The Back Lawn – Christmas 2000

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The ‘Backlawn’ is situated at the rear of Athenry Town House, from which it got its name. It is described in the old maps as a ‘Leper Compound’ (disused) and later as the ‘Agricultural Show Ground’.

The Leonard family came to live there about 1880 and about the same time the ‘Backlawn’ became a Town Park and Sports field for the people of Athenry.

The land was formerly held by one Joseph Barrett who first became a yearly tenant in or about the year1891 to Rodney and others the then Landlords of the Backlawn.

The said Joseph Barrett died intestate in June 1892 a married man leaving his widow Annie Barrett and three children over the age of twenty-one, namely Thomas Barrett, Annie Barrett and Maura Barrett him surviving. The said three children were the only issue of the said Joseph Barrett. On the death of the said Joseph Barrett, his said widow and children remained in sole possession of the said land and his said widow Annie Barrett became the yearly tenant thereof.

The whole of the said Barrett family left the town of Athenry in or about 1900 and previous to their departure they sold their interest in the said land to P. J. Quinlan, Michael J. Lardner, Richard P. Nolan, John F. Kelly, and Thomas Ruane for the sum of £40.0.0. No Deed of assignment was ever made or executed by the Barretts but the said P.J.Quinlan, Michael J. Lardner, Richard P. Nolan, John F. Kelly, and Thomas Ruane entered into the sole and exclusive possession of the said land and became yearly Tenants thereof to the Landlord.

The land was purchased by the Irish Land Commission in 1912 for £500 from the estate of Lady Edith Drummond.

A question arose as to how the field was to be dealt with, and the feeling of the people of the town was that it should not be held by any individual, but that it should be held by a Committee for the same purpose as before.

Eventually in 1919 it was vested in five men to hold in trust for the people of Athenry as a sports field. These men were: Dr. P.J. Quinlan of Caheroyan House, Michael L. Lardner, Richard P. Nolan, John F. Kelly (where the Square Inn is now) and Thomas Ruane (Died 1923)

These five men happened to be all members of the Athenry Agricultural Show Committee, but the committee that they were representing was the Commercial Club. John F. Kelly was the last surviving trustee and under his will in 1928, (he died 8th Dec 1928) he left all his property to his brother and to his nephew, Patrick M Kelly. Under a Codicil of the will dated 7th September l928 he bequeathed all, or any, of his interests in the ‘Backlawn’ to the Catholic Bishop of Tuam for the time being, to the Parish Priest of Athenry, for the time being to James M. Kelly, upon the same trusts as it was held by him; for the people of Athenry and all profits to go to the benefit of the poor of Athenry.

In spite of this the nephew Patrick M Kelly put the property up for sale by public Auction and Mrs Annie Fox bid for the field, but the property was withdrawn from sale on that occasion.

The ownership of the property was now in dispute; and it was contested at Galway Circuit Court on Tuesday 13th March 1933. His Lordship, Judge Wyse Power, began the hearing of an action in which the Attorney General with Stephen Jordan, T.D. Athenry, and others, ask for a declaration that John F Kelly, of Athenry, at the date of his death held the park known as the ‘Backlawn’ Athenry as trustee for the people of Athenry, an order cancelling the contract for sale and the deed of transfer of the premises to Mrs Annie Fox; an order that the defendant appoint new trustees for the premises, including himself if he so wishes. In the alternative that new trustees be appointed by the court and that they execute a transfer of the premises, in the alternative that the court appoint the present realtors as trustees of the premises and the defendant if he so wishes. That an account be taken of the rents and profits received by the defendant and that such order be made for the payment thereof, as the court may direct. An injunction restraining the defendant from completing the sale of the premises to Mrs. Fox or any other person or from further interfering with the premises.

The other plaintiffs in the action are: James Ruane, merchant; Thomas Cleary, plasterer; James Barrett, painter; Edward Kennedy, cattle dealer; Michael Walsh, Carpenter; all of Athenry; Michael Kilkelly, Caheroyan, Athenry motor proprietor. The defendant is Patrick M. Kelly, Cross-Street, Athenry, farmer, and nephew of the late John F. Kelly.

In evidence, Thomas Cleary who was 73 years of age, said he went to Dublin to the Land Commission in connection with the matter. The Land Commission wanted to establish ownership of the place and the people of the town did not want it vested in private ownership and eventually it was vested in a committee selected at a public meeting in the town of Athenry.

The field is used for Games and Horse shows still! James J. Ruane swore that his father was one of the registered owners of the sports field and died in 1923.

If the place were disposed of it would be a huge loss to the town. It was a field of 9 acres and situated in the town and looking ahead, it would be the centre of the year. His intention was that it should be made a Public Park for the town.

Stephen Jordan, T.D. swore that he knew this field for a long period. – The Field was used primarily as a sports ground.

The Commercial Club mortgaged the Backlawn Field to meet a debt of law costs in a suit about the tolls of fairs. The Commercial Club became later known as the Horse Show and Agricultural Committee.

The Trustees made certain regulations as the Committee of Management of the Field. These five men were all members of the Horse Show Committee. They advertised the grazing annually and left the field open to the general public on Sundays. They kept four days out of the grazing lettings for themselves – one for the Horse Show Committee and one for other emergencies.

There was no dispute about it in the town up to the death of Mr. J. F. Kelly.

In 1915 A Volunteer Review was held in the field.

Joseph White, swore that there was a Public Meeting held in Athenry on Sunday, May 22 in connection with the Backlawn. The meeting was called by the Athenry Waterworks Committee, which is a sub-committee of the Galway Board of Health. The meeting was called by Bellman and Posters. Joseph White was appointed Secretary. There were between fifty and sixty present at the meeting, which was held in the Town Hall. They had no communication with the Horse Show Committee.

Mr. Vincent P. Shields, Solr., Loughrea, swore that his firm were solicitors for the later Mr. Kelly and subsequently for the defendant in this case. The field owned Mr. Kelly £260.

Verdict: On Thursday morning, Mr. Gearóid 0’Sullivan said, that since the court closed the previous evening he had considered the position of his client. He was prepared to agree that His Lordship make an order on the terms the plaintiffs asked for.

The Judge said, that he believed all of the very clear evidence given on behalf of the plaintiffs and that they, the plaintiffs, are entitled to all the declarations they asked for.

At a General Meeting of Athenry G.A.A. Club held in the Town Hall on 24/1/1934 a Vote of Thanks to the men who fought and won the case of the Town Park was proposed by P. Kilkelly and seconded by W. Cooley.

The club was very prominent against the sale of the Backlawn.

At a Special Meeting of the Club held on Monday — l7th. October 1932, the chairman, J. J. Ruane briefly explained that the main object of the meeting was to discuss the club’s position and attitude in regard to the Backlawn. He pointed out that it was the duty of all members of all Associations in Athenry to take up some public attitude and pointed out how, in particular, the G.A.A. would be affected by the loss to the Public.

Mr. P. Kilkelly proposed and Mr. W. Corbett seconded ‘that a Resolution of Protest against the sale of the Backlawn be passed by the meeting.’ – Unanimous!

Mr. L. Lardner here gave a brief account of the history of the Backlawn and stated definitely that the G.A.A. had an agreement with the Trustees that the tenancy was subject to the condition that the G.A.A. has the right to use the field for Sports and Pastimes on all Sundays and Church Holidays of the year.

It was proposed by Mr. C. Whyte, Seconded by Mr. W. Corbett – I. Doherty ‘That we, the Gaels of Athenry protest against the Sale of the Backlawn to any individual for the reason that it was purchased by a number of Trustees as a Public Park for the use of the People of the Town and the said Trustees by agreement with the G.A.A. subjected to the yearly tenancy to the condition that the G.A.A. have the right to use the Backlawn for Sports and Pastimes on all Sundays, Church Holidays of the year. The resolution was passed.

M. Lardner dissenting, pointing out that he would agree if the words ‘from 1912’ were inserted at the end of the sale. It was proposed by Mr. J. J . Ruane and Seconded by Mr. P. Kilkelly, ‘That we utilise the Backlawn on Sundays as hitherto and that we consider it the proper venue for all G.A.A. Matches in Athenry, until the question of its ownership is decided by Law.’ Passed unanimously.

The Circuit Court at Ballina on the 28thday of March 1933 ordered that — Stephen Jordan, T.D. Merchant, James Ruane, Merchant, Thomas B. Cleary, Plasterer, James Barrett, Painter. Edward Kennedy, Cattle dealer, Michael Walsh, Carpenter, Michael Kilkelly, Motor Proprietor, be appointed Trustees of the Backlawn. On the 16th of December 1933 the New Trustees were registered.

On 31st March 1938 an inhibition was registered which read: – When the number of the Registered owners is reduced below two, no registration under a disposition by or transmission from the surviving owner is to be made except with the approval of the registrar.

The field Development Committee was established in 1945. Comprising of Trustees:

J. J. Ruane Athenry, Thomas B. Cleary Athenry, Edward Kennedy Athenry, James Barrett AthenryMichael Kilkelly Caheroyan Athenry, Michael Walsh Athenry ,Stephen Jordan Athenry G.A.A. Athenry Club, Rev J .J . Mulrennan CC Athenry, William Corbett Newcastle Monivea, Richard Mulkerrins Caheroyan Athenry, Martin Glynn Athenry, Christopher Barrett Jnr Ballydavid Athenry, Peter Curran Athenry, Martin Feeney c/o Messer’s Corbetts Athenry, Thomas Fox Athenry, G.A.A. Newcastle Club, Thomas Murphy + Thomas Wall both same address Tiaquin Colemanstown Ballinasloe, G.A.A. Cussuan Club, Bemard Naughton, Coshla Claregalway, John Burke Cartymore Athenry, Michael Hession Jnr. Athenry, G.A.A. Derrydonnell Club, Patrick Dobbyn Athenry, Patrick Fahy Agri, Station Athenry, Michael Waldron Mulpit Athenry, Agri Show Society, Sean Broderick Athenry, Thomas Finn St. Johns Athenry, John Joe Kennedy, Lecarrow Athenry.

Co. Opted Members James Fahy Athenry, Guard Thomas O’ Keefe Athenry, Michael Whelan Athenry, John Geraghty Athenry Charles Taylor Athenry, Joseph Curran Athenry

The above named committee raised money through marquee dancing and two Benefit Nights from Mr. Claudie Toft on a 50/50 basis during carnival week.

On 6th November 1954 new trustees were registered: Michael Silver Rathbane Ardrahan ‘farmer’, Patrick Ruane of Carnmore ‘farmer’, Patrick Cloonan of Craughwell ‘Garage Proprietor’, Sean Hynes of Cregatorla ‘farmer’, Richard Mulkerrins of Athenry ‘land commission ganger’.

Kenny Memorial Committee: Around about this time the Kenny Memorial Committee was busy collecting funds and building the new pitch and they produced the following leaflet for that purpose.

On February 20th 1959 the following Trustees were registered: Padraig O’Caoimh of Croke Park  Dublin, General Secretary, Gaelic Athletic Association; John Whelan of Killimor, Ballinasloe, County Galway, Farmer; Patrick Ruane of Carnmore, Oranmore, County Galway, Farmer; Stephen Jordan of Davis Street, Athenry, County Galway, County Council Employee; Michael Sylver of Rathbane, Ardrahan, County Galway, Farmer; John Dunne of Ballinasloe, County Galway, Civil Servant, are full owners of the property.

On January 30th 1997 the following Trustee were registered: Frank Burke of Moyleen, Loughrea, Co. Galway, Phelim Murphy of Waterveiw, Turloughmore, Co. Galway, Gerard Larkin of Tomany, Kylebrack, Loughrea, Co. Galway, Joseph McDonagh of Bama, Co. Galway, Liam O’ Maolmhichil of Croke Park, Dublin, are full owners.

The Trustees in June 2000 offered part of the Backlawn (1.5 acres) for sale as a commercial site even though it is a zoned amenity since then members of many organisations in Athenry came together to oppose the sale they organised a petition and two public meetings were held on the 11th and 27th July 2000.

At the first meeting local Councillors and T. D.s were invited and they all voiced their support for the people of Athenry in their opposition to the sale of the land and committed themselves to retaining the zoning of the land as amenity. At the second meeting an Action Committee was elected— Jim Reidy Chairman, Tony Coffey, Vice Chairman, Peter Feeney, Treasurer, Marion Poniard, Assistant Secretary, Juno Barrett and Sean Cleary Joint Treasurers, Peadar Monaghan, Prof. Etienne Rynne, Tom Cleary, Gerry Cronnelly, Gerry Dempsey, Murial Nolan, Stephanie O’Regan, Sean Lawless, Noel Doherty and Teresa Ruane.

The committee had a very successful Church gate collection which underlined the massive public support that exists in Athenry Parish for their campaign to stop the sale. It was also encouraging that Imelda Kenny the daughter of Tom Kenny publicly opposed the sale.

As I write this our Solicitors are preparing a case to take the Trustees to Court to prevent them from selling the property.

I wish to thank all who have assisted us in this struggle and especially the staff at the A.D.C. office.

Any additional information would be welcome.

Thanks Again.

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About this record

Written by Tony Coffey

Published here 11 May 2023 and originally published Christmas 2000

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