Snap shots of an early summer’s day: a Tullamore CBS school sports in the late 1960s.

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It was generally in late May of each year that school tours and school sports were held and provide happy memories of times past. Besides the serious stuff there were lots of fun events such as the sack race, the egg and spoon, wheelbarrow and much more. Charleville Demesne, Tullamore had sports days back in the 1830s for its tenantry with events such as climbing a greasy pole and other fun and frolics fit to be described by Carleton or Hardy. These early efforts have been much studied and collated in early tomes such as Blaine’s Rural Sports and W.H. Maxwell’s Wild sports of the West. Durrow, Tullamore man, Paul Rouse, has surveyed the traditional sporting pattern and the onward commercialising and politicisation of sports by the late nineteenth century in his acclaimed history published as Sport and Ireland (2015).


Blaine Rural Sports

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We have many sports clubs histories in Offaly with Paddy Fenning and Kevin Corrigan in the lead here. While there are many fine club histories (we need a full listing) we have yet to dig down deeply in Offaly to provide studies of these developments in the nineteenth century from racing in Birr and Tullamore, cricket at Tullabeg College, athletic sports at Spollanstown and much more in every parish.

1993 Offaly Pictorial Book Launch -- Paddy Fenning, John Dowling, Barry Fenning and Noel McGee
One of the leaders on the sports field and at the sports history desk is Paddy Fenning. Wishing him the very best at this difficult time and with thanks for all he has done for sports and the arts.

In the neighbouring counties of Westmeath and Tipperary there are now county histories of sports. There is a nice PhD for someone who will tackle it here. So in these Covid filled days (we hope only borrowed from times past) we can ruminate on all we would like to do. Now is the time. In reviewing Tom Hunt’s, Sport and Society in Victorian Ireland: The Case of Westmeath (2007) Rouse wrote (well before Covid!)

For many people, sport isn’t just the icing on the cake of life. It is life. Next to sex, it is what makes the world go round for a large proportion of the western world, now with plenty of time on its hands and not a notion of what to do with it. That is why sport has become far too important to be left entirely to the sports pages.

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The CBS Sports of the late 1960s
Photographs of Tullamore in the 1960s and earlier are not so plentiful. Those that appeared in the press have mostly disappeared as to prints or negatives. The reproduction quality in the local papers at that time was generally poor. It is only from the mid-1970s that collections have survived in negative or print form. In this Tullamore does not bear comparison with Clara where the late Tommy Harris took lots of pictures which have survived due to the intervention of a late friend, Brendan Kenny. Collections of local photographers of the 1960s and early 1970s such as Paddy Bracken, Paddy Cotter, Willie Doherty (Studio D) and Duncan Adamson have not so far been found. What a pity and now when the image is all important and printing standards much higher.
This small gallery of pictures from a St Columba’s Tullamore school sports of about 1968 were taken by the writer and recently the negatives were located. The school was owned by the Christian Brothers and was opened in 1960. The earlier school at Bury Quay was completed in 1912. In the late 1960s the superior of the school was S. R. O’Giffney and he was assisted by a large staff including Brothers Banon, Killeen, Brennan and the indomitable Brother ‘Spud’ Murphy. Among the lay staff were the late Pat Carty, the late Jimmy O’Dea, Tom Mullins and Séan Breathnach. Sean is happily very much with us and in his time was a keen photographer of school classes.

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The school sports in the 1960s was a special day in the life of a school and this collection provides a snapshot of the time in a country town in the middle of Ireland. Change was in the air. It was the 1960s and pop music, dark glasses and (soon) long hair would be all the rage. At the time the students in the universities in France were in open rebellion while in Ireland Trinity students were content to chase Brian Lenihan out of the college as part of a student protest. Few second level students went to college but that was to change in 1968 with the introduction of the Student Grant scheme. At £300 maximum and fees paid it may well have been more generous in terms of costs to be covered than it is today.

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The school sports was largely a free day in early summer before the holidays. Not all the competitions were competitive. Some were fun events such as sack races, egg and spoon, parents’ races and so on. And yes there were prizes and no stickers for those who lost out. On this occasion the CBS sports was held in the GAA field at O’Connor Park, but sometimes the sports was held in the large field off New Road where the new Coláiste Choilm school (2011) is now located. The Brothers were prominent on the school staff in the 1960s and the order survived in Tullamore until 2000 when the last of the Brothers departed. The order was represented in Tullamore from 1862 until 1893 and from 1912 until 2000.

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