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O’Callaghan’s Mills Hall leaps into new era

ON Saturday February 29, the village of O’Callaghan’s Mills will be putting the Leap Day to good use, by holding a community celebration to launch their refurbished community hall.

The building has served as a gathering place for nearly 50 years – and before that housed the local national school, which dates back to the 1840s. The get-together will mark the culmination of community work by generations of dedicated local people.

In 1974, when the school moved to a new building, a Community Development took over the premises, and now a recently reinvigorated community council has taken the helm. Chairperson Eamon Cooney and PRO Pat O’Brien, who both attended national school in the old building, are part of a dedicated committee who have driven fund-raising efforts over the last seven years and upgraded facilities significantly. With much change in the village over the years, the modernised hall is an invaluable asset.

“Many of those who were on the Development Association have passed away and made a huge contribution to the village,” said Pat. “I was chairperson myself at one stage. The village was a different place because there were shops and pubs. There’s no shop now and really only one pub. A lot of the businesses have closed down over the years. The Development Association got support from a FÁS scheme to plaster the walls and replace the windows. Some land was given by the Walsh family and the Development Association turned it into a car park. That was in the 1970s. The FÁS scheme built the wall and the council helped us out recently to rebuild some of the walls and put down some tarmacadam. Councillor Joe Cooney is involved in the council and helped us with that work.

“Over the years, the Development Association had faded away a bit so we started the community council, we got some new blood involved and a new committee.”

Eamon Cooney is the current Chairperson of the Community Council which started around 2011/12. One of the first tasks the new committee undertook was to look at how the hall could be improved.

“The stairs and floors weren’t great, at that stage,” Eamon noted. “We have a Montessori school upstairs, and they got a grant from Pobal in 2012 which meant the stairs and upstairs floors were upgraded. In 2013, we applied for a LEADER grant, but were too late for that one. We then got the next round in 2018 and drew it down in 2019. We got €29,500 from LEADER as well as funding from Tomar Trust, a Cork-based funding that supports community development, and the JP McManus Benevolent Fund.”

Intensive fund-raising efforts in the community have meant that a total of almost €100,000 could be invested in the hall.

Said Eamon, “We have been doing a huge amount of fund-raising since 2013. We had table quizzes, sales of work and sales of timber and turf. Lots of people donated timber. We nearly raised as much again and invested around €100,000. We put in a new windows and floor, a new kitchen, toilets and heating system.”

On the day of The Champion’s visit to O’Callaghan’s Mills, there is a buzz of excitement in the village and the hall has been decorated for a celebration to mark the confirmation of eight children from the village and 16 from Kilkishen. There is certainly a sense that the upgraded hall is a cherished feature of community life.

“A number of different organisations use the facility,” outlined Pat. “There are fitness classes and training, the camogie club are using it. We have various meetings and socials.”

The work of fund-raising is an ongoing challenge: “It’s nearly a full time job writing letters and making applications,” remarked Eamon. “There is funding there and you have to be on the ball to avail of it. We get an awful lot of help though. You wouldn’t be stuck for help getting fund-raisers organised. We’ve had great days cutting timer and collecting steel for scrap metal.”

“It takes a bit of time alright,” agreed Pat. “We have eight or nine on the committee and we’re grateful for everyone’s support. When we have fund-raisers, the whole community gets behind us, so that’s great altogether. In 2013, we started selling timber for fire wood. That’s been very successful. People have donated trees, especially when they were getting letters from the council about removing trees from the sides of the road.”

The community celebration to mark the refurbishment work takes place on Saturday, February 29. Music is by Mark Donnellan, Ciaran Donnellan, Sinead Mulqueen, with performances from local young people. The event, which has no cover charge, gets under way around 8pm, with music from 9pm.



About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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