After almost three decades the game of squash is being played once again in Ballyshannon. The town’s squash court is at the Merch Hall, Coláiste Cholmcille and has been lying idle for over 30 years.
The court, which was built in 1971 on the grounds of the then Sacred Heart Convent, had in recent years been used as a storage area.
But that is not the case any longer thanks to a young Cork teacher, and former Munster Interprovincial squash player Ivan O’Mahony.
The squash court has been refurbished and is fully functional again and the swish swash sound of the game rings around the court once again for the first time in close on 30 years.
Ivan O’Mahony was a leading player with a top squash club by the banks of the Lee. He is now a physical education teacher in Scoil Cholmcille.
When Ivan moved up to Donegal over a year and a half ago and took up his teaching job, he was amazed to discover Coláiste Cholmcille had a full size squash court.
“I had played it at a particularly high level back home in Cork and to my surprise when I arrived in Ballyshannon I discovered the school had a squash court.”
However, on further checking, Ivan discovered that the court had not been in use for a number of years and that squash was no longer played in the town.
Ironically, one of the people who had played the game back at the beginning was Ivan’s father-in-law, Michael Gallagher, an all-round sportsman, who had introduced the game to the town at the beginning of the 1970s.
“The court was built in 1971 by the Sacred Heart nuns and I formed a club, Ballyshannon Squash Club, and the game really took off,” said Michael Gallagher. Ivan is married to Michael’s daughter Emer.
“In the mid-’70s, around 1974/’75 we had 160 members and a number of them were very good players.
“PJ Patton was the best badminton player in the county back then. He took it up and he was an equally good squash player.
“Brendan McDermott, Liam Gillespie and Kevin Byrne were also very good players.
“At the time we used to play in the Connacht and Ulster Leagues.
“I was runner-up in the Connacht League one year.
“The ‘70s was the height of the troubles in the North and the aircorp pilots were based in Finner Camp in those years. And a number of them played squash. I played with them on a regular basis. There was one pilot that used to fly over my house to let me know he was about and that was the sign for me to go out to Finner to collect him.
“Jim Gavin, the current Dublin manager, was a pilot and he regularly played on the court. I never played with him but I saw him playing there several times.”
The decline of the game was as dramatic as it’s meteoric growth in the early years.
Michael Gallagher had major surgery in 1981 and was no longer able to play the game.
And this coupled with the nuns handing the property to a board of management and issues with insurance sounded the death knell for the game in Ballyshannon.
That, according to Michael Gallagher, was in the mid-1980s, about 1984/’85.
And there wasn’t a squash ball struck in anger for more than 30 years until the arrival from Leeside of Ivan O’Mahony.
“When I saw the court, I felt compelled to do something about getting the game up and running again,”
“I spoke to Irish Squash and Ulster Squash and they have been very helpful.
“I spoke to a number of people locally and put a group together and we got a fundraising campaign up and running.
“We raised €1,700 and spent it on refurbishing the court and getting it fit to play again and it is now fully playable. There is a lot of interest in the game again in the area.
“And we’re currently playing away on it. We also formed a club, Ballyshannon Squash and we are affiliated to Irish Squash and we have insurance in place.”
To raise awareness, the club are hosting an ‘Open Day’ this Saturday, January 13th.
The ‘Open Day’, which includes a number of exhibition games from a number leading players, is on at the court in Coláiste Cholmcille from 3 pm.
Tea and refreshments will also be served and new members are very welcome.