WHILE he was sifting through paperwork belonging to his late father-in-law Jackie O’Connell, Gerry Boland stumbled upon a battered and stained, leather-bound ledger in an old writing desk at the O’Connell family home in Ballinacurra.
The accountant was intrigued. On flicking through the yellowed indexed pages, a story began to unfold; a local story of how a love of sport and a generosity of spirit combined to build the home of the GAA in Limerick, the Gaelic Grounds.
An only child, born in Banogue where his father, Tom, did a bit of farming as well as controlling the local post office, Jackie O’Connell – the father of Gerry Boland’s wife Sheila – was secretary of Limerick County Board for 27 years, unopposed.
His illustrious playing career spanned the early 1930s. He was a member of the victorious Limerick team that won the 1934 All-Ireland and were beaten in the 1935 final.
When he eventually retired from the county secretaryship, the Geals of Limerick honoured him by appointing him as chairman of the county board. He was also life president of the GAA in Limerick. Jackie passed away in 1997.
“The GAA was very much part of Jackie’s life. As the county secretary, he had records going back over the years which are quite unique,” says Gerry Boland, turning the pages of the 262-page ledger which chronicles everything from the purchase in 1928 of the 12-and-a-half acre Coolraine site which was to become the Gaelic Grounds on the Ennis Road, to the purchase of a lawnmower on May 17, 1937 for a mere £3 from a Mr Goodwin.
The lawnmower must have ran into some difficulty because the ledger records that on June 13, 1940, the grand sum of £1 was paid to a Mr McNamara for repair works on a lawnmower.
“The ledger itself is an ancient ledger completed in copperplate writing, well presented in the traditional format of a private ledger for a company in those days. They are unique. I was really impressed with the ledger,” comments Gerry, a well-known chartered accountant in Limerick, now retired.
The old ledger along with other records discovered by Gerry in the Ballinacurra homestead, are to form part of an exhibition which will go on permanent display in the Croke Park museum in Dublin later this year.
Towards the back of the ledger are the balance sheets including the various profit and loss accounts for Limerick County Board.
An entry dated, July 28, 1928, show the lands at Coolraine which were earmarked for the Gaelic Grounds were bought for £1,000
“The first cheque was for £750 to RJ O’Sullivan and Co which was a firm of solicitors, and then on February 8 there was a payment to the same firm for £250,” says Gerry, reading the entry aloud.
In addition to that, there were law costs of three guineas, and stamp duty made payable to Tynan and Company for £41, one shilling and sixpence.
The total cost for the lands at Coolraine which today is the Gaelic Grounds was £1,044 and four shillings and sixpence.
“The subsequent expenditure on the lands which included levelling of the field, replacing fencing, resodding and the building of the embankment cost £1,949 over a period of time,” Gerry continues.
“So the total expenditure on the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick over those years up to the end of 1935 was £2,993 pounds and five shillings.”
The ledger also records wages paid, and monies spent on upkeep and repairs.
Meadowing cost £2, and an entry dated July 28, 1937 shows that the oiling and repairing of the turnstiles cost £1. The erection of barbed wire around the playing pitch amounted to £2 while the painting of a gate cost £2 and 10 shillings.
There were also payments to various local establishments including the Railway Hotel, and Hanratty’s for food after games and to the Limerick Leader on August 4, 1940 for posters and postage.
“I’m an accountant and I would have worked on these type of books in the 1960s but they are gone now – computers have destroyed the art of accountancy,” notes Gerry as he reads through the juicy nuggets of information.
Along with the ledger, Gerry also happened upon a smaller wine-coloured copy book containing what he describes as “extraordinary” information in relation to the financing of the Gaelic Grounds development.
A sticker on the front cover reads: ‘Limerick Gaelic Grounds Development Committee’. Turn over the page, and we learn that the committee was formed on September 14, 1932. The secretary at the time was James P Kelly of The Crescent, Limerick.
“There was an extraordinary fundraising campaign completed during 1932 and 1933 during which period Limerick County Board raised £3,790 which was an extraordinary amount of money in those days,” says Gerry.
The last five pages of the minute book gives names and addresses of various ladies and gents throughout Limerick city and county who made donations ranging from £25 up to the grand sum of £100 - “a huge amount of money for that time”.
N Fine of O’Connell Street, Limerick made a contribution of £25 on October 27, 1932; Ed G Stokes of The Bungalow, Limerick also gave £25 on November 2, 1932; John Carew of William Street, Limerick donated £50 on October 19, 1932 and later again, on November 18, made a further donation of £50; James McMahon and Co Ltd gave £100; J & G Boyd Ltd on William Street gave £100; Mrs Collins of Finn’s Restaurant on William Street contributed £100; WP Clifford of Boher made a contribution of £100, while M Daly, Sarsfield Street gave £100; the Limerick Leader Ltd on O’Connell Street gave £50.
“I think this book is extraordinary – people were so generous,” continues Gerry scrolling his finger down through the 80 or so names on the list.
Next, he turns his attention to an old brown folder, all tatty with dog-ears.
It in is the Memorandum of Association of Limerick Gaelic Grounds Limited, and a number of share certificates.
One such certificate shows that shareholders in Limerick Gaelic Grounds Limited included the Gaelic Athletic Association Munster Council which was issued 1000 shares on August 18, 1928. Other shareholders included Rev Fr Edward Punch (later Canon Punch) of St Nessan’s Raheen, Sean O’Connell of Ballinacurra, and Michael Fitzgibbon of Catherine Street.
Other documentation shows that in 1939, the balance sheet and statement of accounts showed the main source of income - the county championship gate receipts amounted to £375 compared to £45,141 in 1986 from the same source.
Sifting through the documents following his father-in-law’s passing, Gerry knew they were too good to be hidden away on a dusty old shelf. He decided to find a home for them which would enable the general public to view them and take delight in their history.
“I spoke to Declan Moylan [formerly treasurer of Limerick County Board and the Munster Council] because I wanted to give them to the GAA. I spoke to Michael O’Riordan, the county secretary, two or three weeks ago. I told him I wanted to put them in a safe place. He said that they put some of their records into Croke Park – there is a section in Croke Park for Limerick.”
And thanks to Gerry’s discovery, Limerick Gaels will now have reason to stay a little longer in the museum and learn a little more about the history and culture of their native sport and the Ennis Road arena they visit of a Sunday afternoon.