Séamus (Séamie) Lynch was born and reared in the Square Athenry. His mother Máire Ní Céidigh, from Spiddal, had a thriving drapery business on the corner of the Square and his father, Ger, had a bakery next door. He had an idyllic childhood in the late 50s and 60s in Athenry. It was a time of street games and there were plenty of playmates to play football on the streets of the town and in “the Back Lawn”. Hessions, Whelans, Cannons, Brownes, Currans, Taylors, Curleys and Jordans spent most of their daylight hours out on the street or in the ball-alley.
Lynch’s Drapery Shop with Eileen, Martin and Séamus
In his wonderful stories “Walking around Athenry with Séamus Lynch” he tells of his “happy memories of swimming in Cahertubber lake as a child. In those long – gone days, it was considered a major achievement to graduate from the local ‘swimming pool – the widest pool in the local river behind the Bag Factory – to the daunting waters of Cahertubber.
Mary and Eileen Lynch with their Mother, Máire Ní Céidigh
Fishing took up a lot of his youth – “I meet first with Paddy Corley at the River Bridge and as this month is usually the height of the fishing season, we anxiously anticipate the next flood. “In Cahertubber there was a small lake where we fished for tiny fish which we called ‘Roach’. Nobody ever seemed to eat those fish but the ‘craic’ was always great.” … “days and nights I spent fishing along the banks of Gort na h’Abhann. Names of great fishermen and wonderful characters like John Crosby and Gerry Collins quickly come to mind”. Ger Browne’s shop in Bridge Street was the place to buy rods, hooks and line”.
At that time handball was very popular in Athenry. Played up against the north wall of the Priory (locally called the Old Abbey) it was a gathering point for young and old. Hand balls were scarce and relatively costly and they could be lost in the Old Abbey grounds in tall grass, nettles and briars, worse still into the river or into Johnny Whelan’s rose garden. If it went into the river there was a rush down the river bank with a very long stick with a net on its end to get the ball before it was swept river out of reach. Séamus spent many evenings in Paddy and Eileen Curley’s house beside the bridge. The family were all gifted athletes. … He notes “Their eldest son Tony, now living in Boston, is a personal friend of mine and I was privileged to be his partner in many an Inter- County handball competition”.
Séamus Lynch, Eileen and Paddy Curley, Mary Lynch and Tony Curley with the Purcell Cup
Séamie and Tony excelled in hard ball competitions and in 1965 won the Connacht Minor Hard ball doubles and went on to win the Purcell Cup in the All-Ireland hardball doubles that same year. In fact, it was the last major title won by Athenry Handball Club since then. Gerry Cronnelly, played handball until he was 54 years old and then began coaching the young lads – John Murphy, Francis (Boso) Hession, Adrian and Donnacha Ruane, Paul Cleary, son of Tom Cleary, Tony, Jimmy and Eugene Curley, Séamie and Joe Lynch – all of whom brought the highest honours to Athenry by winning County and Connacht championships. I think Jimmy Cleary and Gerry Ward won the All-Ireland under 14 championship around the same time. Over the years Séamie did a lot to promote the game and for many years was Chairperson of both the Athenry club and County Galway Handball. In 1979 local news reporting on the opening of the new Handball Alley in Swangate states that “Athenry’s Séamus Lynch, Chairman of the Galway Handball Board told the attendance that the Athenry Club were now in a position to host major competitions such as County and Provincial Finals. He referred to the strong tradition of handball in Athenry and stressed that to maintain the interest of the youth the provision of facilities such as these included in the development was vital”.
It wasn’t all handball with Séamie for according to the Tuam Herald, 9th. January 1966, Séamie took to the stage with a newly formed pop group, the Omegas, for an ICA concert. This group, consisted of Tom Howley, Séamus Lynch, Sean O’Dowd from Athenry and Senan Drury from Loughrea, got a great reception from a packed audience in the Town Hall. Among the other contributors was the Hession school of Dancing among them were Delores Murray, Martina Cleary, Kitty Staunton, Nancy Murphy, Ethna Kennedy, Maura Shields, Barbara Gibbons and Marion Quinn. Eamon Torpey, Billy Carson and Grant Curran were another group and others involved were Rosemary Kennedy, Joan Murphy, Chrissie Kearns. Martina Cleary played the harp. And on the 19th March 1966, we find Séamie and Tom Howley again entertaining another large audience, in the same place, for the ICA. Other names on the programme were Norman Payne, Dominic Parr, Kevin Rohan and Christy Howley and members of the Athenry Drama group.
Photo courtsey Terry Nolan, Athenry Drama Group
These concerts were not the only stage appearances for Seamie. He was, for many years an active member of the highly acclaimed Athenry Drama Group that has entertained us for generations. On the 16.04.1971 the Connacht Tribune reporting on the All-Ireland final of the Loughrea Drama Festival noted that the adjudicator stated that “he liked very much the playing of Seamus Lynch as Algernon” in “the Importance of being Ernest” by Oscar Wilde. Also praised were Noreen Hession as Gwendolen and Joan Murphy as Miss Prism”. The group was awarded the prize for the Best Comedy of the festival. If he was not part of the cast Séamie helped as a stage hand and very often was Master of Ceremonies for the night. Rehearsals for the stage were held in the old boy’s school in Abbey Row.
The Stock Exchange – Photo: Patrick Dineen – Photoblog.ie
Séamie spent many years in the Athenry Cooperative Mart graduating from being a clerk to becoming an auctioneer in his own right. He was very good at his job, had a great voice, could detect a half wink from a small man bidding for a heifer while he hid behind a few others, gave the animal “a great selling” and was known far and wide in the farming community. Among those who worked the gavel, over the years in the mart, were Colm Hillard, Padraic McCormack, and Noel Tracey all of whom were later elected to Dáil Éireann. (Who knows, Seamie could have followed in their footsteps, his brother Martin was a successful politician. Séamie certainly had the ability but, unfortunately, he had to retire after some years, due to ill health.) Other auctioneers who worked in the mart were Jimmy Delaney, Phelim Kearns, Michael Mannion, P.J. Callanan and Terry Cooke.
In the 60s and 70s the Canon Canton Memorial Hall was one of the premier venues for Snooker and Billiards in the county and like many others he was part of it all his life from when he could chalk a cue and maybe sooner. He writes, in his walks around Athenry about one of his mentors Seán Dempsey– “Seán’s sudden and much-lamented passing from this life has already been well documented. His various sporting abilities were second to none. Like countless others, I considered myself very fortunate to be a personal friend, and I was privileged to play alongside him on the local snooker team on numerous occasions in many venues throughout the province. He will be greatly missed. ‘Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam”. The same could be said of Séamie!
Christy Barret, Séamus Lynch, Jimmy Cleary, Frank Kilkelly
The local papers noted his achievements regularly! Tuam Herald 13.03.1965 shows him picked on the team for the first round of the County Championship, Billiards with Francis Hession, Willie Higgins and Frank Sweeney. Others who played snooker with him then were Paul Waldron, Johnny Crosby, Luck Glynn and Eddie Somers. On the 13. 11, 1965 he plays in the semi-final of the snooker tournament against Johnny Crosby while veteran Christy Barrett plays Willie Higgins.
On the 27.01/1967 the same group of players, plus Kevin Whelan and Jim Barrett came out on top in the club and then went on to beat Loughrea and Portumna in the county Final. In April 1971 Séamus was defeated in Billiards but made up for it when he and Sheamus Waldron won the darts competition. In 1973 he played stiff opposition to get to the final in billiards but was beaten by Christy O’Grady in the final. That year he was elected on the Canton Hall Committee and he was also on the winning team for the Inter County Snooker and Billiards Tournament.
In 2005 Séamie, was Elected President of the Canton Hall with Canon Tony King, Kevin Devally, Cathal Atkinson, Stephen Murphy, Sean O’Gorman, Shane Bane, Paddy Ward, Declan Ward, Patrick Devally, Donal Foran, Kevin Higgins, Ronan Ward, Aaron Ryan, Dan Ryan and Shane Murray. In 2011 he was still in the news as president of the club and was running the competitions there.
Bernie Ní Fhlaherta, in the Connacht Tribune 18th January 2008, wrote about Séamie’s discovery of a medieval stone carving which he rescued from a builder’s skip and saved it from being lost forever.
The Bishop’s Head
In the meantime, Séamie had become a Peace Commissioner which is an honorary appointment made by the Minister for Justice, Mr. Alan Shatter. This was a very responsible position with the duty of: Taking statutory declarations and oaths, Witnessing signatures on documents required by various authorities and Signing certificates and orders under various Acts,
He was also connected to the Heritage Centre where he could put to good use one of his favourite subjects – local history. His “Walking Tour of Athenry” was a success from the start and brough many visitors, from home and abroad, to our little Medieval town. The Connacht Tribune of 16.07.2020 published “Athenry Historian’s efforts draws praise from US Major General”. He gave some US Soldiers a tour of the town and they were very impressed with his story of an American B 17 bomber crashlanding in the vicinity of the town and so their commanding officer wrote him a letter of thanks.
Séamie was always good company, a wonderful storyteller, always had time for a chat, excellent memory for names and facts. He had a very warm personality and great crack. Living alone wasn’t easy as he enjoyed company and sometimes, like many of his generation may have spent more time than he should on “the high stool” indulging in a little more than his health allowed. However, as “part and parcel” of Athenry it’s for his great commitment to his community that he will be remembered.
Times have changed in Athenry – no cries of children swimming in the pool, no fishing the river as there are no trout there anymore, neither do we hear the crack of the ball in the alley. Sadly, the Back Lawn and the Canton Hall are closed to the locals but we can still have memories of Séamie walking the roads of Athenry with the little terrier, always ready to stop and have a chat except when he was heading for the dinner of bacon and cabbage in his sister Eileen’s house or on his way home to a nice brown trout for his tea!
Written by Finbarr O'Regan
Published here 30 Jun 2023