When I first got involved on the official side of handball in succession to Seamie Curran as Secretary of the Ballymore Eustace Handball Club in 1958 I began writing previews and reviews of games. These I did initially for the Leinster Leader and later on for the Ballymore Echo. In 1972 Fr Browne did his final Chronicle and via my late father asked me to do an article on handball for it.
From 1958 until 1997 I wrote exclusively about handball including a long article for the GAA Centenary book in 1984. The thought of writing about anything else never even occurred to me. As a result, I was thought of as the expert on handball affairs.
All that changed when the late Ann Langan became Editor of the Ballymore Bugle. Ann invited readers of the newsletter to made contributions to it. In response to that invitation, I submitted an article about the late Mick Shannon. While Ann was Editor of the Bugle I submitted a number of other Articles to her.
One of the articles I did related to Punchestown and my memories of it as it was and as it became.
In the early days of my involvement in handball the Curragh had a strong club and some useful handball players. “Chubby” Geary was one of these. “Chubby” played with two Jim Doyles – the late Jim from Leixlip (a brother of the late John from Wexford who played with one of handball’s Greats in the late John Ryan) and Jim from the Curragh (like the other Jim he was originally from Wexford). In 1963, I recall having a great game of hardball with Mick Sullivan against “Chubby” and Jim from the Curragh in the old Croke Park 60 by 30 alley. At the time, this game went the full distance of five games.
Kildare GAA Football
1997 was the year I became a GAA Football expert! I guess that is not completely true as I had always taken an interest in GAA Football which was closely associated with handball. I probably first became interested in the game when I discovered the grandfather of a class mate of mine (Joe Rafferty) in Naas National School was one of those that played on Kildare’s first All-Ireland winning team in 1905. My late mother was a big fan of Kildare football teams and frequently spoke of the exploits of the great Larry Stanley and the All-Ireland winning teams of 1928 and 1929.
Handball – now that is something I know about! When I started playing handball first the top player then and for many years after was Bobbie Grattan. I did not know it at the time but Bobbie had already played his best handball. That said for many years he contributed much to the game on the official side of things. Under IAHU rules handball was a semi-professional sport and as Ballymore Eustace played under its rules early handball stars acquired its ethos too.
This meant that players under its rules trained very hard for their matches. Although Ballymore Eustace played under the IAHA rules from the early forties it took a good while for a new ethos to set in. I would say Bobbie Grattan was the last player to conform to the old ethos. It must be remembered when Bobbie was playing senior hardball matches were the best of seven games and senior softball matches were the best of five matches. To survive these gruelling encounters you had to be very fit indeed.
Strange in my later days in handball I was regarded as a hard line hardball lover yet in my early days in Ballymore Eustace I did my best to promote softball. I spent my early life trying to master softball. Living in Ballymore Eustace, hardball came naturally to me and I never bothered trying to improve my
hardball game. After the sixties, hardball started to go downhill and I espoused its cause on the inter-county front.
Monsignor Maurice Browne - Special Edition of the Ballymore Echo
As the late Monsignor Maurice Browne contributed so much to Ballymore Eustace and Hollywood during his time there I felt it would be a great pity if his contribution was not acknowledged and so I did a couple of articles outlining his life story as I saw it. It is hard to imagine but he was sixty plus when he first came to Ballymore Eustace.
In my growing up years I spent so much time in Lawler’s shop and kitchen that it was easy for me to write about it and them. Once upon a time, Lawler’s shop was the centre of all activity in the village. Their ups and downs were our ups and downs. Sadly, Jack died on August 4, 2001 aged 85 and many of those referred to in the article are now deceased.
Bobbie’s exploits as a great steeple chase jockey were a source of great pride to his neighbours in Ballymore Eustace. His prowess was acknowledged in the early seventies when he received a Hall of Fame Award at the annual All-Stars Dinner Dance. In 2007 Bobbie went to his eternal reward.
The article on Cape Town is one of my favourites and relates to a holiday I had in Cape Town. As the article was done shortly after I returned home it is a detailed recounting of that holiday. Mostly it deals with the happy moments I had and the people I was fortunate to meet on the trip.
Strange to say, I have not met many of them since my return except I often see Des Scahill at the races. His wife Mary is one that I saw at the Curragh races and chatted to one day at Easons in Tallaght. From time to time, I see Willie McCreery who now trains horses like his brother and late father. Willie sometimes has good winners and I have been lucky enough to back some of them. Occasionally, I see Jack Wall. On one occasion I met Brian McCarthy after the races at Punchestown.
Hale- Bopp 1997
Again reading the piece on Hale-Bopp I was struck by how much things had changed since the piece was first written.
As everyone knows Paddy is now deceased. Over a long number of years Paddy contributed much to our community and to many different aspects of it.
I was around at the same time as John XXIII and John F Kennedy both of whom had exceptional insights into the human condition. As a boxer Mohammed Ali was unique and prepared to take unpopular stands for his beliefs. On the horsey front we had Arkle and after almost six decades his standing has yet to be surpassed.
The Easter Sunday Road Race was one of the biggest events run by the Athletic Club. On one occasion in the early sixties my late brother Paddy won it.
The Sillagh Plane Crash
As a child I was well aware of the Sillagh Plane Crash and of the Memorial Cross put up by Jim Doyle on the roadside tree that was struck.
Links with the World Handball Championships
When the World Handball Championships were held in Ireland in 2003 I was asked by the local club to do a piece about them for the local newsletter.
World Masters Doubles Handball Championships 1984
I did the article in 2003 about the success of Pat Kirby and I in the World Masters Doubles Championships in Centenary Year. I must admit, I enjoyed reliving that happy event once more.
Overtime I have created a number of websites. The present one can be accessed by googling mphandhorse. An earlier and more substantial one can be accessed by googling hand2011ball. The final one can be accessed by googling website matt purcell eircom.
More recently I have produced a booklet relating to my early Bugle articles. This booklet contains many photos that have not been seen before and articles relating to the matters referred to above. Anyone interested in getting a copy of it can do so by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org The cost of having same printed is €6 plus postage and package of €3.75.
© Matt Purcell 2013.