The first football teams in the parish were formed after the ending of the Civil War (1923-1924) – a team in Irishtown and a team in Ballindine. Some of the men on these teams had memories of playing football with a ball that consisted of newspapers tied with string in the prison camp in Ballykinlar, but even before then, young men went out in the local fields kicking football on Sunday afternoons. There were no championships and leagues back then. The players organised matches among themselves, friends and visitors were invited in. There were no rules; neither was there a definite number of players on each side – that depended on the number available. Jerseys, togs and football boots were unheard of; corduroy pants and hobnail boots were the fashion of the day. Muscle and brawn were of greater importance than brains or skill. It was a case of survival of the fittest!
The players I can remember in those far off days were Luke McManus (Kilmacnella), Eddie Mullarkey (New York), George O’Malley (Irishtown and Westport) [George was a commercial traveller in Castlerea; he married Maggie Slattery, Irishtown, who lived where Sean Bourke’s bar now stands. George was Connaught handball champion. He emigrated to the US later on in life]; Paddy McGarry, Willie and Austin O’Donnell, Tom Melvin and Mickie Griffin (Irishtown), Stephen Noonan of Creevard [who came home from the US and went into business in Ballina], James Huane (Knockadoon) [a tailor by profession], Packie Huane (Boleyboy), Dr. Tossie Heneghan (Ballindine) ([played with both Irishtown and Ballindine – it was good for business!], Basil Curran, (Ballyhaunis) [a six foot two inches centerfield man who later went into extensive cattle export business in Co. Meath], and Laurence Morrin of Boleyboy.
I remember the famous Mayo footballer ‘Purty’ Kelly, Westport, training and playing with the local footballers. He worked as a ganger on the Ballindine to Irishtown road. He stayed in a caravan in Ryan’s field in Castlereagh.
Ballyhaunis football club had a falling out with the County Board which lasted for four or five years. A number of their footballers used to cycle to Irishtown to play football: Jim Forde, who played for the county, the famous Jackie Carney, Ballina, who was a shopkeeper in Ballyhaunis, Eddie Biesty and a few others.
‘Purty’ Kelly and Jackie Carney helped train and coach the local players long before the terms “coach” or “manager” were even mentioned in connection with the game.
I can remember other footballers of the time: Jimmy Curran (Oldtown and Dublin), Frank Patten (Ballindine and Dublin), and ‘Nipper’ Shanley, a native of Leitrim who was a senior clerk in the goods yard in Claremorris and a member of the Tailteann team of 1927 or 1928; he played for Ballindine.
Members of the Garda Siochana played a great part in football in the parish. I can remember a Guard Murray, a great organiser, Guard Cronin, and in later times Guard Callaghan and Guard McHugh from Kerry.
We had no definite pitch in Irishtown. We played where we could until the owners ran us out. We played in Michael O’Connor’s of Knockadoon, Michael Flaherty’s in Rockfort, J.J. Mullarkey’s in Irishtown, Mickie Griffin’s in Oldtown, and J.J. Noonan’s of Creevard. We also played on the site of the present cemetery in Irishtown, a field given to Fr. O’Connor as a sportsfield by the Congested District Board and known as Páirc Connor.
Teams were not affiliated then. Championship games took place only between the larger towns. We depended on challenge games among ourselves, with Ballindine or with visiting teams. I can remember travelling to places like Mount Delvin (Co. Roscommon) for challenge games.