free of charge and two more if required. The rugby club was to take possession in September 1970 and the pitch and putt course was to go one year later so as to expand the pitches.
The immediate financial problems for the club of finding £6,500 for Spollanstown and c. £3,500 for Durrow were taken care of by the Rugby Union who now bought Durrow with an option to purchase at a later date by the Tullamore club and also bought the sports field at Spollanstown (but not the pavilion) for £6,500. The Rugby Union later bought the freehold title to the Spollanstown grounds for an additional £2000.
One of great supporters at Spollantown was Micky Byrne. He was known to shout jokingly to a visiting referee: ‘You came down with them, You played with them, You can go home with them’.
Repair and improvement works were carried out in the first season and such works were continued on an irregular basis for the next ten years until 1981 when a major reconstruction job was completed. In the 1970–71 season a sum of £4,500 was spent renovating the pavilion, but at the end of the season the club had an overdraft of only £1,700 because of the income from the bar (£1,500 on a turnover of £4,000), dances and subscriptions. Bar revenue had proved buoyant at a time when income from dances was dropping, notwithstanding such innovations as dancing during Lent from 1970.
The clubhouse about 1987.
Despite the fall in dance income, the failure of discotheques first on Wednesday and later on Friday nights, the overdraft of £1,700 was wiped out in 1971–72. There now followed work on the grounds and this was effected in 1972–73 at a cost of c. £3,000. Even though the Saturday night dances finished in that season the club’s income was still good because of bar sales. The club had a good financial year in 1973–74 having a surplus of income over expenditure of c. £3,000. Club income at the time was derived from the following:
Gross profit on bar takings (32.5%)…………. £3,840
Socials and dances …………………………… £620 Subscriptions …………………………………. £387 300 and 200 draws …………………………… £1,017
In 1975 the club decided to purchase the lease of the Durrow playing field from the I.R.F.U. by the way of a first instalment of £1,000 and four annual payments of £1,000 each. This was to be of the greatest benefit to the club in 1979 when the Durrow property was sold by Tullamore for improvements to the pavilion. In 1975 the pavilion was again improved by the addition of a porch at the back and a new store at a cost of almost £4,000. Much needed drainage work on the pitches cost £1,300.
A feature of the rugby club throughout the 1970s and indeed into the 1980s was its ability to keep within certain budgetary limits and avoid any excessive burden of debt. An overdraft in one year was usually converted into a credit balance the following year. In terms of physical development 1978–79 was another great year for the club with the completion of a pavilion extension by contractor and club member, the late Vincent Ennis, for c. £10,000 and the purchase of a field at Spollanstown measuring about 2.75 acres from Mr. Harry Lawrence for c. £20,000. The new acquisition would serve as a third pitch. The completion of both major developments had been made possible by the sale of the grounds at Durrow for £40,000.
Book launch 1987 at Tullamore Rugby Club: -, Paul Wrafter, Dermot Kilroy, Claude Hill.
The improvements to the pavilion in 1979 were of an interim nature and the final stage in the process of reconstruction and decoration was completed over the period July to October 1981 by Vincent Ennis, at a cost of £55,000. The architect was Tony Bennett, club member, and an associate of Eugene Garvey and Partners. This involved the addition of 700 square feet, the revamping of a further 800 square feet and the redecoration of the entire premises. Thanks to a contribution of £15,000 from the club’s Tour committee fund this major undertaking was achieved without any significant loan funding.
The enormous workload the growing club was generating was tackled in mid-1979 by the creation of sub-committees to manage the various activities of the club and report back to a nine-man executive. Sub-committees were created for the bar, socials, catering, coaching, selection and youth. This new system, introduced as a result of a report from Vincent Cannon and his working party, has operated well since its inception and has served to bring more of the playing members into the administrative activities of the club.
Tullamore Rugby Club team about 1960 with some familiar faces including John Doyle, Tom Hayden and name the rest.
Tullamore Rugby Club by 1987 had first-class facilities for all its members on and off the field. Besides the bar and dance floor it could boast six dressing rooms, shower accommodation to match and three top-class, full-size pitches. Notwithstanding this the club was not content to sit on its laurels and commenced a new phase of development in jubilee year which would upgrade the pavilion and improve the lighting to the third pitch.
The Club will celebrate its centenary year in 2037. Affiliation to the IRFU came in 1937 with the revival and the founding of the second club. The new Offaly Heritage 12 has an article on Association Football in Tullamore and a piece on the Sterling family. Very soon we will run articles on Tullamore’s first gym and on early golf in Offaly.