Davitt Park (by Dr. Ken Egan)
After being elected chairman of Davitts in 1976, the committee and I discussed the possibility of improving the existing pitch and building dressing rooms.
In 1977 we levelled and removed the dip on the “1916” side of the pitch; this work was down by Michael Griffin from Irishtown. We then considered purchasing some extra ground in order to widen the playing area and build dressing rooms but this was not possible as there was no adjoining land for sale. At this time we also became aware of the impending development of the road, passing the pitch, as a national primary route and there was a possibility that with the widening of the road we would lose some of our ground fronting the road. This development also made it more dangerous for adults and children walking or cycling to the pitch. Because of this we decided to look for an alternative site.
During the following years we looked at various sites in Ballindine and Irishtown. It was not until September, 1981, that a suitable site at the back of the handball alley became available. The committee, having been informed that the site was for sale and being aware that other parties were interested in the site, moved quickly and agreed to purchase the site for £12,000. Two weeks later a general meeting was held and the members unanimously approved of the committee’s action.
The committee then set about raising funds and I am sure many in the parish will remember the committee calling on them in December, 1981, when we did a house-to-house collection. The response to this collection was phenomenal and most encouraging. In three nights we collected over £6,000 for funds. The committee at that time was: Tom Connolly (President); Dr. Ken Egan (Chairman); Frank Hyland (Secretary); M.J. McLaughlin (Treasurer); John Halligan; Frank McGrath; Billy Kearns; Pa Kirrane; and Paddy O’Connor (Committee Members).
This committee, with the addition of Larry Goggins, was re-elected at the 1982 A.G.M. Larry’s election to the committee was a great help as his knowledge and expertise in the building area proved invaluable. Michael Brennan, solicitor, Claremorris, was appointed to look after the legal interests of the club at that meeting.
The committee continued raising funds and during the summer of 1982 we ran a draw for a trip to America. This raised £3,000. Also at this time we organised a number of functions in Sean Bourke’s in Irishtown.
John Joyce from Branraduff helped us with the plans for the pitch and dressing rooms. He did all the drawings and submitted them to the council for planning permission in October, 1982. We applied at this time for a grant from the Youth Employment Agency to employ 10 men and a supervisor to build the boundary walls and dressing rooms.
In January, 1983, during a public meeting we called in the D.D.A.I. to discuss the future of the handball alley and surrounding grounds, it emerged that Pat McHugh and Sons were the legal owners of the ally and grounds. I met with Kieran McHugh shortly after this meeting and it was agreed that Davitts would give McHughs the portion of land beside Mr. Paddy Gleeson’s house and, in return, McHughs would hand over the alley and its ground to Davitts. This would enable Davitts to build a straight wall on the roadside boundary as far as the dressing rooms and give us an extra 50 feet in width for the pitch. We then approached Martin Donoghue and the D.D.A.I. and they allowed us to remove the trees between our respective properties and build a wall. They also conceded 5 feet to us along the boundary on the Logalisheen side. This was to enable us to include natural drains which were on their land in our drainage plans.
In January, 1983, we received planning permission, the deposit on the field was paid and the youth employment grant was passed. Work commenced on the project shortly afterwards, the supervisor was Larry Goggins and his team of workers were: John Glynn, Jimmy Giblin, John Hynes, Paul Noone, John Roache, Martin Kearns, Eugene McDermott, Ger Reilly, Pat Sheridan and Tommie Regan.
In February, 1983, Tim Durning helped us with the plans for draining and levelling the field. These plans were ready by April and we put them out for tender in May. Joe Trench from Garryduff was given the contract. In March we did a football marathon from Castlebar to Tullamore. This was a most enjoyable and profitable outing.
In order to have a straight boundary wall along the main road it was necessary for us to apply to the Western Health Board for a small portion of land. In April we applied for a portion of land 43 ft. x 180 ft. from the board and thanks to the help and cooperation of Mr. E. Hannan, C.E.O., and his officials, especially Mr. Walter Raftery, technical officer with the Board, this was dealt with quickly and we were able to buy the land in September for a nominal sum of £100.00.
We then approached Joe Turner and asked him for permission to allow us to run the drains from the pitch through his land which adjoined the pitch at the Claremorris end. Joe readily agreed and this was of great help to us in the draining of the ground. We also asked Joe if he would agree to sell us a portion of land 60 ft. x 140 ft. as this would add an extra 20 yards length to the pitch. Joe agreed too to this and we bought this portion of land from him in September.
In July of 1983 we received approval for a second grant from the Youth Employment Agency and the work continued on the boundary walls and dressing rooms.
During the summer of 1983, Davitts ran a Mayoral election. This was the most successful financial project ever undertaken by the club and the four contestants- Winifred (Freddie) Goggins, M.J. McLoughlin, Jimmy Treacy and the winner , Billy Kearns- deserve special mention for all the work they put into raising approximately £17,000 which was used for the purchase of materials.
In September, 1983, the committee organised a 25 drive card game in Sean Bourke’s. these games were run on Tuesday nights during the winter. This turned out to be quite a long running financial venture for Davitts, whose hard working card committee consisted of M.J. McLoughlin, Frank Hyland, Larry Goggins, John Hynes, Michael Roache, Tom Diskin, Owen Martyn, Bertie Penny and Billy Kearns.
During 1984 the boundary walls and dressing rooms were completed and the Youth Employment Scheme finished in March. All the book-keeping involved in this scheme, which lasted for 15 months, was completed by April and approximately £11,000 was paid to the Revenue Commissioners to cover PAYE and PRSI.
The levelling of the pitch continued during the summer of 1984. At one stage there were three bulldozers working on the pitch. The levelling proved more difficult than expected as there were a lot of large rocks and a shortage of good quality soil. Thanks to the help of Kieran McHugh, Michael Mooney and Sean Kirrane, who supplied us with lorries, 500 loads of top soil were carried to the pitch from Joe Trench’s land at Deerpark. Robert Brannick also helped carry soil with his tractor and trailer and we were all shocked when Robert was killed shortly after this in an accident while working on the new road. Davitts lost a good friend and a great club man on that day. Ar dheis Dé go raibh.
The club was lucky that at this time the new road was being developed. We were able to get 500,000 tons of soil for an embankment. Thanks to local Council engineer Patsy Burke and his men we now have a football pich with a capacity for 5,000 spectators.
Davitt Park was opened on the 18th May, 1986, by Mr. Paddy Muldoon, Mayo County Chairman. Davitt stand was since erected and officially opened on the 30th April, 1995, by P.J. McGrath, President of the Connaught Council, and Pat Rabbitte T.D., Minister of state.