An Ríocht Athletic Club – 20 Years On

Doing their club duties at the official opening of An Ríocht Athletic Club facilities on June 11- 2000 were: Amanda Begley, Clodagh Ní Chonchúir and Emma Begley. ©Photograph: John Reidy

I didn’t want to let the week slide by without remembering a day 20 years ago on which a remarkable development came to fruition in Castleisland.

An Ríocht Athletic Club was officially opened on June 11th to the date but last Sunday marked the day.

It was a mammoth undertaking which was in the planning for the bones of 20 years previous to the day of its launch.

It was a development which demanded morning, noon and night attention and devotion from the team built around the likes of the Walsh brothers, Joe and Gerard, Anthony Cronin, Denny McSweeney and Denis Brosnan and many more.

Below is a report I filed for The Kerryman after a day in town which delighted, took aback and surprised the sports aware population of the area and the county in general.

Castleisland Basks in the Glory of An Ríocht Development

Castleisland can feel well proud of itself after last Sunday’s public display of self help and determination in the form of An Ríocht Athletic Club development at The Crageens.

The weather and its controller-in-chief became heroes of the day and there was much thanks offered in His direction as the day wore on without a sign of the threatened, heavy showers.

Something Different in the Air

Events got underway around mid-day and the sound of amplified voices echoing throughout the town and valley signalled that there was something different in the air today.

Athletes have now added their healthy philosophy and culture to the long and diverse list already here.

The sight of groups warming up along the street certainly adds another dimension long foreseen by the dedicated group behind the impressive venture at the top of the town.

Enormity of the Achievement

Visitors wonder at the enormity of the achievement in a town with a population of no more than 3,000. They underestimate the bonding of this and neighbouring parishes and the all-consuming drive over the past decade to realise this day.

Proceedings on the track were temporarily halted around 2-45pm to facilitate the official opening.

President of An Riocht AC. Anthony Cronin – who has been with the project from the start – set a trend for those to follow with a short and to the point speech during which he welcomed everyone to the new facility and he urged the crowd to get behind the athletes – many of whom were hoping to pick up qualifying points for the Olympic Games later this year.

An Honorary Citizenship

Kerry County Council Chairman, Ted Fitzgerald conferred an honorary citizenship on guest of honour, Ronnie Delaney in the course of his address and he pledged the continuing support of the council for the on-going developments at the grounds.

There is little or nothing left to say about Joe Walsh in the wake of the big event of the weekend – but I’ll tell you something later.

He was praised by every speaker who took to the podium on Sunday.

Sheila Hannon, in her role as Chairperson of the Castleisland and District Development Association, spoke of the fantastic achievement in a relatively short space of time and she paid tribute to all the members of An Riocht Athletic Club for their work and dedication down through the years.

Lobbying and Prompting

Joe Walsh’s constant lobbying and prompting was referred to by Dick Spring as the former Labour Party leader brought the attendance back to 1994.

He recalled a meeting in Castleisland during which Joe revealed the financial extent of his dream to the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In fact, Mr. Spring’s speech got off to a great start when he had to respond to a good natured heckler who reminded him of his GAA sporting roots in Tralee with a ‘Come on the Narries.’

Uniquely Kerry Example

Mr. Spring also pointed out that the project was a typical and uniquely Kerry example of co-operation between public bodies and private individuals.

“It’s long overdue – an athletics track for a county that has made a major contribution to athletics in this country.

“To Joe and his committee – and to the people of Castleisland for their support – a hearty congratulations,” said Mr. Spring.

A busy Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O’Donoghue TD had just arrived at the grounds when he was called upon to speak and he foresaw a lasting contribution to athletics in Kerry, Munster and the country as a whole as a result of developments here.

Kerry People Everywhere

“I’d like to, on behalf of Kerry people everywhere, extend our deepest appreciation and congratulations on what has been an outstanding achievement for County Kerry,” said Minister O’Donoghue.

Irish Olympic hero, Ronnie Delaney also pointed out the long-term benefits of the facility to the youth of the area and he noted the surrounding in which the track was built. “The people of Castleisland can be proud of this remarkable achievement. It’s not alone a track, but a track in the beautiful environment of the park and the river.”

Mr. Delaney, who won his Gold Medal in the 1500m event in Melbourne in 1956, likened the venture and the enthusiasm of Joe Walsh to that of the late Billy Morton and his beloved Santry Stadium:

Castleisland’s Purer Air

“You sell this stadium on the basis that the air is purer around Castleisland than in Santry and you’ll get your world records here,” he urged.

One could be excused for suspecting even a subconscious symbolism in the fact that Ronnie Delaney cut through a thick, red tape to officially launch the Riocht dream on Sunday.

It was the culmination of close on 15 years of toil and trial from the time the plans were first mooted through to this glorious day.

Affairs of the Afternoon

An encouraging pointer to future involvement by the youth of the area was the fact that they were so included in the affairs of the afternoon.

A well marshalled group of youngsters, under the guidance of club coach Breeda Barrett, carried out their basket carrying duties which brought them into direct contact with the athletes and that can only have a positive influence on them.

About Joe Walsh

About Joe Walsh: No matter how well you plan your event there is always the one that gets away and on Sunday it was Jimmy Deenihan the Fine Gael TD for this constituency.

Jimmy didn’t get to the podium to add his cúpla focal – a fact which he sharply reminded Joe of later.

While Joe Walsh gratefully acknowledged the contributions of all the politicians present during his speech, and he did mention Mr. Deenihan among them, his omission from the podium irked the former Kerry corner back and he made his feelings known in no uncertain terms it seems.

Filmed for Broadcast

The on track activity of the day will be well covered elsewhere in the paper and there is more to look forward to next weekend.

Over Saturday and Sunday there are Munster championships and reports are that the accommodation sector is well pleased with bookings in connection with the event.

The event was filmed by an independent crew for broadcast at a date which couldn’t be confirmed at the time of going to print.