In 1948 at the age of fourteen years, I played my first competitive sport, it was minor football with Athenry. It was special as we went on to win the North Board divisional championship beating Corofin in the final by a score of one goal five points to six points, but Ballinasloe defeated us in the county final in a replay.

My sporting interests in all codes was total. I played tennis, and  represented Galway and later Connaught in the senior interprovincials. In the Athenry Tennis Club we also had an excellent Table tennis section, and we played in the Galway leagues and championships.

Then I turned my hand to snooker, I reached the county semi-final in 1953 beaten by Fergus Griffin at the Galway Rowing Club, I got to the semi-final again in 1982. Then I won the county doubles in 1983 in tandem with nephew Tom Dempsey. I was elected chairman of the Galway Billiards and Snooker Association, a position I held for many years. During that time, I refereed many county finals, and I also had the honour and privilege of being the referee for two world champions, they were Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor on the occasions of their visits to Galway.

In 1957 Athenry Hurlers made the break through by annexing the county “A” championships. I played in the back division but won my county medal in goal in the final against Ballindereen as our goalie was injured. Athenry hurling club has been a senior team since those heady days. In that period Athenry footballers won the North Galway Championship in 1960 and again I had the honour of been elected captain of both codes.

Then I discovered the magic of golf and soon regretted that I did not take it much earlier. I did however achieve a five handicap standard, and I won all the honours open to a club golfer, I won a captain’s and president’s prize and two matchplay championships.

I played hockey for Galway Hockey Club for a number of years, and played in the Irish Junior Cup and the Munster Senior League, when the Connaught Cup was revived, I was part of the successful Galway team, and as our standard rose we changed the South eastern Clubs who were masquerading as Connaught and in the test match we again were successful.

I also played rugby with Galwegians R.F.C albeit at Junior level, I have been associated with Ballymena R.F.C since 1962 due to the annual Ballymena V Galwegians game for the Des Dempsey Memorial in memory of my late brother.

In winter time I played Badminton for Athenry and had notable success in the Galway leagues and won the double of Galway and Connaught leagues in 1972. This exercise has been worthwhile to me because through my sporting endeavours or achievements over such long periods, I have made many wonderful friends and many golden memories to make it all so worthwhile.

To sum up I won Galway County Championships in Hurling, Snooker, Golf and Badminton and Connaught Championships in Badminton, Golf and Hockey.

The Canon Canton Memorial Hall was built in 1932 by the young men of the parish in a voluntary labour effort to build a lasting memorial to the wonderful Canon Canton. It was spearheaded by Canon Conroy. The site was cleared by horse and cart and some of the names synonymous with that Labour of love were the late Christy Doherty, Northgate Street, and the still hale and hearty Paddy Corley of Bridge Street. It was built as a meeting place for all the young people entire parish; Its first trustees were Walter Walsh, Ballybacka, representing the farmmers’ interest, and Timothy O’Regan, schoolteacher, represented the townspeople, and it was vested in the Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop.

Through the years it provided a meeting place for numerous societies and groups. Cards, billiards and snooker were its most used amenities and it produced many County billiard and snooker Champions: Christy Barrett, Micky Hession, Christy Grady Jnr., Luke Glynn, Seamus Lynch and Tom Dempsey were great exponents and champions over the years.

The Hall as it familiarly kown has provided a haven for young people down the years. It stands as a fitting memorial for the purpose it was built all those years ago, and this writer is pleased to acknowledge that the recent refurbishment compliments the original purpose, ‘a memorial to a great man’.

Some Canton Hall members 1961:

Greg Rabbitt, Mattie McNamara, Frank Sweeney, Paddy Somers, Christy

O’Grady, Jimmy Nolan, Joe Rabbitt, Kevin Whelan, Morgan Healy, Mattie Brady,

Mick Quinn, Jackie Houlihan, Martin Lynch, Seamus Lynch, Noel O’Grady, Peter Healy, Bobby

Gardner, Frank Healy, Gabe Gardner, Paddy Farragher, Joe Rabbitt, Kieran

Corban, Mickey Somers, Vincent Crilly, John Bane, Eamon Brady, Joe Keating, P.J. Madden, Tom Barrett, John Stack.

The first industry that comes to mind was the Western Sack and Bag Company.  That factory was situated in Caheroyn, where McNamara’s garage is now a thriving concern. The firm employed about a dozen people, and they manufactured all types of jute sacks.  Jute was the material that all sacks used for grain, coal and potatoes, were made of. One of my memories, as a young person, was the arrival in town of Mr George Hayes, the then managing director, He was a big Corkman in his bowler hat and his big car.  His secretary was Roseline Fitzpatrick, and the foreman was Paddy Kilkelly.  Amongst the staff were; Annie GUI, Detta Burke and the Hanley sisters.  Eventually, plastic ended that enterprise in Athenry.

Subsequently, the factory was used as an oratory for Sunday Mass, while our new church was being built.  Then Athenry and its surrounds were fortunate to have Corbett’s General Store in the locality.  The expression of ‘a needle to an anchor’ was synonymous with Corbetts. The grocery and egg department employed about three staff and the hardware about the same, while office staff numbered about six people.  But the biggest employment was in the yard, where the potatoes and barley seed business was a big concern for the farming conununity.  Contracts for malting barley and seed potatoes were taken out by farmers and the firm supplied both manure and advice on crop management. Martin Feeney was the liaison between Corbetts and the farmers.  Mr John Tully was the local inspector for the seed potato industry.  In the harvest season, at least a dozen men were employed in the collection and grading of the potato harvest.  Tommy Reilly supervised that end of the business.

Thousands of tons of seed potatoes were exported, and Corbetts were nationally known for the quality of their ware. Malting barley was another big venture for the firm. The Saddlery was managed by Mick Hussey, and the yard was controlled by Willie Corbett from Newcastle. Amongst the staff were lorry drivers Frank Kilkelly and Jimmy Burke. Malachy Joyce, Jimmy McCormack senior, Mixie Connolly and Padraic Connors were some names that come to mind as members of staff.  The building industry was also well provided for in Corbetts.  All timbers, windows and doors were hand-made on the premises. Jimmy Ryan and Jackic Monaghan were skilled tradesmen. The history of Corbetts would never be complete without reference to Mr John Corbett.  He managed every facet of that giant business.  He was quantity surveyor, salesman and business man all in one, usually from eight o’clock in the morning to late at night.  He arrived at the business in early morning and was last to leave.  His mode of transport was his trusty Raleigh bike.

Finally, we come to another family business namely Taylor’s Mills.  That business was located at Bridge Street on the banks of the Claren River.  One of the features of that period was the mill wheel driven by water power which stood on the dam side of the river.  The huge brick chimney stack stood high on the Athenry skyline, but all that became obsolete with the advent of electricity.  The firm employed many locals in its enterprises. Stephan Burke Senior and Charlie Collins were expert sawyers, and the saw-mills were used by customers from a wide area.  Many new houses of that period had rafters and other timbers sawn at Taylor’s Mills.  I clearly remember the now Castle Park and the Castle surrounds, completely covered by timber logs, seasoning for later use, The woods of Clyda, Headford, were cleared by Charlie Taylor and his timber fellers Joe Howley and Paddy Cahill, who were tops at that skilled trade.  The making of egg boxes and turkey crates were an added dimension to the timber industry here.

The milling industry was managed by Herbert Taylor.  Farmers queued to have their grain milled and their oats and barley rolled for stock feeding purposes.  The wheat was milled to flour for home baking, and oatmeal provided many homes with basic staple food.  Mattic Ryan and Paddy Greally were the main men in that area. Alas, those three firms are now part of the past and so I hope this little exercise will refresh old memories.

In the month of October each year the big Friday Fair took place. It was a big day for the local business people as the town was invaded with farmers, dealers, jobbers, stall holders and the street and pubs were packed.

Preparation began early on in the week. Householders and businesses had to erect wooden hoardings in front of houses to prevent the stock soiling the painted fronts.

On Thursday afternoon farmers who had top quality cattle brought them to town for an early display for the cattle dealers and jobbers. Athenry October fair was widely known for quality livestock and consequently, the cattle dealers would have arrived by train and booked into Hanberry’s Hotel or another great dealers house – Condron’s in Cross Street now known as New Park Hotel.

The big day began from midnight onwards. The livestock would begin to arrive in town, huge numbers of sheep would be penned all along the footpaths while the cattle occupied centre street. By early morning the street from Swangate to the North-Gate were simply impassable with people and stock.

The bargaining began and then the slapping of hands and finally the handshake sealed the deal. Then the exodus began, the big dealers – The Brutons, McGlews, Lyons, McCabes to name but a few – would instruct the farmers to take the newly purchased stock to the station, where up to and sometimes over a hundred stock wagons awaited.

The head man there was ‘Big’ John Joe Burke, a Roscommon man who travelled around to all the fairs where rail service was provided. He knew every dealer’s destination, and he loaded the cattle and booked in the stock numbers to C.I.E.  Then at mid-morning the dealers, having acquired their numbers of stock, went to the banks and withdrew the required monies to pay the farmers and at a pre-arranged spot they met and finalised their business. The old custom of the “Luck-Penny” was a ritual that was part of such deals and many a man’s decency was indicated by his “Luck-Penny”.

When the farmer had his cash safely in his possession he proceeded to his local merchant and cleared his account. Then he was free to partake in a few drinks, as the fair day was a meeting of neighbours and friends and later, maybe much later, they all went home happy.

When finally the action was over the big clean-up began.Each household armed with brush and hose washed down the house fronts and the town drains swept away a lot of the refuse that remained. The County Council staff under the leadership of Joe Shaughnessy disposed of the mountain of manure that remained. Joe sat proudly on his horse-drawn mechanical brush and swept the main thoroughfares clean of all traces of the big October Fair.

The fair ended but the town and local economy was considerable better off.